The Serving Leader: Leadership Practices that Connect Managers with their Teams

Here’s an interesting take on servant leadership — more accurately, servant management. According to Roy Osing, leadership columnist at the Globe and Mail, Managing by Wandering Around (MBWA) needs to be replaced by Leadership by Serving Around (LBSA). Cute acronyms — important point.

In the struggle to make managers into leaders, not just people and paper pushers, the theories of servant leadership and creative followership have been pretty well deployed in trainings. Of course, everyone would rather be a leader than a follower, even the most maverick spirit wants to be of service, and every follower wants to be a creative one. The rhetoric taps into some important motivators! But here’s a concrete practice that cheerfully offers itself as a cure for the more aimless practice of MBWA.

What’s the difference? According to Osing, “Managers ask: “What’s going on?” Leaders ask: “What can I do to help you?”

It’s the old distinction — paying attention to organizational performance (managerial agenda) vs. connecting to offer personal help (leadership agenda). The idea is, “if you take care of the person, performance takes care of itself.”

This premise would just be a clever way of restating a well-rehearsed argument to inspire more proactive, leaderly behavior, if Osing didn’t offer some valuable tips to transform wandering into genuine service. He suggests:
*”Do your homework” before you connect.
*”Lose your groupies”– meet people one-on-one.
*Schedule your weekly “serving around” time on your calendar.
*Take notes and follow up on celebrations and challenges with personal attention.*And remember, “there is nothing more important than making it easier for people to do their jobs.”
A few groupies, seen through tinted glass...

A few groupies, seen through tinted glass…

I particularly love the “lose your groupies” suggestion. So many of us feel more comfortable when we move in packs — especially leaders, people with power who take for granted that people will want to hang around, because we are just — well, cool. But in general, we get less done when we surround ourselves with groupies. Certainly, we close off the more intimate conversations that mean we connect with people outside the in-group.

In the end, it’s all about team building — in a focused, practical way, one person at a time. “Serving around” is a problem-solving, motivating way to find out what’s really going on in an organization. Whether you consider yourself a manager or a leader, or both, it makes sense to connect with a clear, strategic focus on the person you want to learn about. Very aloha leadership — very common sense. It may even be a good way for followers to lead up!

I’m not entirely convinced that old school leader/managers didn’t “serve around,” or that leaders and managers need to be thought of as separate roles. Those stories seem more like ways of getting us excited about being better, doing something new, which is OK, but sometimes gets in the way of straight talk about good leadership.

Nonetheless, I like his down-to-earth advice, and with the permission of my groupies, (all creative followers, I assure you!), I’m game to give it a try. What about you?


  1. […] The Serving Leader: Leadership Practices that Connect Managers with their Teams ( […]


  2. […] love to call on teamwork, with the aim that everyone on the team rises to a position where they can be of most service as we […]


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