Every time I think I’ve got it figured out, the universe immediately puts me back in my place. This month’s lesson in humility? There is a time to not lead.
Recently I decided that our faculty needed more time together to informally talk about teaching and learning practices and to share ideas and support each other. So rather than asking for permission, I just organized a one hour meeting where we could share our ideas. I banned PowerPoint, but otherwise, I left it up to the people who attended to decide what to talk about and how to share it. We had great turn out, total engagement, and enthusiasm. At the end of the hour, one person was disappointed we were winding up, as we were just getting started.
So what is the lesson from this experience? Leaders don’t always need to completely control a situation. I didn’t need to lead, just to facilitate. My job was to identify the need of the teaching community at my institution, and to create a way for the community to support itself, and then get out of the way and let the members of the community help each other. By sharing leadership and releasing control, our whole community was made better.
The more that I study the concept of Servant leadership, the more that I begin to believe that it is a powerful model. I recently read Jim Laub’s concept of the servant leader and the servant organization. Here is a quick summary:
The servant leader:
- By trusting and believing in people
- By serving other’s needs before his or her own
- By receptive, non-judgmental listening
- By providing opportunities for learning and growth
- By modeling appropriate behaviour
- By building up others through encouragement and affirmation
- By building strong personal relationship
- By working collaboratively with others
- By valuing the differences of others
- By being open and accountable to others
- By a willingness to learn from others
- By maintaining integrity and trust
- By envisioning the future
- By taking initiative
- By clarifying goals
- By facilitating a shared vision
- By sharing power and releasing control
- By sharing status and promoting others
While the servant leader model might not be appropriate in all organizations and in all situations, I’ve come to believe that we under-estimate the capacity of people to lead themselves. While I still have quibbles with some aspects of Servant leadership, I’m beginning to think that there is more to this philosophy than I first thought. My new objective is to learn to feel more comfortable with the idea of releasing control. I’ll let you know how I’m doing.