Happiness as a Service - blog 2: Paradox of serving and leading
So if happiness comes from giving rather than taking, how can leaders give rather than take?
It seems so logical: leaders lead, and followers serve. With blog 1 in mind, it seems that only followers can thus benefit from the sweet fruits of serving. Leaders have to find other ways to arrive at a state of happiness. Many of us have experienced elevation, greater motivation and happiness when we have helped someone progress, and we experience that powerful light bulb moment, but perhaps we don’t take the time to savor the positive effect that has on us as a leader as well as the impact on our followers. This podcast puts the importance of savoring at the top of priorities.
Perhaps it’s time to pay more conscious attention to the positive effects of happiness for us as a leader?
If you are curious, get in touch to try our i360 and find out what people really think about the happiness you create at work which tells you much how much happiness you are creating around you. No one ever said that leadership would be easy. And now even this route to happiness seems blocked.
There is good news, though: leadership and serving are inextricably linked. In terms of serving, it appears there are three types of leaders.
First, there are leaders who primarily serve themselves. These are the well-known big egos, dominant and self-centered. They want to lead, because they are incapable - psychologically and physically - to follow orders from anyone else. Their leadership can be very effective, as they provide a clear sense of direction. Still, there is no doubt what the goal of their leadership is. Their service is self-service.
Second, there are leaders who serve a purpose. These are visionaries, who follow (!) their dream of making a difference in the world. In the best version, this is transformational leadership. In their behavior, they embody charisma, challenge and clarity. With this vision as the end goal, everything else becomes a means towards that end. This ‘everything’ includes everyone. Their concern for the needs and feelings of employees can be genuine, but their motivation is instrumental. The goal is the vision. For this, everyone serves.
Third, there are leaders who serve their people. These are the servant leaders. The growth of their employees is their highest reward.
This growth is expected to have a range of positive outcomes. So, the anticipated outcomes of transformational leadership and servant leadership may be the same: namely thriving people, organizations and societies. However, the difference is subtle but substantial. With transformational leadership the goal is impact, and the rest is a means. Servant leadership puts the people and their growth as the goal, with laudable consequences. People are never a means, except for the leader who serves.
Leadership typologies like these three forms of leaders are abstract ideal-types, of course. Often, leaders are blends of these ideal-types. Successful leadership needs a mix of self-awareness, people-orientation, and a drive to make the world a better place. The key question is which one comes first? Employees recognize leaders who try to serve, as well as the servants who end up leading. Serving leaders (whose core identity lies in leading, but in a serving style) will probably struggle to make as authentic an impression as servant leaders. Their power drive stands in the way of serving. On the other hand, leading servants (whose core identity lies in serving, but take positions of authority) will probably be more genuinely authentic as servant leaders.
The difference lies in their heart and their choice. The heart of servant leaders is set on leading, and they choose to serve. The heart of leading servants is set on serving, and they choose to lead. Anecdotal evidence indicates that serving authenticity can be expected more from leading servants than from serving leaders.
Robert Greenleaf introduced the concept of servant leadership as we understand it now, when reading about Leo, the central figure of Herman Hesse’s novel Journey to the East. In this novel, an influential yet vaguely described League allows groups of travelers to go on a spiritual journey. Leo is the servant of such a group of travelers, doing their menial chores. Eventually, Leo turns out to be the President of the League. Greenleaf’s brilliance is that he changed the order of roles. While Hesse depicts Leo as a servant while he already was a leader, he gives his essay the title ‘The servant as a leader’ (rather than ‘The leader as a servant’, which would have fit better with the chronology of Leo’s roles).
There is much more to say and read about servant leadership, with two highlights. The original essay by Robert Greenleaf and the open access academic review of servant leadership by Eva and colleagues. The qualities of servant leaders are here in our first blog.
Practically, leaders could ask themselves some reflective questions when exploring their personal connection with serving and happiness:
- Where is my starting point?
- What is the ultimate goal of my leader aspirations?
- What kind of a leader do I want to be?
Achieving serving authenticity will be easiest for those to whom it comes naturally. For the others, they may want to be careful not to overestimate their ambitions of serving people.
And of course by ensuring a truly supportive workplace there will also be commercial benefits, that can be measured by asking the kind of questions that figure in our Happiness at work questionnaire: and supporting employees in achieving their potential:
For organizations, there is a sobering take away message. Do you really want to have servant leaders? If so, look for servants, not leaders.
HOW TO ORDER HAPPINESS AS A SERVICE :
- Reflect: when have you felt supported and served by others at work, and what difference did that make for you?
- Explore: find out what your colleagues think where you stand on the serving/leading continuum
- Do: 3 acts of service for others in the next 2 days, record your and their reactions
Serving comes at a cost, and does not automatically lead to happiness. We’ll explore this more in blog 3.