Monday, June 3, 2013

To serve whom?

Even if you are just a casual fan of the original Twilight Zone series, you are probably familiar with the 1962 episode titled, "To Serve Man."

Considered one of the classics of this seminal series, it tells the story of a visit to our small planet by an alien race that offers to eradicate strife and enrich the lives of earth's inhabitants.  The payback for consequences of this largesse, are, for the earthlings, unappetizing.

The show came to mind following a conversation I had this week with Sam Silverstein, author, lecturer and expert on building cultures of accountability.

I am a big fan of Sam and his concepts and have enrolled in his "Accountability Academy," as  have several of the companies with whom I work. However, despite the absence of accountability being a frequent lament an affinity for accountability is not universal. That's what Sam and I chatted about: where accountability cultures thrive, where they don't and why.

Two nuggets emerged from our talk:
  • Many individuals and organizations confuse responsibility and accountability.  "Responsibility is about things; accountability is about people," Silverstein believes.  Ironically, though, when you have a culture where individuals accept responsibility for helping others, accountability is the result.
  • Not surprisingly, organizations and individuals that practice servant leadership, are generally more successful because the concept of personal responsibility and accountability is ingrained and/or embraced.
Servant leadership is not about training a staff of business butlers, or a boss who makes sure that coffee is brewed and hot when the staff arrives.  It is a management philosophy that is people-centric, where leaders accept responsibility for enabling team performance through their own actions.

As author Bill Treasurer says:  Leaders Open Doors.

In the Washington Post, Professor Edward Hess of the University of Virginia recently noted:
"Many people think that you cannot be people-centric and maintain high standards, because employees will take advantage. That’s another leadership myth.
These high-performance organizations show that people-centric environments and high performance are not mutually exclusive. Employees in these companies have high emotional engagement, loyalty and productivity, and outperform the competition on a daily basis over long periods of time. In fact, the relationship between high performance, high employee engagement and how you treat employees is compelling. My research clearly demonstrates that employee satisfaction drives customer satisfaction and loyalty."

The lesson?  If you can't grow beyond yourself, you have a job, not a business.  In a small business especially, the ability to motivate and manage your team to achieve a consistent high level of performance is the critical factor of growth -- and survival.

In a review of the new book, Give and Take, Harvard Business School Professor James Heskett writes that research "suggests that servant leaders are not only more highly regarded than others by their employees and not only feel better about themselves at the end of the day but are more productive as well."

Like the ironic ending in the To Serve Man Twilight Zone episode, there's also a surprising twist to the familiar servant/teacher cliche:  it seems that those that can do, teach.  And those that can't teach, are toast.

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