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Accountability and Servant Leadership

By Loren Miner, COO, and Nicole Cox, CRO
With Tom Brennan

servant leadership

Part 3 of the ‘Leadership Without Management:  Pipe Dream or Viable Model?’ Series

So far we made a case for running an organization using leadership but not management, and we described what this looks like in practice, using some examples from Decision Toolbox (DT). Rather than being structured according to org charts and SOPs, our model starts with trust, integrity and caring. But how would accountability work in a model that is based on intangibles?

If you believe people are inherently selfish and short-sighted, this might not be the model for you. But if you believe that people naturally will pursue enlightened self-interest and contribute to the greater good of the group, you’re halfway there. In the managementless model, the interests of the company, the leaders and the team members need to be aligned. Those interests need to be clearly articulated as a shared vision, and everyone needs to “own” that shared vision.

Granted, this model isn’t for everyone. You need to make sure that everyone on the team is professionally mature, self-motivated and passionate about excellence. In her book The Bite Me School of Management, DT CEO Kim Shepherd quotes Lee Iacocca: “I hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way.”

The 411 on the 10/4

We’ve discovered a great way to channel accountability, thanks to Dawn Kohler, President and CEO of The Inside Coach. It’s called a 10/4 report, and it’s a way of sharing up rather than managing down. At DT, a Project Manager uses a 10/4 report to share accomplishments, challenges, learnings and opportunities with a member of leadership. The name comes from the fact that it should take 10 minutes to write and 4 minutes to read.

In our model certain leaders are designated as the primary resource for a Director or a Project Manager, but there are few situations involving direct reports. The designation aligns with expertise and area of focus, but it is not firm. By using the 10/4 report, we encourage a consultative engagement between, say, the Project Manager and Leader.

Let’s go back to Nick and Maria, whom we used as examples in Part 2. If Nick is a Project Manager, he can spend most of his time up to his elbows in details. But writing a 10/4 report guides him to take a bigger picture look in order to identify trends and patterns. For Maria, Nick’s designated leader, the 10/4 report keeps her in the loop and helps her know where to focus her attention. For both, it encourages dialog, collaboration and brainstorming.

The Leader is the Servant

Some people may think we’re splitting hairs. “10/4 report is just another name for a performance evaluation,” they might say. It certainly is true that one could use a 10/4 report as a management tool in an organization with a traditional hierarchical structure. The difference is Servant Leadership, and it is the crux of our model.

Servant leadership is more than just splitting hairs: it’s an extreme makeover. It’s not about the structure or the tactics, but about the values that guide your decisions. Servant leadership advocates values like caring, healing, empathy and community. This is not to say that profitability and shareholder value are no long considerations in making business decisions, but they are no longer the primary considerations.

If the Bene Fits, Wear It

The leader is a servant first, motivated to help followers “become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous,” in the words of Robert K. Greenleaf. The benefit to employees is clear, but it is our belief that the business benefits as well. After all, employees who work with a company committed to their wellbeing will be more committed, more motivated, and more likely to deliver excellent performance, quality and service.

Many highly successful companies employ servant leadership, and they also appear on Fortune’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For. SAS, for example, has been in the top 3 — twice at #1 — since 2010. Others include, Whole Foods Market, Aflac, Starbucks, REI and others.

Accountability is a two-way street, and Servant Leadership ensures that leaders hold up their end. In Part 4 we’ll discuss some of the specific responsibilities that leaders are accountable for in our model.

To learn more about Decision Toolbox, send us an email – we’d love to hear from you!

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3 Responses to “Accountability and Servant Leadership”

  1. October 03, 2013 at 5:18 am, Leaders’ Responsibilities in a Management-less Model | Blog | Decision Toolbox said:

    […] the first three parts of this series (in case you missed them:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) we laid out a general blueprint for running an organization using leadership but not management. […]


  2. May 14, 2014 at 7:47 am, Meaningfulness at Work: A Personal Journey | DecisionToolbox said:

    […] Miner (DT’s COO) and I wrote about servant leadership in a previous post, so I won’t delve into it here. However, meaningfulness in leadership, for me, is about […]


  3. May 22, 2014 at 9:55 am, Picture Me Managementless | DecisionToolbox said:

    […] Caring + integrity = trust, and trust makes it possible to go managementless. But we’re just getting started! Next up: accountability and servant leadership. […]


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