Scrambling to Scaling – The Importance of “Servant-Leadership” – Featured Guest Blog Post

Many of you reading this might be lucky enough to be a part of a fast growing organization. (Of course, this might be unlucky if your habits and behaviors fit more of a traditional steady-state sort of organization, but that’s a story for another day). No, you have to love a fast moving start-up, or innovation group within a growing, moving, changing environment. The challenge though is that you are in a constant state of scrambling to solve problems, fight fires, and pioneer new trails. Normally, there are a few “superheroes” to get you going, but over time this is neither sustainable or scalable. This then is where the concept of “servant-leadership” starts to become key.

In simple terms, servant-leadership is almost like turning the org chart upside-down. The team members determine the needs and drive towards goals, and the manager takes the supporting role to clear the way, provide the resources, and make sure that the team gets everything it needs to execute successfully. With the right people and process, this effectively applies the full force of the team towards tasks.

The attitude of the manager is key here, because some of them look a lot like Clark Kent, and they have the blue bodysuit on underneath to match. Yes, it’s true that some managers just love to be superheroes. In fact, they actually see it as a necessity to job security and personal advancement. If you have managers like this, think about the potential bottleneck they create in terms of efficiency and productivity, and the distrust they probably engender in their teams. Even if they were outstandingly effective people, how could you possibly hire enough of them to scale the organization?

A true servant-leader knows that they should not, even if they probably could, take on tasks by themselves, and typically, they will do two key things: 1) Find the absolute best people to work within the team, and 2) Empower them to get the job done and know precisely how and when to get out of their way. Of course, there are also things you should NOT do. One, for example, is to let the team run on “autopilot”. I used to joke with an old CEO of mine that “My goal is to find the right people so I can put myself out of a job and go sit on the beach” (you had to be there, but I wouldn’t recommend the statement in general!). The team will ALWAYS need the manager to help with priorities, measure performance, check the course direction, etc. You cannot forgo leadership even if you have the “super team” in place.

Remember, superheroes are typically solitary, unique and isolated by definition. So, as you look at your own role in the organization, think about what’s beneath that freshly ironed shirt; if your undershirt is blue with a big red “S” on it, you might take a moment to step back and think whether you’re really helping your organization as much as you could.

Adrian Wood is co-founder and VP of Business Development for ShadowmatchUSA. By focusing on habits and behaviors, Shadowmatch positively impacts individuals and teams so companies are more successful.