Ave Group - Closing the gap


“Leadership is based on inspiration, not domination; on cooperation, not intimidation.”

William Arthur Wood

No matter how much you hear that it was possible to lead people through position and authority during Taylorism, there probably has never been a time when it has been considered the best form of leadership. Research even from that era indicates that those who made staff enthusiastic and fostered self-development are considered to be the best leaders.

At the same time, as we approach the 2020s, it is regrettable that over half of people see poor leadership as a major obstacle to productivity. If, and when this is true, I’m probably not wrong in stating that there is still not enough servant leadership. When we talk about good leadership, we must always remember that it is in no way incompatible with performance management and achieving good results. On the contrary, if the results achieved are not good and the performance has not been managed, it is very likely that people are not motivated in their own work. What, then, is servant leadership and what does it look like in practice?

1. Prioritize and agree upon business based objectives 

Needless to say, each of us are at work because we add value to our organization through our effort. However, it is regrettably common that when I ask people how their work is measured and what their goals are, half cannot answer the question unequivocally. Another equally widespread and erroneous approach is to set goals for the next 12 months at the beginning of the year, which are in the worst case next referred to the following year in the annual performance review, or, if all goes well, at the 6-month review.

Lee Iococca (Former Ford CEO and Chrysler CEO)  took the lead in saying that each team member should know what is expected of them over the next 1 month and 3 month periods and where their priorities are. This does not mean that the manager sets goals for everyone, but that everyone knows what is expected of them. Only after this is it possible to consider what kind of leadership is necessary.

What is a good goal? In situational leadership this is defined using an excellent SMART- model in which


M=motivating, (What helps if the task doesn’t motivate at all?)




My own experience has shown that the most challenging thing is to create goals that are precise and can be monitored unambiguously. At worst, these have not even been discussed, so motivating is also a distant dream.

2. Ensure the individual’s ability and possibilities to work and follow-through (achievability)

The superior and the team member must have clear discussions concerning goals and future priorities. It doesn’t make much sense to set goals if other routines or priorities simultaneously devour the lion’s share of time, thus eliminating the possibility of even working toward the set goals. All parties involved must mutually agree on the outcome-input plan. 

When discussing tasks and goals it is easy to avoid addressing a person’s ability to accomplish their task and goal as a sensitive topic. As natural as setting a goal, there should also be a discussion of what ability each has in relation to the set goal. However, ability isn’t only about knowledge and motivation, but also about your life situation, other tasks, and responsibilities, to name a few. 

3. Define required development and skill knowledge growth as well as concrete practices and ways of monitoring

It is always the superior’s responsibility to develop their own team in terms of both skills and work responsibilities. At best, the superior and team member share a common view and plan on how to advance each of their skills. It will not work if you attempt to do this 1-2 times a year during a performance review but is should be a regular and systematic discussion. In fact, I dare to argue that if performance reviews are held only once a year, their greatest benefit is that the superior can mark off annual performance reviews in the HR system, thereby demonstrating that he is a responsible superior. Nor is competence development about choosing various courses, but about continually developing skills as part of performance. 

In terms of competence development, there is also a need to clearly agree on what to do and how to monitor it. For the long-term success of an organization, this is at least as important as tracking your work-related objectives.

4. Make sure you agree on what kind of leadership is needed and what it is in practice

If the supervisor and the team member have different views of what is expected of the job, most likely there has been no discussion about what kind of leadership would best serve each individual and how it could be implemented. In this case, each assumes while one does not dare to ask and the other does not say. However, this is the most critical stage in servant leadership- and often the most difficult. Being open to discussing it and creating a common leadership language within an organization also make it easier to open up a conversation when people and roles change. What is in some people’s opinion micromanaging may actually be caring and vice versa. Similarly, what one interprets as being indifference may be responsibility and freedom from another’s point of view. It is essential to work together to define the level of each competency and commitment in relation to the task and situation at hand and on this basis to agree on the necessary leadership. 

Servant leadership is not a collection of tricks and operating methods that always achieve the desired end results. Instead, it is a deeper and more intense communication between people, where everyone knows what’s expected, what they want to achieve, what level of knowledge and motivation they need, and what kind of leadership each person needs for the given task and situation. A common misconception is that each individual always needs the same leadership, and ignores the fact that each of us needs different leadership in different roles and situations. At best, doing so leads to a true servant leadership culture in which the superior and team members openly discuss what kind of leadership is needed to achieve the best possible outcome.

How does servant leadership appear for you?

Pekko Nieminen

Ave Group - Closing the gap

We close the gap

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