Servant Leadership and the Value of Emotional Intelligence

Jan 18, 2023 | Emotional Intelligence, Leadership

Motivation, worker behavior, and efficiency studies have been conducted since the industrial revolution. Each study attempted to understand what truly motivates team members in an effort to design management styles and deliver recommendations to increase productivity and satisfaction in the workplace. Only after understanding what motivates our team can we choose a leadership style that supports our team and positions them to meet the expectations of our customers.

When Abraham Maslow developed his famed “Hierarchy of Needs” he stated that everyone exists somewhere on the pyramid of needs from our basic needs of food and water to our higher needs of self-esteem and self-actualization. Frederick Herzberg believed that opportunity to achieve and excel is what excited team members and not financial reward. David McClelland found that team members that were positioned to influence the way a job was performed felt an increase in their job satisfaction.

More recent studies, performed by MIT on behalf of the Federal Reserve Board showed that team members perform best when they can obtain Autonomy: the opportunity to self-direct their work. Mastery: the opportunity to get better and become subject matter experts in a chosen area of expertise. Purpose: the opportunity to contribute to the betterment of the common good.

At Project Management Experts (PME) we conducted own informal study to recommend what managers and executives need to do to reward team members and encourage the right behaviors that will lead to improved performance, better results, and greater morale. We concluded:

• Compensation DOES NOT generate the same excitement as that which comes from recognizable success in performing the job; and

• Performance is higher when team members are: (1) confident and passionate about their work (2) their personal life is going well, and (3) they feel they are paid fairly.

With this in mind, we are ready to talk about a leadership style that works to encourage and support team members.

Servant Leadership

“Servant Leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world”. Robert Greenleaf, the founder of the Center for Servant Leadership, spent 38 years with AT&T and felt that “good leaders must first become good servants”. He felt that great leaders of great organizations must be committed to employees, customers and to the community as a whole. To obtain this we as leaders must have a servant’s mindset and commit to enhancing the life and well-being of all three of these entities. This leadership style can only exist when it is supported by a strategy and a management culture that embraces this concept. In summary, servant leadership consists of 7 basic pillars that state a servant leader is:

• a person of character.
• puts people first.
• a skilled communicator.
• a compassionate collaborator.
• has foresight.
• a systems thinker; and
• leads with moral authority.

Leading without this mindset means that the worker is simply a cog in the bigger wheel of getting work done. He is simply a worker bee with one job to provide the queen with everything she needs regardless of his personal needs for enrichment and job satisfaction.

Emotional Intelligence

To be an effective servant leader one must be in touch with his/or emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence (EI) is most often defined as the ability to perceive, use, understand, manage, and handle emotions. People with high emotional intelligence can recognize their own emotions and those of others, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, and adjust emotions to adapt to environments. Bottom line, we know how we feel and we work to anticipate how people may feel and/or respond to our own feelings.

Year ago, I was a participant in a day-long meeting held by our Executive Vice President (EVP) who wanted a project-by-project review of all of the product enhancement projects. Multiple levels of organizational leadership attended the meeting. One project manager stated that she had nothing to report as the project is stuck in requirements analysis and she is not in touch with the status. The EVP started screaming demanding why she had nothing more to report. “The objective of this session is to report status, identify issues, and debate possible resolutions” He screamed. “Why are you not prepared?” he continued to bark. This created stunned silence as the project manager tried to apologize and explain, which only made the EVP angrier. As her boss, this consternation was also pointed at me, but I sat and listened in silence. I quickly realized that nothing I was going to say was going to calm him down. After we broke for lunch, I went to the project manager’s cubicle to address the situation only to find her in tears; totally and completely humiliated by the incident.

Let’s breakdown this occurrence by addressing some questions and perform an impact analysis:

• Was the EVP entitled to feel angry with not getting a status report? YES! The project manager (and myself) were not prepared to provide status for this project. We failed and that failure had consequences. He needed to be informed so he could brief the CEO plus he wanted the work done and completed.

• Was the EVP justified in yelling and screaming? NO! This response had much farther reaching consequences across the organization. This project manager was by far one of the best project managers I had ever worked with. She was organized, understood the issues and the status of 99% of her projects, took accountability and ownership, kept precise and accurate project schedules and followed our processes precisely. Her morale was now destroyed and the morale of those sitting in the room was also damaged. There is far more learning from failure then success and the EVP missed his opportunity to help us all learn from this mistake.

• How could this have been better handled? The EVP could have calmly reminded the project manager of her responsibility to provide the status, or he could have asked to see both of us after the meeting to privately discuss our lack of response. He should have explained the value it would have provided to him and those that needed to understand the status. He could have suggested that the status be provided on the next day and told her: “I’m a bit disappointed with your lack of readiness to present. This isn’t like you because you are one of our better project managers. I normally can always count on you. Is everything all right? How can we, and Joe, support you better?” This approach would have allowed him to express his frustration in a more positive way plus he would have better modeled a more supporting leadership style. It would have also created a sense of urgency to do the job the right way while taking advantage of a learning opportunity regarding the value of what needed to be done.

Unlike the Intellectual Quotient (IQ), emotional intelligence can be learned and improved over time. It starts with first being self-aware and “in-touch” with how you are feeling in the moment. My EVP allowed his feelings at that moment to determine how he would react. He didn’t allow himself the time he needed to self-manage and regulate his response in a more positive manner. He just ran with what he was feeling in the moment.

The table below defines the self-management that is needed to manage emotional intelligence while also displaying the social awareness or skills needed to obtain a higher level of EI. Ultimately, a servant leader understands the value of relationship management and the role he/she plays in building positive relationships based on trust and respect.


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