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Lizzie Brzozowska Leadership is a service not a right

I was keen to explore changes in customer expectations and how this appears to be increasing in line with that of today’s workforce. Today’s society appears less willing to accept a standard level of service and instead requires an experience, just as the workforce, in particular the millennials, has disrupted old-fashioned management and leading styles.

They are less likely to perform under the ‘JFDI’ approach and require a more sophisticated, cohesive style that will support their development. There are many leadership theories, styles, traits and attitudes, some more effective than others, and some individuals see leadership as a powerful right as opposed to a service to others. But how has this truly affected the workplace as we know it?

Consumer empowermentLeadership Is A Service Not A Right Main Image

I think it’s safe to say that, as consumers, we are becoming empowered by the acceleration of consumer reviewing. Whether this is using reviews as part of our research in buying or writing reviews to endorse or shame items/companies that haven’t supplied the product or service that we had expected, reviews have become a natural stage in the process of consumerism; rate your taxi driver, rate your last employer, rate your holiday experience, rate your fast food. The list is endless.

I have a friend who uses various dating websites and they believe that they would save a lot of time if the prospective date carried a star rating review from previous and less successful dating candidates (for want of a better word). I laughed as I thought they were joking; their firm and stuck expression informed me quickly that they weren’t.

Servant leadership

The evolution in leadership has seen a growing acceptance of leadership being a service to others. It has stretched its own identity in becoming more emotionally intelligent, leading though the empowerment of people and feedback being a two-way process to improvement and effectiveness. This has allowed equality to become the working foundation on which leaders work and the egoist position to be a dysfunctional blocker, which so many ‘leaders’ still use as their driving force.

Servant leadership was first identified by Robert K Greenleaf in the 1970s and advocates that a leader’s primary motivation and role is of being of service to others. Servant leadership is most often compared with transformational leadership, a theory introduced by Burns (1978).

Putting it to the test

Last month, my thinking was stretched further on this topic when I was introduced by Bray Leino Learning’s webinar to a leadership model by Jo Cook called the XD model for leadership, an adaptation from ‘Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation’ by Idris Mootee.

Leadership Is A Service Not A Right Xdmodel

The concept focuses on allowing people to become the users, the creators, the activists and self explorers. This amount of autonomy derives from an empathic leader or organisation. What is empathy? The ability to throw one’s own consciousness into that of another individual is one definition. Greenleaf wrote that “men grow taller when those who lead them empathise, and when they are accepted for whom they are.”

Emotionally intelligent and conscious leaders provide the space for their people to create, explore and play for the cause of the organisation, and allow them to do it without fear of failing or blame.

I recently took a group of Step-Up Managers from our Lloyds Pharmacy network through the XD model and invited discussion. The group enjoyed the theoretic concept, and beyond that they could see how they themselves have thrived more as individuals when they have been given the opportunity to be empowered through research, experiment and testing. The realisation on how such a theory could support an engaged culture was evident in their discussions.

Leadership Is A Service Not A Right Classroom

A service, not a right

With the increase of millennials joining the workforce, which by 2025 is estimated to be approximately 75% of our workforce, there is a requirement for leaders to indeed self-explore their own style and consider whether their current way of leading is evolving with the generation’s expectations and the society we live in. If the concept of leadership were to be reframed as a service and not a right, a statement captured by the late Dorothy Heathecote MBE, academic and author of many leadership and teaching models, how would leaders be reviewed?

I explored this with the same group of managers by setting up an activity and asking them to rate themselves as if their people were consumers and they were the service or product. The activity proved interesting; with managers reviewing their skills and behaviours that they believed would be selling points and while modestly identifying areas that they knew required development.

One delegate showed some resistance to the activity, expressing the difficulty to overcome their modesty and showcase their positive leader attributes. The individual was going through a lot of change and uncertainty and didn’t feel comfortable in the present moment but enjoyed observing the group. Others took it as a ‘warts and all’ self-assessment activity, reviewing themselves objectively and proudly acclaiming their perceived good elements of leadership, while succinctly capturing where they believe they lose stars and why some consumers (their people) may only give them one star!

The group have decided to cascade the XD model to their own teams and use it as an engagement tool in increasing overall effectiveness through colleague input.

Humbleness that allows open equality

Self-awareness, regular two-way reviews and consciousness can shift leaders to the arrival of seeing leadership as a service and not a bolster of the egoist mind of it being a right. Service may conjure up many associations such as; good turn, favour, kindness, amenity, facility, resource, utility, solution and system.

Personally speaking, I see service in the respect of leadership as a humbleness which allows open equality; the commitment for both parties to understand the boundaries of the relationship and ultimately the leader to understand that, in order to achieve high performance, they must begin to see their team as a consumer of their service of leadership and not a stepping stone to their higher ground of right.  


Lizzie Brzozowska

Leadership and Talent Business Partner

Lizzie is a qualified business coach and facilitator who specialises in coaching at work, workplace mediation, conflict avoidance, constructive conversations, train the trainer, interpersonal skills and creating high performing teams.


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