Three Servant Leadership “C’s”: Part I

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I vividly remember sitting across from my leader some years ago, discussing an error I had made in my work. It was accidental, but I should have caught it and didn’t — and the information needed to be accurate to make a good decision. He asked, "What do you think happens when you make errors like this?” As I experienced a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, I replied, “Your trust in me is shaken. Now I need to work to gain your trust back.” He didn’t disagree.

I was frustrated with myself and even a bit with him because of the question he asked. His directness affected me because we had built a good relationship over the years, frequently discussing servant leadership issues. It was painful to accept that I had damaged the trust he had in me.

As a student of servant leadership, we have spent time studying trust and how it works in organizations. Awhile ago, I read an article entitled, Are you a Bridge-Builder or a Bridge-Burner?, which explains the relationship between being a bridge-builder or a bridge-burner in relationships. The premise is that both these conditions really come down to either an abundance or a shortage of one essential resource: TRUST. The article shares three questions followers should answer regarding their leader:




These appear to be simple questions, but they are very deep; they are certainly not questions for casual conversation. They foster other questions, like how is my leader doing with regard to compassion, trust and competence? Or (wait for it), how am handling these questions as a leader myself?

After we passed this article around the office, the SLI team came together to talk about a practical approach to get people to engage with these three questions. How do we create an environment where the answer is yes to each one of them? In the second part of this blog, we’ll provide some tips to use that have helped us when answering these important trust questions.

Compassion, character and competence are the heartbeat of servant leadership. They are essential components of trust, which is like oxygen for a servant-led organization. We believe trust is absolutely necessary to produce vibrant, high-achieving organizations. To quote Steven M.R.Covey, “Trust is the one thing that changes everything.” 

Don’t miss Part 2 of this blog post coming up next week.