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Servant Leadership

People Are Awesome.

People Are Awesome.

Written by Cory Blair - Chief People Officer


I haven’t written a blog in a long time.  For whatever reason, I just haven’t had an idea that has just jumped out of my head onto paper.  Until this weekend.  This blog has one simple message.  True leaders are people that do great things for others. 

So, this is the story of my 8-year-old son Ryder and his passion for farming.  Yes, farming.  Those that know me, know I am the furthest thing from a handyman or have any idea about farming.  I am more of the sports nut and my oldest son Peyton fits that mould too.   Ryder must get this from my wife Jessica’s side for sure.  I can remember when he was 2 years old playing at the Hewalo farm in Montmartre Saskatchewan.  He loved the idea of being a worker.  Getting his hands dirty, helping fix stuff with his great Grandpa Murray in the shop.  He loves going with his papa Duane Kaczmar in the semi, hauling grain to the elevator.  He now is old enough to change oil in the semi and grease the 5th wheel.   It is his deal.  His thing to do.  His love.

Well he absolutely loves New Holland farm machinery too.   There are family ties to New Holland.  Grandpa Hewalo owned a dealership in Montmartre, uncle Kim currently works at Markusson New Holland in White City.  Ryder’s teacher Mrs. Markusson husband works there too….  So much New Holland around him.  He loves it.

Last year closer to December, Ryder’s class got to write a letter to anyone in the world. Each student could pick who they want to write too.  A letter asking whomever a series of questions.  Most kids wrote Sidney Crosby or Darian Durant.  Maybe a famous actress or movie star.  Ryder chose to write to Delage Farms, a family farm right here in Saskatchewan.

Delage farms is a large family owned grain farm just north of Indian Head, Saskatchewan.  They farm over 20,000 acres.  That’s a lot of farm land!!!! Most to all their equipment is New Holland.  We always pass by their farm yard on the way to our family cottage at Katepwa Lake.  There are bins that seem to go on for a mile and especially around August there are New Holland combines ready to go to work.  Not just one or two either.  They have more than seven combines (Ryder knows the exact amount)!  Ryder asks us to drive by the farm yard and we do, looking at the cool machinery.  Lucky for us we have watched them harvest a couple of fields just off the highway.  Ryder of course gets right into it explaining to us what type of header is on the combine etc…stuff way over my head!!!

Ryder wrote a letter to them. He introduced himself and asked a bunch of questions.  He put it in the mail and then he waited.  Before you knew it, there was some mail for Ryder.  It was a letter from Marc Delage.  He runs the farm with his family.  He answered all of Ryder’s questions.  The letter was on their company letterhead so of course Ryder knew it was legit!!  Marc also sent Ryder a couple tee shirts and pictures of their farm.  He was smiling from ear to ear.  Marc also said in the letter that during seeding this year, Ryder could come out and ride in the tractor.  He could do this at harvest time too if he wanted!!! Ryder circled that on his calendar.  We messaged Marc a couple weeks ago and this past weekend Ryder went out and hung out with Marc and his brother in-law Jordan.

Ryder got to work on the farm.  He helped burn some stubble, he seeded canola (even his own 30 acres) and he got to go in the semi with Jordan filling up fertilizer for the seeder.  He got served a field lunch too!  His dream came true.  It may not seem like a big deal as lots of kids grow up on a farm but for Ryder it was a huge deal!! 

We are just so proud of him.  He did it on his own.  He knows what he loves already.  That makes us so happy. His smile is so infectious.  It is just AWESOME!! A couple of times I just was so elated for him a got a little choked up.  This is special to him and it takes special people to help out a kid live out his dream.

What I learned through this is that people are awesome.  True leadership happens when someone does something great for someone else, not to boost their own ego, not to fill their own bucket but to fill someone else’s.  Marc and Jordan did that for Ryder.  They could have said they were too busy.  They could have said kids cannot come in the tractor or semi, especially a kid they did not really know.  They were all in from the beginning.

They practiced servant leadership.  They are leaders.  They did something so positive for him. They practiced stewardship, empathy, foresight and growth.  They did this by just being themselves, good-hearted people that get it.  I learned that a lot of us, especially people that live here in our province and Canada, do have those attributes of leadership.  We need to explore stories like this and companies need to celebrate it more often.  It is in our DNA.  

Ryder will remember that day for ever and now has built a friendship that could last a long time.  Marc called me and said Ryder is welcome back at any time.  They will be spraying the crops so he can jump in with one of the guys.   I told him we appreciate the effort they put forward to make Ryder happy.  Marc said “hey no problem!!  Anytime I can share my passion with someone I am happy.”

Just AWESOMENESS!!

Thanks Marc and Jordan from Delage Farms.  You guys are true leaders and just awesome people.  You made a little boy a farmer for life.

Sincerely thanks guys,

Cory and Jessica Blair

 

#peoplepeople #servantleadership #delagefarms #farmerforlife

 

 

Healing: The Servant Leader's Superpower

Healing: The Servant Leader's Superpower

Written by Kevan McBeth- Chief Purpose Officer

Imagine being a 7 year old foster child.

Someone who shows up at a foster home, maybe looking for a fresh start in life. A safe place for a child or youth that may have been bounced around a little. But you may not have been fully appreciated in their last environment. You are scared, nervous, and unsure about your surroundings. And, to top it all off - you are totally vulnerable. This isn't your house, these people aren't your family. You don't truly know what is going to happen next. 

Your brand new foster parent has seen your foster care file. They've read that you maybe didn't fit in at your last home. Maybe you even acted out, talked back or did something that you know you shouldn't have to show your displeasure. Maybe you weren't being treated very well. But the only thing that is in that file is the side of the foster parent or social worker that you have worked with through all the drama. Your foster parent sits down and reads you the riot act before you even get a chance to unpack your clothes in your new bedroom. They tell you this kind of behaviour isn't going to fly in this house. You're on notice before you even open your mouth to talk.

How would you feel if that happened to you? Pretty crappy I would expect.

Sadly, that scenario happens probably more often than not. But the Saskatchewan Foster Families Association Board of Directors are out to change that narrative for families and for children- they see a better way to parent, a better way to lead their organization - through servant leadership. 

This past weekend, Scott and I were lucky enough to spend a day with the Saskatchewan Foster Families Association - a small Board of individuals (all of whom are foster parents themselves), dedicated to supporting and encouraging foster familes through education and advocacy. These are people who help create healthy homes, positive environments and brighter futures for children and youth in care across the province. I have to tell you- if you can't get up early on a Saturday morning to go work with these kinds of dedicated people, check your pulse- you may not have a heartbeat. 

We were asked to come in and do a session with them on Servant Leadership, and I have to admit at times it felt like the students were leading the teachers.

These folks get it.

They understand the value of purpose, the importance of listening and empathy, and the meaning of community and stewardship. But what I found truly special was talking about their healing superpowers.

Yes. I said superpowers. 

Let me explain. 

Two things that servant leaders are fully aware of are this. One- Servant leaders are leaders who truly care for those who are in their charge, and two- there are no perfect people.

In our roles as leaders, we sometimes either inherit or hire individuals that come into our organizations who come with a history, and sometimes even a label, that follows them. They may have worked in a past environment where their Manager may not have been someone who valued them. They may not have given their whole self to their past position. They may have been in a situation that didn't match their skill set or worked with people who didn't appreciate them, and they in turn may not have appreciated them back. 

Traditional leadership philosiphy would suggest that a leader who has taken on this new individual go through their file and put appropriate perameters and expectations around. The goal here would be to ensure you don't have any issues with them in the beginning, and that they meet your expectations of them, as well as their role. You would do this through an "expectations discussion" - a firm warning to them that you are aware of their past behaviour, and those actions aren't going to be acceptable on their new team and under your leadership. 

So let me ask you- how is that ANY different than the scenario that I just painted in the above paragraph about the foster child? Why do we empathize with one and not the other? 

The truth is that we have the power and ability to heal both situations in the exact same way.

Our ability to heal as servant leaders is a superpower.

Through servant leadership principles like listening and empathy, we can understand what our people have been through and where they've come from. We can acknowledge their past and help them come to terms with it. And we can give them a fresh start. 

A start that brings forward new, consistent and intentional behaviours from their leaders that demonstrate that they have meaning and value to us- that they matter. We can write a new chapter, one that doesn't rely on history as a predictor of future success, but rather one that gives our people the potential for a clean slate- that fresh start that they were looking for in the first place. Over time, we can show them that we care about them - enough to even hold them accountable when they aren't maximizing their full potential. But we do this not for the betterment of "the team" or "the organization", but rather for themselves. 

The servant leader's superpower in all of this is that we can truly heal people. We can give them a chance to replace behaviours and memories of past situations with positive ones. Through kindness and compassion, we can literally transform the way that people value themselves, and give them the opportunity to realize their full potential in a safe, supportive environment. 

When I listened to the people around the table last weekend with the SFFA Board, I heard stories of how putting this gentle healing and teaching in place created amazing outcomes for foster children. Around that table was over 100 years of foster care experience, with countless numbers of children being cared for. And the most fulfilling part of their roles as foster parents was creating an environment for their foster children to heal and grow. 

How cool is that?! 

Why We All Deserve Servant Leadership

Why We All Deserve Servant Leadership

Written by Kevan McBeth, Chief Purpose Officer- Affective Consulting


When we started this little boutique company, we wanted to something different. Everyone says that, I know, but we really meant it. 

Collectively, the three of us wanted to change the way organizations manage their people. We wanted to bring back the human element to business- get leaders thinking about their people as business partners, not the assets that they seem to be these days. I mean surely we can't continue to be willing to accept the status quo, where nearly half of our people are checked-out and another quarter of them are hanging on by their fingernails while they frantically search for a way out on Indeed or LinkedIn? Can we?

We've always felt we had a duty to try to make a difference for our friends and our colleagues to change the status quo. We had to at the very least try to help influence change. 

For me, it was about a bit of a different crusade. I wanted to fix things not only for the employee, but I wanted to make things different for leaders too. I had just been through a rough change of careers, and I really felt like I failed my people in my last position. I got into a role with a system that was stacked against the way that I thought we should do things, and I hate to admit it, but I let it beat me. I bought into the importance of meetings that measured progress through data, checks and balances, and I didn't dedicate as much time as I should have to my people. It left a really sour taste in my mouth and a chip on my shoulder. I never want to have that feeling again.

We came into this thinking that we could find a way to fix broken work places, but also bring a different level of support and leadership to a group of people who may be drowning more than any other- middle managers. The more time we spend with mid-level managers in business these days, the more we realize that they are the ones, more than any other group, that are hurting. They have been left alone mostly when it comes to leadership development, and they are the ones who are getting squeezed from the top more than any other part of the organization to sacrifice their time with their people for a greater focus on the metrics. They get stuck with the accountability of managing the strategic plan while also are asked to manage people who feel under valued and under-lead. Ultimately, they end up failing at both. Awesome. 

We spent the last year of our developing our consulting business building a belief in leadership with purpose, creating a greater understanding of the need for self-awareness in our leadership ranks, and the focus on leading with empathy, compassion and vulnerability. We touted a need to get back to the human element of business and went on long tirades with anyone who would listen to us about building leadership models that were people-centered. But all of our thoughts and ideas seemed to float off into oblivion without being tied together in a more tangible package that people could understand.  

Then something really interesting happened.

We heard the words "servant leadership" uttered by a friend of ours- almost so casually that if we weren't really listening, we would have completely ignored it. But it got us curious - what does servant leadership mean? Why haven't we ever heard of it before? It might be because it's an older philosophy that has been called by a number of different name, and even blended into other styles. But when we dove deeper into it, it changed everything for us. 

Servant leadership is old school. And thats a good thing. 

Robert K Greenleaf's "the Servant as a Leader" was where the phrase "servant leadership" was first uttered, and I guarantee that you will not see it on any shelf at Chapters, because for starters it was written in 1970, and secondly it's not even a book- it's an essay. It sits there, hiding in plain sight on Amazon, waiting for you to pick it up and learn from it, but it's not something that you would expect would pack as much punch as it has for us. And thats exactly why we are so taken with it. It's common sense, no BS leadership philosophy that maybe needs a bit of modernization in parts, but the foundational belief is as solid as it gets- be good to your people. Period. Full stop. End of Story.

There were a million different things that I took away from our initial investigation into servant leadership, and now that we have become certified in the philosophy we continue to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the values and principles behind the theory. We've begun to work with organizations to implement the theory into their corporate culture, and its been exciting to see how quickly it's changed engagement levels of employees.

The three servant leadership principles that turn leadership on its head.

In total, there are 11 principles that are associarted with servant leadership, but three in particular were key in my mind to shifting the way our organizations and our people think about leadership. 

1. Servant leaders are servants first 

Seems simple enough of a concept right? But the truth is that it's an entirely different way of looking at who organizations should be targeting in their leadership development, and why paying attention to creating the right environment is such an important part of organizational design these days. 

When you think of the word servant, you think of someone who puts the needs of others befor their own, values the success of the whole rather than the few. Servant leadership proposes that those charachter traits be the foundation for identifying leaders within your organization. 

Who is the enemy? Who is holding back more rapid movement to the better society that is reasonable and possible with available resources?...Evil, stupidity, apathy, the “system” are not the enemy...The real enemy is fuzzy thinking on the part of good, intelligent, vital people...In short, the enemy is strong natural servants who have the potential to lead but do not lead, or who choose to follow a non-servant.
— Robert K. Greenleaf

I love this quote by Greenleaf, and it jumped out at me the second I read it. Too often we are quick to blame the external circumstances for our problems, when in reality its the internal struggle that is the issue within us all. We want change, but are unwilling to step up and make the difference. And too often we see those people that are amazing servants, who would be amazing leaders, choose a different path or stay in their posts as servants because they aren't comfortable putting themselves out there in leadership roles. There is something very dissapointing and sad about that, and it needs to change.  Those individuals need to understand that they have a duty to take that leap and step up for the good of the people around them, but in the same breath, we need to encourage those stellar servants to share their gifts at a higher level of accountability too. 

2. Its not a tool. its not a template. its not a model. its a philosophy.

And thats what I love about it. When you attend training sessions these days, you learn about models, formulas, tools that are supposed to help you become a better leader- a more effective leader. Problem is, it's like that cool pair of ripped jeans that you bought at the store with the hip-hop music bumpin' and the twenty-somethings who work there telling you that you look good, but then you never wear them because you don't go to the club anymore. Because you're 40. They just don't work in real-life situations when you try to fit into them. 

Servant leadership is adaptable, and therefore scaleable in almost any work environment that you can think of. And its that way because it's only dependant on one thing....

3. Servant leadership is about personal accountability.

If there's one thing that I love about servant leadership is that it's about accountability. Accountability for your actions as well as your accountability for others that are in your charge. Only you, and you alone, as leaders can determine the type of environment you want to create for your people and the culture you want your organization to thrive in. Those people in the corner who are disengaged are there because you didn't engage them. Your organizational culture is only as good as the behaviour you are willing to tolerate, and that includes your own. 

In the same breath, your accountability according to Greenleaf extends to those who you serve- your employees. Its is your accountability to ensure that your employees are given the necessary tools, training and support to allow them to be the best that they can be, and your sole purpose in your leadership journey is ensuring those who you are responsible for grow and develop to the fullest of their potential. When they aren't reaching their full capability, its your duty to hold them accountable for their actions, and push them to be better- not because you want to squeeze every last ounce of production out of them, but rather because they aren't realizing the potential that they have. 

Imagine how differently a productivity conversation would be with an employee if it came from a place of trust and caring about their individual potential rather than meeting a performance level.....

This feels right to us. 

its not rocket science by a long shot- its a simple re-focusing of what is important in leadership and some solid principles and values that you need to be diligent in practicing in order to realize the potential of the philosophy. Is it hard? Yep. Will it take time to implement? Absolutely. Will you see improvement in the engagement of your people? Uh, definately. So what's holding us back again? Nothing. 

Its time to make a change and build a better mouse trap when it comes to taking care of our people and leading our organizations the right way. We need to stop focusing on the numbers and start re-focusing on our people. There's a better path for us out there, and call it servant leadership, or ethical leadership or blue ocean leadership- what ever you call it, just make it happen. But it has to start with a committment to being a better, more people-focused leader. And the only person you'll need to authorize that request is you. 

So let's do this.