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Masters of Servitude


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Servant leaders foster the
growth of the members of the
organization so that each may
achieve their full potential.
—Dipanker Das, PMP, CGN, New Delhi, India

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Masters of Servitude

  1. 1. Giving up control doesn’t mean losing control. Osnat Niv-Assa, PMsphere, Tel Aviv, Israel
  2. 2. MASTERS OF SERVITUDE by Sandra A. Swanson // photo by Gil Lavi
  3. 3. It seems INVERTING THE PYRAMID The concept of servant leadership isn’t new. It actually originates in such phi- losophies as the Tao Te Ching, written wrong. around the 6th century BCE. But it caught on as a business buzzword in the 1970s, when former AT&T executive Robert K. Greenleaf wrote The Servant as Leader. Although it’s now a stan- dard tenet of leadership training, many By their very nature, leaders, are, well, people and organizations still struggle supposed to lead the way. But sometimes with implementation of servant leader- embracing the qualities of a good fol- ship, mainly because it upends traditional lower can make a more effective leader. thinking. So-called “servant leaders” focus on Much of what we assume about the needs of their teams rather than leadership is rooted in a hierarchical adhering to a top-down hierarchy cen- view of organizations, says Dipanker tered on commands barked from the Das, PMP, senior project manager in upper echelons. For project managers, the New Delhi, India office of CGN, a the leadership style can help secure global consulting firm. buy-in from team members by playing “Our classic image of the effective to their particular talents. leader is one who is strong,” he says. “Project managers are ideal exam- In other words, someone who has the ples of servant leaders,” says Don Led- answers, someone who may seek input better, director of management and but who ultimately makes the decision. organizational effectiveness at L-3 “The leader is expected to know best,” Communications, a defense contractor Mr. Das explains. headquartered in New York, New York, This creates the prevalent top-down USA. “The role they play is to work view of organizations. But flipping the to meet the customer’s and employer’s organizational chart and working from objectives. Leaders must work to make the bottom up “suggests a fundamen- the team successful, which means put- tally different leadership role,” he says. ting aside the leader’s ego and issues For project managers, it means to focus on the team’s success. In this “always keeping the interests of others context, a leader must be selfless.” first, understanding their needs and That philosophy can take some get- recognizing the necessity of developing ting used to, though. the people on the team.” Servant leaders foster the growth of the members of the organization so that each may achieve their full potential. —Dipanker Das, PMP, CGN, New Delhi, India 60 PM NETWORK OCTOBER 2010 WWW.PMI.ORG
  4. 4. TRANSFORMATIVE POWER Project managers struggling with looming schedule and budget constraints might feel it’s better to just take charge and give orders to team members. But that can actually be counterproductive. “One of the ways to achieve engagement is to motivate members to take a leadership role by delegating authority to them,” says Osnat Niv-Assa, PMsphere, Tel Aviv, Israel. Here’s some advice for helping team members transform into true leaders from Monica Semeniuk, PMP, an independent project manager in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Demonstrate the behavior you would like others to emulate. “There is nothing as powerful as seeing a living example of leadership, and how others respond to it, to inspire others to take similar actions,” she says. Provide training. “Give team members the opportunity to learn the concepts behind leadership and to experiment with new behaviors in a safe setting,” Ms. Semeniuk says. Show support. “Listen to the team members’ thoughts and concerns,” she says. “Help them to see themselves as leaders. Provide encouragement and feedback when they show leadership or when you anticipate potential oppor- tunities.” Reinforce desirable behavior. “Rewards need to be sensitive both to the organizational and environmental culture, as well as to the individual,” Ms. Semeniuk says. “A quiet word of congratulations may be more meaningful to some people than parties at an expensive hotel.” By taking on the servant leader role, Israel-based PMsphere, an IT manage- project managers help ensure each indi- ment company. vidual brings his or her own experience A dash of servitude can be just what and expertise. project managers need to win over “Project management typically takes new team members. “Qualities that are place in a cross-functional and often required for motivating people can be a matrixed environment with diverse found in servant leaders”—empathy internal and external stakeholders,” Mr. and persuasion, for example. Das says. “The successful project man- ager will be one who works to bring THAT DOESN’T QUITE this diverse group together toward a SOUND RIGHT common goal, with a shared vision and There’s one major complicating factor, with a focus on the whole.” however: For people who aren’t familiar Servant leadership can be especially with servant leadership, the term itself effective given that project managers can be misleading. aren’t always granted official authority “The word servant tends to imply over team members. that the person simply follows orders “A project manager has to motivate and fulfills the requests of the ‘mas- people and devote them to the proj- ter,’” says Monica Semeniuk, PMP, ect, in particular when they are not an independent project management under his or her direct responsibility,” consultant in Edmonton, Alberta, says Osnat Niv-Assa, CEO of Tel Aviv, Canada. OCTOBER 2010 PM NETWORK 61
  5. 5. “They are not motivated by power, nor do they have an ego need for authority,” Mr. Das says. “They tend to be selfless, altruistic, humble and motivated by some greater purpose or greater good. Servant leaders foster the growth of the members of the organiza- tion so that each may achieve their full potential. While formal authority may get superficial compliance, high levels of engagement and discretionary effort come when people make a choice to offer it.” SERVING MANY MASTERS Fundamental to this leadership style is asking, “How can I help?” Equally important, though, is how a leader behaves when team members ask for assistance. It’s not merely the act of listening that distinguishes servant leaders. They “listen not to seek input so that they can make a decision, but for what the organization needs from them to enable others to make effective decisions,” Mr. Das says. You can’t please everyone, though, “This is a far cry from the role of warns Ms. Niv-Assa. “Listening to peo- Listening to people the project manager. We are expected ple sometimes triggers project modi- to utilize our expertise and experience fications,” she says. “Try to limit the sometimes triggers to provide the best solution that meets number of project modifications, and the strategic objective of the project,” avoid changing the scope according to project modifications. she says. “This may include offering a single person’s request.” alternative solutions, recommending In that regard, servant leaders must Try to limit the number termination of a project or even diplo- walk a fine line. Supporting the needs matically questioning the selection of a of followers does not mean attending to of project modifications, project from the very beginning. None their every whim. of these responsibilities fit within the “Advocates of servant leadership who and avoid changing the traditional concept of being a servant.” suggest that the leader should focus on Some project managers may also be meeting the needs of the team members scope according to a wary of the passivity implied with the are forgetting that our first priority term. must be to meet the needs of the proj- single person’s request. “Servant leaders are sometimes mis- ect’s sponsor,” Ms. Semeniuk says. “Is —Osnat Niv-Assa conceived as people without leadership this a license to ignore the needs of the skills because they don’t use power to team? Absolutely not! It is the job of manage their people,” Ms. Niv-Assa the project manager to find balance and says. alignment of those varied needs from >>READ MORE ABOUT Servant leaders tend to focus on the multiple stakeholders.” FOLLOWERSHIP IN organizational rather than personal It seems servant leaders have many VOICES ON PROJECT success—with the idea that if the com- “masters”—and it’s up to them to find MANAGEMENT ON PAGE 64. pany succeeds, so will they. the balance. PM 62 PM NETWORK OCTOBER 2010 WWW.PMI.ORG