Servant Leadership 2.0 — A Starting Point


Snowshoeing five years ago, on the Palouse Divide

A nod to Jake Leachman, good friend and debating partner for the title.  Check out his blog:!

One of the key things to understanding the answer to the evolution of servant leadership — and yes, the concept has to evolve — is to understand the likely mindset of Jim Collins, the inventor of the term, when he made it.  There’s lots of data, with his definition of servant leadership, that Collins is firmly ensconced in the Performance v-Meme (what does it take to have enduring financial performance is a huge theme of his writing), and then that tracks to the Inner Hedgehog (the one thing one’s company does well, subject to constraints.)  Collins makes the point that one can’t become a servant leader without his or her employees connecting profoundly with him or her — which at some level, implies an independent, trust-based, data driven relationship — that has to be reciprocated, as much as is possible.  Pretty Communitarian v-Meme, if you ask me.

And for those that remember past posts, that all fits.  Someone in the Performance v-Meme is going to allude in a meaningful way to the v-Meme above them as being core to leadership — in this case, building a community where individuals are valued.

But after, or really above that, it’s also no surprise that things start to run dry.  It’s been a while since I read the book, but I can’t remember any nod at all to Self Awareness (Global Systemic — Tier 2 V-meme).  And on up, it doesn’t get any better.  Collins, with his prescriptive Hedgehog, doesn’t even consider the Global Holistic obligations any truly evolved leader has in today’s global marketplace.  In fact, he might very well consider it a conflict — out of the range — or compacted down into the elusive nature of servant leadership which he says is poorly understood.  How do you build the core integrity of a low probability, magical animal?  Like every other business writer, Collins is v-Meme limited.  It’s gonna get down to things like ‘spirituality’ sooner or later — that ‘nod to God’.

And it’s also no surprise that there are Coral/Bodhisattva allusions.  One thing I’ve seen is that open-minded people can recognize enlightenment when they see it, even if they’re going to have a hard time getting there themselves.  One of my favorite little anecdotes is traveling around the world and finding people like the movie ‘Groundhog Day’.  People get the enlightenment path — even if it’s staged in Punxsutawney, PA.

Collins pulled his definition out of an exhaustive, algorithmic search, with a little heuristic messing-about where he used his own personal judgment.  He did it from data collected in the ’90s — in so many ways, a very different world.  And then he pulled the 11 companies out from his own judgment after he applied his rubric.

I want to reiterate — there is nothing wrong with that.  And the concept of servant leadership, I’d argue, is fundamentally a Spiral/Empathetic Ladder.  Good on him.  But how can we build on his insight, as our societies continue to evolve?  What might an Evolved Hedgehog look like?

Enter Servant Leadership 2.0.  The biggest leap  to be made from Servant Leadership 1.0 (Collins’ model) is the idea that the Servant Leader is aware of their own motivations in their actions.  Why is that important?  Because then the Servant Leader has the potential for self-compensatory feedback.  They don’t need someone else at their level to tell them about themselves (though outside influences and coaches never hurt!)  They are aware of their own Confirmation Bias, and instead of searching out case studies and data that support their worldview, are aware of knowledge coming their way that doesn’t support their worldview.  And, as an extension, are accepting of that.  Confirmation Bias is a huge vector for down converting Heuristic Thinking to Algorithmic Thinking.  Self-awareness can prevent that.

What that does, more than anything else, is prevent the shift in one’s thinking, out of Roger Martin’s Heuristic down to Algorithmic thinking.  Confirmation Bias is a huge vector for down converting Heuristic Thinking to Algorithmic Thinking.  Self-awareness can prevent that.  It keeps one data-driven, instead of, over time, creating a set of beliefs that become more rigid.  It keeps meta-cognition alive, and keeps the individual Servant Leader on an evolutionary path. Which then makes that person more resilient in the face of change, and more open to input channels from especially younger employees, as the tools and paradigms available for business change.

But most importantly, what it likely does is this:

It makes it more possible for the Servant Leader to collaborate across other industries/divisions with equivalent personalities. Or even non-equivalent, less-evolved individuals.

Why does this matter so much?

One of the things that has been bothering me quite a bit in my thinking are Beck’s statistics on percentages of individuals occupying various v-Memes.  Most of the information I’ve received comes from web pages, and these, for some reason, vanish and reappear.  Not very encouraging.  But there are a couple of numbers that stick in my head:

Performance v-Memes in the US population:  30%

Communitarian v-Memes in the US population ~ 10-20%

Global Systemic v-Memes ~ 1%

Global Holistic v-Memes ~.1%

So, let’s think of the implications.  What this means is that the odds that someone with a global perspective, with an evolved sense of global empathy and the decision-making ability to create meaningful management and change, is basically 0%.

Yet what we see is that there are global corporations.  Their behavior ranges on a spectrum from a moral good -> bad scale (I’m not going to list the bad actors, but it’s not hard to guess) and they’re proceeding apace.  How can that be?  Is Spiral Dynamics wrong?

I think what we are seeing is the emergence of combined higher thinking in management teams across global enterprises.  Global enterprises require global thinking — there’s simply no way to get away from the fundamental exigencies of the situation.  And so, true to form, global thinking becomes emergent.  Networks of individuals embody the communication needs across continents and countries, and start the process of evolving the people inside.

That does not mean that a more profound empathy is always created — one that satisfies our moral codes for justice, egalitarian treatment, and human and environmental rights.  Those types of values must be developed more deeply in the scaffolding of organizations, and cannot come without interaction with governments, NGOs, and basic populations.  As has been discussed before, diversity is key.  But it is hard to argue that Amazon or Shell isn’t globally interactive.  They may be, in certain ways, pathological because of poor scaffolding — a recent siting of an Amazon computing cloud in Dayton, driven by the desire for cheap, coal-powered electricity might be an example.  More progressive players like Apple and Google, in announcing their data centers, for example, said they would be powered 100% by renewables.  But this is likely a result of poor scaffolding — not the lack of global thinking and the demanding interconnectivity it requires.

What is likely required for the modern corporation, then, is the more achievable goal of Servant Leadership 2.0 — an evolved mindfulness of the individual leader.  And that may lead to fixing the larger deficits we see in corporate governance across the planet.

Takeaways:  Servant leadership, defined as elusive, and potentially non-achievable by most, is unsatisfying to say the least.  Implying there is no causal chain to get there  is also not so hot.  We can do better than just describe it.  We can think of it in evolutionary terms.  And that gives us paths, and actions that we can take to have a more evolved leadership team — Servant Leadership 2.0.

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