Leadership styles in business have witnessed massive changes over the years. It’s challenging to lead teams, processes and functions across nations, time zones and cultures, and CEOs often find themselves facing the need to reinvent their strategies.
According to the Center for Creative Leadership, “CEOs identified their number one concern as the growing complexity of their environments, with the majority of those CEOs saying that their organizations are not equipped to cope with this complexity.”
Leaders often feel compelled to reorganize or change structures, as a way to communicate that they have clarity of vision and direction in a complex and uncertain world. Leaders also feel a need to exercise greater control while at the same time realizing the current environment imposes limitation on individual leadership power. Additionally, technology has made it possible for leaders to access more information and communicate more broadly. So, many leaders spend their days overwhelmed with the sheer volume of their activities and responsibilities. Leaders at organizational levels are fighting the temptation to “over manage” while desiring that their teams step up and contribute more. The periodic promotion of change becomes the preferred course correction mechanism.
Unfortunately, most change initiatives fall far short of their intended outcomes because most of the energy goes into the drama created by shifts in focus and reporting relationships. The more effective way to change your organization is to create a leadership system and a leadership culture that promotes the long march of change rather than the sprint of change.
SERVE and Lead
One of the most effective models for creating a growing organization in times of change is the SERVE leadership model. The SERVE model helps leaders to systematically provide greater clarity and empowerment.
The SERVE leadership model was pioneered in an organization that had reached a point where they recognized that their growth level was unsustainable in their current form. But rather than first change structure, products, and personnel they asked the question what kind of organization do we want to be and what kind of leadership is needed for that organization. The resulting SERVE leadership model has been a key component in the organization becoming the most profitable business in its market segment and growing from US$1bn to US$6bn in revenue in the last 15 years. Most recently, it was named second best in customer service among all US companies.
The SERVE model is a broad framework of proven leadership practices built on a specific philosophy of serving others
• See and Shape the Future
• Engage and Develop Others
• Reinvent Continuously
• Value Results and Relationships
• Embody the Values
Each leadership practice reinforces the building of a leadership culture that enables everyone in the organization to have clarity on the collective and individual opportunity to succeed.
To Serve or To Be Served?
The SERVE model challenges a leader to ask a fundamental question about the role of leadership – Is it to serve or be served? The common mindset about leadership is the organization is designed to serve the leader’s needs because the leader is the most important person in the organization or on the team. The result is that for many organizations, they become leader-centric. The organization or the team reflects the leadership style of whoever is the current leader. The SERVE model creates a value-driven organization where leadership is distributed throughout the organization. So, the bigger challenge for many leaders is not further developing their existing leadership skills but reframing their perspective on leadership.
In some ways, the SERVE leadership model may be easier conceptually for young leaders to grasp. They have grown up in a more connected world where ideas are more easily distributed and communities are more quickly formed and the merit of the idea is more important than the source. Younger leaders are frequently more attracted to a leadership model that values developing many leaders rather than a few. However, a value-driven model like SERVE requires a maturity of character and experiences to overcome the temptation to give into short term pressures. The leadership practice of “Value Results and Relationships” speaks directly to this challenge. Leading a value-driven organization is usually best done by a leadership team that may possess diversity of age, gender, and nationality but are united by the same vision and values for the organization.
With the rising numbers in women leaders today, the challenges faced by them are similar to that of their male counterparts. However, Dr Raines concurs that women face some unique challenges as well. “Research indicates that women leaders often value a more nurturing environment which is a natural outcome of the SERVE model. As mentioned earlier, the SERVE model takes the primary emphasis away from the individual leader to the organizational culture. In doing so, leadership becomes less about age or gender and more about values.”
SERVE and global leadership dynamics
SERVE Leadership model principles have been imparted in organizations around the world as well as a wide variety of for profit and not-for-profit endeavours, but there not been a differentiating variable in terms of acceptance or resistance in any particular business sector. Similar to most change-oriented challenges, the biggest barrier is not getting a buy-in at the individual level but creating an organizational culture and system that allows transformation to happen.
The power of the SERVE leadership model is the recognition that change is not only possible, but probable, as organizational leaders change their fundamental beliefs about effective leadership. Once they have reframed their understanding of leadership, the SERVE model provides a pathway to bring about organizational transformation.
How quickly you can become a SERVE leader or SERVE organization is largely determined by your starting point. Or more precisely, how much do you or your organization have to unlearn. For a new leader in a start-up organization, the SERVE Leadership model can become part of your original DNA. But for larger established organizations, the speed of change is largely determined by how quickly you can influence others to experiment with these new leadership principles. For some organizations, a SERVE leadership style first emerges in individual departments as team leaders embrace new ways to lead that creates new leadership opportunities for others. Other organizations may start at the senior leadership level and cascade the SERVE model to lower levels as part of an intentional organizational transformation. Analysing the level and extent of impact of the SERVE leadership model on different sectors and sizes of organizations, Dr Raines observes that larger, established organizations with a long history of centralized leadership face the greatest challenge. The adoption of the SERVE leadership model influences every aspect of organizational life, so while it can take time to become a SERVE organization, the changes start becoming evident quickly. “Our message to leaders is that if you want to build the right organization for the 21st century, you have just enough time but you have to start right now.”
Dr. Jay Raines will conduct a training session on the SERVE Leadership Model in March 2017 in Dubai, UAE. For more details, contact Sam Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org).