Changing Face Of The Workplace: Managers ==> Servant Leaders

“Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians 4:1)

This is a continuation of a series of writings about my perception of the changes taking place in the workplace. Last week I wrote about the changing definition of employees. Today it’s about managers.

When I first started working, I heard that one should aspire in the ranks, or “climb the corporate ladder” so to speak. So in one company I finally rose to become a manager of a team of software developers. I was feeling “superior.” I felt the power to direct people.

But then two moments brought me back to earth. The first moment was when I had to deliver a poor performance review to someone in the team. It was a horrible experience. I tried to sound authoritative but she was being defensive and angry. It turned out be an unpleasant meeting. The second moment was when our projects faced a delay, and we held a cross-team meeting consisting of the director and the managers of the different teams. We were saying how things went wrong and caused schedule delays, and the director actually demanded us to attribute the blame on specific things or people. I felt ashamed to have to blame others for failures, and to have to try to push my team members to achieve impossible deadlines. After those two moments, I swore never to become a manager again.

Fortunately, later I got to work under some great managers, and I started to turn around and understand that I had a total misunderstanding about what being a manager was like. One thing I noticed about the great managers I worked with was that they really trust me. In the past, when I say it takes 5 days to get something done, the manager would turn around and say, “Well can you try to get this done in 3 days?” But the great managers trust my judgment and help me to accomplish my goals.

In fact, I started to see that the managerial function has undergone some paradigm changes in recent years. Traditional managers were power-yielding, command-and-control types that are focused on getting things done. Today’s managers are people-based leaders helping the team to succeed. Success is no longer measured by whether something is done, but whether the team members succeeded in their goals.

I sometimes reflect on how the church should learn from this. Many times we try to serve God and try to get a church project or program done, but in the process we lose people to burnout. It’s a sad thing. I do have the belief that we can learn a lot from the workplace.

Instead of giving out commands and holding a whip to get people to finish tasks, today’s great managers are great listeners, great motivators, and great encouragers. They trust you and they share their power with you. Their belief is that since the team is closer to the project at hand, the team members know better than they do. During meetings, this kind of manager is focused on finding how what inspires team members and helps provide those inspirations and motivations. On the other hand, the manager will also try to find out the obstacles that impede each team member and will work to remove those obstacles.

In Mike Griffiths’ blog on project leadership, I find a comparison chart between traditional management focus vs. today’s management focus (which he prefers to use the term “leadership”):

Management Focus Leadership Focus
Task/things People
Control Empowerment
Efficiency Effectiveness
Doing things right Doing the right things
Speed Direction
Practices Principles

While reading his blog entry, I was also surprised to see the term “servant leader” being used to describe today’s managers. Of course for Christians that term brings to mind the example of Jesus Christ as a servant leader. Indeed when we lead, when we manage, when we serve, we need to model Christ’s example. Again, today’s changing workplace actually helps us reaffirm our need to learn to become servant leaders.

Next time I will finish this series by talking about the changing definition of customers.