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Servant Leadership In The Workplace: Providing Accountability


In my first post, I identified six essential servant leadership themes. To build on that, I want to take the next couple posts to identify how I have used each of these themes when working with teams.


The first theme identified by Irving and Longbotham (2007) is providing accountability. Irving and Longbotham define this as "leadership that holds people accountable for reaching work goals" (p. 104). Further, "rather than servant leaders wandering aimlessly without initiative, servant leaders care about taking initiative toward goal clarification and attainment" (p. 105).

There are a few key themes that stand out to me here:


1. Wandering aimlessly. How many times have you either been on a team or observed a team and you have wondered, "Where are we/they going?" As a leader, we need to know where we want our team to go. As team members, we want to have direction as to where our work is taking us. If we don't know where we are supposed to be going, how can we make any movement forward? The experience of 'spinning wheels' can be frustrating, morale defeating, and a retention killer.


So, what are you doing to ensure that your team isn't wandering aimlessly? What have you done to set a vision for your team?


2. Goal Clarification. One of my go-to questions when working with supervisors is "Does you team know what is expected of them on a daily basis?" For some, this is an easy, "Yes." However, I have found on numerous occasions that the answer is, "No." As a leader, how are you ensuring your team knows what they should be doing. When is the last time you have pulled out their position description and reviewed it with them? When is the last time you asked your team (individually or as a group) "Do you know what is expected of you day to day?"


If we were to take accountability at face value, Merriam-Webster would tell us accountability is, "an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions." To me, the key word in this definition is actions. I see this as a reactive response. While there is a place for this in day to day operations, I feel servant leadership views accountability as a proactive response.


"Are My Staff Held Accountable?"

Well, are they? and if you answered yes, how so? Again, accountability through servant leadership is not about "getting your staff" or "throwing them under the bus" when they do something that you don't think is right. Servant Leadership asks leaders to hold their staff accountable so that success can be experienced.


Another component of this is communication. I mentioned earlier the word, "assumption." I will guess that we have all found ourselves in a situation where we assumed someone knew something or assumed someone was going to do something and we were wrong. I am also pretty sure you can remember those experiences pretty clearly. To prevent this from becoming a daily reality, it is important that we are intentional and clear with our staff. If you want to set goals or a vision for your team, tell them that is what you are doing. Ask questions on whether they understand what you said or what you want them to do. Have them tell you how they are viewing the request you have made. Finally, follow up and do a check in with them to make sure they didn't have any additional questions.


With my team, I encourage them to be the boss of their position. I encourage them to set personal workplace goals and I feel it is then my job to remind them of their goals and to help them accomplish their goals. Additionally, as a team, when we set goals for our team, I expect them to remind me and hold me accountable if we start heading off the path that we have identified.


So, I would like to know: What does it mean to you to hold your team accountable in the workplace?


In my next post, I will spend some time dissecting the second essential servant leadership theme: supporting and resourcing.


Irving, J. A., & Longbotham, G. J. (2007). Team Effectiveness and Six Essential Servant Leadership Themes: A Regression Model Based on Items in the Organizational Leadership AssessmentInternational Journal of Leadership Studies, 2(2), 98-113.


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