If you grew up with the typical Caribbean parent then you’ve probably heard the words “because I said so” in response to your questions about why you should do something that you didn’t quite feel up to doing. If you attended the typical Caribbean school then you’ve probably heard a teacher say that whether or not you did your work he/she would still be paid at the end of the month. If you’ve worked for the typical Caribbean boss/manager then you’ve probably experienced someone who is focused ONLY on meeting targets and squeezing out of you every ounce of productivity that they think they can get from an 8-hour workday.
All of the descriptions above are familiar to me. I grew up within the typical Caribbean household, I attended the typical Caribbean school and for approximately 2 weeks I worked for the typical Caribbean boss. It therefore should not be a surprise if I share with you that my understanding of the concept of leadership was one rooted in authoritarianism.
I’d be lying if I said that I NEVER saw authoritarianism work well but I’d also be lying if I did not say that I immensely disliked the idea of someone imposing his/her will and ideas of what he/she thought was right on others.
I first realized the limitations of authoritarianism when I became subject to it. I absolutely disliked someone shutting down my ideas and forcefully ensuring that I did what they wanted me to do even if I didn’t want to; even if I thought that there was a better way. I decided that if it wasn’t good for the goose that it also wasn’t good for the gander and so I decided that I wanted to recalibrate my leadership style.
Because of previous experiences I purposed within my self that anytime I was given the opportunity to lead that my main focus would not be to get my team to do what I want. I would cease employment of the “because I said so” style and I would use my authority to spurn change more than I would use it to gain my personal goals. My focus would be to see us grow and develop as a unit.
I found that I was able to achieve this by serving the members on my team.
I took time to find out their personal goals, dreams and aspirations. I listened to their ideas of what they felt we could do to impact not just our lives but our families, communities, our country, the Caribbean at large and the world. In turn I shared my ideas about how I felt we could accomplish these things.
This put me in a position where I was able to craft a collective vision; something which served the wishes and vision of everyone on the team. This in turn allowed me to map a path to get to a destination that everyone was dedicated to getting to. It also allowed me to be able to find the right rewards and motivation for each team member.
I found that people are more likely to go the extra mile for you if they sense that you want to see them grow and develop as compared to if they feel like you only see them as a means to achieve your goals. I found that people were more willing to work towards accomplishing certain goals if they saw these goals as their goals as compared to their company or boss’s goals.
Servant leadership is not about relinquishing authority in as much as it is about using authority to serve others. It is about using authority to help someone on your team attain their personal and professional goals. It is about using authority to help someone on your team to grow and develop. For example authority may give you decision making power over how money within your company is spent. You may choose to allocate some of this money towards a training program that will help better a team member’s craft.
When Caribbean history is examined it is glaringly apparent why we do not instinctively associate leadership with serving. To serve meant that one was inferior. To serve meant that someone’s child had more opportunities than yours. To serve meant abused indentureship. To serve meant slavery.
Because of these events in history it may be a matter of difficulty for the progenitors of African slaves and indentured servants who have worked their way up the social ladder to once again consider finding themselves in a place of service in the stead of the control and the power that they were cultured to believe that leadership would lend to them. However, the true power of leadership will only manifest when we understand that REAL Leaders Serve.