Today I want to share the leadership style that is critical for a thriving community. To begin, I do need to share a journey I have been on.
When I was 23, I found myself in a demanding leadership role, I had joined the IT Industry aged 19 in 1983 and felt like a fish out of water. I didn’t want to be in business, I wanted to be a Physiotherapist and work with children with cerebral palsy.
Failing to achieve this due to my academic results, I then applied to do Psychology and in my ‘gap year’, I joined an IT Distribution company in telesales.
I quickly learned not to use the techniques of selling that I was taught, instead, I used my emotional intelligence, which is far stronger than my academic. I worked on my instincts and I grew a very loyal, and loving relationship with my clients. To me it was always about their needs, not mine, even helping them source the products we had failed to have in stock from our ‘competitors’ after all they were in the direct fire, they had the end-user screaming at them for the delivery of the order, it mattered to me that they were okay.
I was persuaded against going to Uni and that gave me the following 10 years in a growth industry to become a supervisor, a manager, a general manager and then a director, moving between a few companies until I ended back in the original company that had seen my ‘style’ first.
I loved ‘leadership’ as it gave me the opportunity to help people with their careers and their dreams. Aged 23, I now had 100 plus people under my responsibility and when a new ‘boss’ came into my life I first heard the expression ‘Servant Leadership’. He explained to me that I was a Servant Leader. I led by serving others.
Move on to my thirties, a mum of three young children. I had a super opportunity to reinvent my future and I reflected on the ‘Penny aged 19’ and my desire to care and support people. I decided I wanted to create a ‘Community’ for Small Businesses Owners, and see how I could serve them. In 1998, we now had the Internet, however, there was a lot of talk about ecommerce, but nothing, that I could see, about ‘connecting people as friends. To support the isolated, ambitious business owners, that were independent and drive, but whom had an overdone strength of ‘Independence’, being vulnerable, asking for help, that was a tough agenda for most. Ecademy was born.
It was in this ‘leadership’ position that I truly learned the power of Servant Leadership in community management and leadership. I recommend you read Robert K Greenleaf’s Book ‘Servant leadership’.
If you Google about this subject you will come across Larry C. Spears, former president of the Robert K. Greenleaf Centre for Servant Leadership, he quotes these 10 most important characteristics of servant leaders:
- Commitment to the growth of people.
- Building community.
I quote Larry C. Spears, “Once you’ve decided to prioritize other people’s needs over your own in the long term, you can work on developing your skills in each area”.
Critical to community is to find the leaders that prioritise the needs of others over themselves. Not as a ‘rescuer’ nor a ‘martyr’. Find that person who genuinely desires the happiness and success of others. That person who feels personal joy in this, and as a wise person once stated, ‘there is no such thing as an unselfish act, this ‘person/leader’ is gaining more than you can possibly imagine by seeing the joy in others’ lives.
You will note that Number 10 is ‘Building Community’, and Larry C. Spears goes on to state these remarkable words from Greenleaf (1977/2002), that when I look back on the life I have led as a community leader, I have to say, these words are just amazing…
“The servant leader senses that much has been lost in recent human history as a result of the shift from local communities to large institutions as the primary shaper of human lives. This awareness causes the servant leader to seek to identify some means for building community among those who work within a given institution. Servant leadership suggests that true community can be created among those who work in businesses and other institutions. All that is needed to rebuild community as a viable life form for large numbers of people is for enough servant-leaders to show the way, not by mass movements, but by each servant-leader demonstrating his or her unlimited liability for a quite specific community-related group’.
In 1977 when Greenleaf wrote these words, he did not foresee the Internet and the havoc it can cause on communities, on the citizens of towns, villages, and organisations. The loneliness of home working, the breakdown of local communities due to ability to have time to support one another, the increasing obsession to be on social media, sitting alone in homes. The rive for productivity and automation. He could not see that we would become a generation of ‘the most connected in history’, but the loneliest. He could not foresee the mental health issues related to individualism and economic loneliness.
Leading a community, therefore, is a true vocation and a business. It is not for the ‘guru’ mentality to state ‘join my community and listen to me’, it is for the Servant Leader, who says ‘I am here to serve you, to build the place for you to thrive, to grow you, to love you, to listen, to care. A place for you to shine, not me, a place for you to innovate together, a place for me to purely serve you’.
So as I close today’s Newsletter post, I want to tease the subject of your ‘social capital’ that will be my next post.
The years since we started Ecademy in 1998 have taught me one major lesson, through the turbulence of entrepreneurship and the roller-coaster of finances, the losses and the gains, and that is the power of social capital. We can all focus on our knowledge and financial capital, the first is a constant, we can’t stop learning, the second is for our existence and to be able to remain personally responsible for our needs. Social Capital is for our constant ability to hold people close, the people that will be with you through thick and thin, and who know you as ‘you’, who want to know you for your beliefs, your regard for others and your contribution. So, to be a citizen of a community is also a skill, I will discuss this, and I will share the importance of your social capital for your business and your future.
*This blog first appeared in my LinkedIn newsletter.