Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership

by | Nov 7, 2021 | Business & Product, Business advice from a dog | 0 comments

I am definitely in charge of my two dogs. Aren’t I? I mean I’m the one with thumbs here. So how is it that these thumbs are somehow compelled to do things like open doors, dispense treats, food, and water, and scratch behind ears on command and on schedule…and I usually don’t even notice I’m being compelled? Aren’t I meant to be the one who gives the commands around here?

Well, technically yes. But that’s not the kind of relationship I have with my dogs. I do tell them what to do sometimes, and they typically do obey (Although G-monkey is much more likely to obey than the Shiba Inu!), but it’s very clear to us all that I’m responsible for certain things for our pack. (Because thumbs.) And they’ll let me know what they need. They each have their own way of communicating and making it clear what I need to do to serve their needs. They’ve trained me pretty well.

I realized the other day that my relationship with my two rascals is a sweet instance of Servant Leadership. And it goes both ways. I should be the servant leader, but in a way they are my servant leaders. They make sure I have the love and emotional support I need to get through a rough day, they keep me company, they keep me warm when I slide into the cold sheets, and basically they just make sure I’m ok to the best of their furry little abilities.

Some days I’m not actually sure who’s in charge around here. I think I’m the leader, but then again sometimes I think my dogs just let me believe that. And I actually prefer it that way. The symbiotic relationship we’ve developed brings me great joy. Of course I love my human teams in a very different way from my dogs, but the result is the same: through care and by ensuring that my team has what they need to succeed, I’m able to influence outcomes in a much more pleasant way than relying on formal authority.

When I encountered the phrase “Servant Leadership” several years ago, I was utterly thrilled to discover this was “a thing” and it had a name, because it’s how I’ve always lead my teams. It’s been my opinion that if you have to rely on authority to get something done in your team, it’s not going to turn out with the best results. The best results come from a team who shares a vision set by a leader who removes obstacles in the way of that dream coming true.

Servant Leadership doesn’t preclude delegation by any means. It’s important that each member of the team have clear roles and responsibilities and the space, training, and opportunity to deliver on them.

Similar to the way my G-monkey will put her head under my hand when she wants to be petted, or when my Shiba Inu rolls over on his back commanding me to rub his belly (I mean look at that face. How can I resist?), my teams make it clear what they need from me. And I do my best to deliver.

Perhaps this is why I love being a Product Owner and supporting as a Scrum Master. I love identifying, predicting, explaining, creating, delivering, and watching customers’ lives improve from new products and features. Sometimes you can do this alone, but usually it’s best done with a team and it’s really best when the relationship with the team is so seamless that no official authority is needed.

I think it’s actually quite similar with our customers, if we’re listening to them with a servant leadership mentality. They will let us know what they need either through qualitative feedback (customer complaints, surveys, interviews, etc.) and quantitative feedback (clicks, purchases, renewals, etc.) and if we’re in sync with them we’ll move to support them so they can accomplish what they wanted to accomplish and/or participate in our shared vision of the future.

Some days we might wonder if the tail is wagging the dog and who’s really in charge, but I’m not sure it ultimately matters if we’re pulling together as a team…or a pack.


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