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Leader as "Head Cheerleader"

I recently watched a webcast with Ken Blanchard and Simon Sinek where they talked about servant leadership, a term coined by Robert Greenleaf in 1970. The first important distinction Blanchard made is that Servant Leadership is not “the inmates running the prison”. It is a mindset that leads to a skill set.

It starts with leadership: the leader sets the vision, identifies the strategy, gets clear on goals and objectives. Once the way forward is clear, the leader switches to servant mode to make it as easy as possible for the whole team to achieve the goals. The servant leader paves the way for people to make things happen, removes roadblocks, works to smooth the way and acts as “head cheerleader”. This leadership style flips the hierarchy upside down so that the higher levels focus on listening to and working for the lower levels, who in turn listen to and work for the customer.

In this video and this article, Blanchard talks about the benefits of taking care of the employees is the best way to focus on customers. Very often, the people working the front lines, having direct contact with the customers, are the ones with the least ability to make decisions and take actions that support superior customer service. Servant leaders turn this around and ask, “how can we help you make the right decisions for our customers and, therefore, our business?”

During the webcast, Blanchard and Sinek also discussed the difference between humility and meekness. Blanchard couldn’t remember who coined this phrase, but it sure resonated with me: “People with humility don’t think less of themselves, they think about themselves less.“ Sinek noted that a person can have a healthy self-regard and still being open to the ideas of others. In fact, Blanchard said that the worst leaders are those that have so little confidence that they resist asking and listening for fear of being viewed negatively (Blanchard called them scared little children inside!).

Though authoring more than 60 books and being viewed as a leadership expert, Blanchard still thinks it’s more important to listen than to speak. This is a skill that both Blanchard and Sinek identified as the most important leadership skill that they continue to develop on an ongoing basis. Earlier in the webast they also talked about the importance of listening in the context of leaders getting as much information as possible. Blanchard said, “None of us is as smart as all of us… Together, we can make a difference.”

Here’s a student post from PennState called “Servant-Leaders Among Us”:

Here's a link to Simon Sinek's TED talk which is the most popular TEDx talk on the platform:

I’d love your thoughts on Servant Leadership and its pros and cons.


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