Follow the Leader

Can’t find your organization’s leader on the flow chart? She might be at the bottom.

By Harriet Harral

Leadership has been defined in numerous ways. In business, leadership is often judged by the bottom line. In the nonprofit world, leadership is defined by the ability to achieve the mission. In communities, leadership is judged in hindsight by whether there was vision and ability to create infrastructure for events and growth far in the future. Credit usually goes to the person with the title that identifies him/her as the leader.

In the past, it was easy to find the leader on the organization chart - the person at the top of the pyramid. All those levels below were enlisted to implement the leader’s vision. The chart visually placed all the responsibility in the leader’s lap: Top-down leadership was expected.
In recent years, that theoretical concept has been literally turned upside down. The organization chart is still a pyramid, but the apex is at the bottom. The person with the leadership title is now at the foundation of the organization, providing support to all those levels above that are critical to achieving success.

Robert Greenleaf, who developed the servant leadership model, asks two questions to help the leader test whether actions or decisions are indeed supporting others:

“Do those served grow as persons?”

“Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become [leaders serving others]?”

Tough questions. An additional question calls on leaders and organizations to consider the context in which they do business. A business decides to locate in a particular community because it provides workforce, transportation, tax incentives, and other infrastructure it needs. It is appropriate, then, to ask those leaders and organizations what they are doing to support the community. Greenleaf once again provides a challenging lens through which to judge decisions:

“What is the effect on the least privileged in society: Will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?”

If a community thrives, a business is more likely to do so as well. And a community only thrives when all its elements are healthy.

These are difficult standards to meet. They require leaders to make long-term investment in personnel and community that might not reap immediate profits.

Community leadership organizations (locally, Leadership Fort Worth) developed to help leaders learn strategies to make these difficult decisions. One effective model to help leaders function effectively as collaborators both within the organization and within the community is The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership model developed by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. The practices are:

  1. Model the Way: Create standards of excellence; set an example for others to follow.
  2. Inspire a Shared Vision: Envision the future; enlist others in their vision.
  3. Challenge the Process: Search for opportunities to change the status quo.
  4. Enable Others to Act: Foster collaboration; build spirited teams.
  5. Encourage the Heart: Recognize contributions that individuals make.

The book detailing the model, The Leadership Challenge, was selected as one of the top 10 books on leadership in Covert and Sattersten’s The 100 Best Business Books of All Time. 
In the next few issues of FW Inc., we will explore each of these practices and look at specific ways businesses are using them within our own community.