Transforming Work part 2 FROM STATUS TO SERVICE

By on June 8, 2015

An ever-growing volume of research is demonstrating that if businesses are to thrive and profit for the long term, work must become a source of aliveness, not just livelihood, for each and every employee.

To achieve this, leaders need to shift their mindset from old-style management techniques that focus on power, control, and profits to embrace a new mindset that prioritizes purpose and principles.

Unfortunately, while leaders have embraced this shift in theory, they are failing in practice. Research from LRN Corporation’s Global Leadership and Culture Assessment of 36,280 employees worldwide shows that just 3% of the workforce is fully engaged in their work. Even more concerning, it shows that the executive leadership suite is 3-8 times more likely to observe their organizations as self-governing, inspiring, and collaborative (vs. disempowering, dictatorial and coercive) than the overall employee population.

The Status Mindset
Leaders are often completely unaware of how they contribute to low engagement and performance in their teams. Often without consciously recognizing they are doing it, leaders seek to promote and preserve their own status at the expense of their team. This creates an environment where team members are scrambling to earn favor or avoid disfavor with the leader in order to keep their job or get a better one. This builds a dynamic that erodes trust, encourages unhealthy competition and ferments office politics.

Most managers are reluctant to admit that they place status above service, but you would be hard-pressed to find an employee (including the leaders themselves when they think about their own bosses) who hasn’t seen this first hand many times over. Unfortunately leaders come by this behaviour quite naturally as most company cultures are set up to reward status seekers over servant leaders. The popularity of sayings such as “It’s not what you know, its’ who you know.” are indications of how commonplace this aspect of workplace culture is.

Try this quick test to determine if you have a status or service mindset as a leader:

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❏ Do you believe that others should respect and obey your opinions because of your position, expertise, and/or length of time working at the company or in your field?

❏ Is one of your key motivations for achieving results to look good to your boss and/or get ahead in your career?

❏ Do you feel frustrated when people don’t immediately agree with your ideas?

❏ Do you get defensive when team members ask questions about priorities, methods, or strategies?

❏ Do you see your staff as an interruption to the ‘real’ work you need to get done?

❏ Do you tend to blame your team or external circumstances when mistakes are made or business results are not achieved as planned?

❏ At some level, do you believe that your team would be getting better results if only they would do things the way you tell them to?

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Unless you can answer a resounding no to all of the above questions, you are focused more on achieving and preserving your own status at work that you are on being of service to your team.

Service in Action
Because the power and status of the leadership role is so deeply infused in workplace culture, it helps to make highly visible changes to convey to employees that the organization’s values have actually shifted. One recent example in the news is Dan Price, the young CEO of Gravity Payments who cut his million dollar salary by 90% in order to facilitate raising all his employees’ wages to a minimum of $70,000 per year. After hearing the stress and struggles that friends who earned $40,000/year experienced when they had rent increases, illnesses, or other unexpected life events, he decided he wanted to ensure that his employees would have the income to face life’s ups and downs with peace of mind – at least on the financial front.
Another vivid example of breaking down status in favor of service comes from Vineet Nayar, CEO of HC Technologies, one of the largest I.T. outsourcing firms in the world. His company has a 360 Degree performance evaluation system that not only allows all employees to directly rate their CEO but publishes the results, unedited, for all to see online. This creates extreme transparency and accountability and sends a clear message that the top leadership wants to hear what employees have to say.
There is no formula for making the shift to be more service-focused, but as the above examples illustrate, the techniques used must come from the leaders own values and a genuine desire to show their employees that they matter. The good news is this. Research shows conclusively that those leaders who consistently and genuinely put their employees first, earn the trust, loyalty, and performance that will ultimately put the business, and the leader, on top.

Read part 3, part 4

About Andrea Jacques

Andrea Jacques is the founder of Kyosei Consulting and the author of Wabi-Sabi Wisdom: Inspiration for an Authentic Life (available on Amazon.com). She has spent more than 20 years developing the potential of people and businesses worldwide, five of which were in Japan. A dynamic speaker, coach, and facilitator, her work integrates spiritual insight with top-tier leadership, wellness and sustainability consulting to help individuals and organizations build thriving, purpose-driven cultures where employees know their work truly matters. She can be contacted through her website at www.kyoseiconsulting.com