Supply Chain Leadership Series Ep 10: The Art of Servant Leadership
Host: Chris Gaffney
Co-Hosts: Mike Ogle and Rodney Apple
In this Episode:
Episode 10 of our Supply Chain Leadership Series tackles the role of a servant leader. We discuss the elements and roles of an effective servant leader and ways in which others focus on servant leadership. We do a deep dive into contemporary research findings on leadership styles and characteristics of servant leaders. We also study the principles which define servant leadership and how to start on this path that leads to greater success, job satisfaction and the bonus element of retaining key employers while encouraging their growth.
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What is the Supply Chain Careers Leadership Series?
The Supply Chain Careers Leadership series expands its previous content format into a more in-depth focus on leadership development. This program is a series of 10+ episodes that are hosted by our very own supply chain executive, Chris Gaffney. These episodes explore subject matter and topics that relate to excelling as a leader in the business world, much of which Chris has gleaned as VP of Supply Chain at Coca-Cola. Familiar faces and fellow supply chain leaders, Rodney Apple and Mike Ogle chime in with their experience and knowledge, all of which can be used by supply chain leaders to develop and advance their careers.
I do think servant leadership also enables the other areas we talk about in terms of working effectively how I grow, where am I headed? Because the servant leader is really focused on investment in their folks. I think about all of these episodes and they all come from some set of experiences that I’ve had both as an individual and as a leader.
But I would tell you in this case, This one is motivated by a leader that I worked for and in my time I had the opportunity to work for some really exceptional leaders. When I was the Vice President of Transportation for Coke in North America, Don Knauss was the President of the business unit. And ironically, I had known Don at Frito. He was rising at Frito Lay when I had started my career. And he was in the southeast region for us at Frito. And I knew Don, beyond Coke, when he led, was the CEO of Clorox and he was just an exceptional guy. And you might not think necessarily that he would’ve been a fan of servant leadership cuz he’d been an ex-marine. He had super high expectations of his people. But when I was in that VP of Transportation role, maybe it was my second year, we had a really tough year. The market changed on us as a lot of our listeners would understand. The transportation market has ups and downs, and we came out of some really tough years in the pandemic. And if you were in that head of transportation logistics role, you could have done everything right, but you couldn’t bring the results in. And we had a variance to our business plan. It was a staggering number. Don had to speak to it. To CEO level folks. It was noted in the company’s results for a few quarters and I remember after a town hall, Don got up and he talked about it and I think he even called me out and said, Chris and the team are working on this.
And I was not in a great place. I was like, this was very humbling for me and for my team cuz we weren’t able to get it under control. And after the town hall, I was talking to a few people and he was heading up the steps of the auditorium and he stopped and he talked to me and he put his arm around my shoulder and he said, Chris, I want you to know that we have your back. And I was stunned by that. I was appreciative, and I said thank you. It was just great to have a leader who really was in my corner, and so that was kind of my motivation for kind of becoming more of a student of the concept of servant leadership. So, Mike and Rodney, I’d love to hear your perspective and experience on the topic.[00:05:37] Mike Ogle: There’s some past bosses, past experiences, but since I’m a little older than the average listener and having grown up in a period where the boss was king or a queen, then it took me a while to really realize that the leader’s job is more to form great teams and get the best out of the players on their teams. I do get into sports quite a bit when you talk about teams and seeing how head coaches and assistant coaches and building teams, but my early experiences were yelling types of coaches that were drill sergeants telling you what to do. This is what you were told. Sometimes that’s what’s necessary, depending on the conditions and the timing, but some of the best leaders that I experienced, they did more in setting the goals. They provided the resources that you asked for and expected you to know what you needed and what you were trying to do, and they’d keep their eyes on the big picture plus the status and the needs of the players. But yeah, after having spent alternating gigs in academia and industry, my first management experiences were way too focused on do this and here’s how, whether it was graduate students or whether it was some of my early employees, my approach really shifted to here’s what we need to achieve and what do you need to make it happen? And I gotta say that really was a game changer for me. It resulted in a much more productive and really far more satisfying experiences. [00:07:01] Rodney Apple: Yeah, Mike, that’s good stuff. And I would echo that unfortunate boss that leads with the whip and micromanages and barks orders. So, kind of like transitioned me into, I want to be the opposite of that because I don’t like that it doesn’t work for me and I didn’t see it working for others. It leads to high turnover and resentment and people just getting that stuck in a rut that can result from having a bad manager. But I’ll tell you what, I’m fortunate to be in this recruiting role working with, I’d say thousands, both in my corporate experience and with hundreds of others. And just getting a feel for all the different leadership styles. One of the key transition moments for me was as I’ve just worked on various executive searches in supply chain, and usually that’s a client is a C-level person and they want head of supply chain or logistics or whatever it might be. And just hearing a lot of our companies and clients go back to, we really need a servant leader in this role, kind of describing what those traits look like. And I’m over here thinking, okay, there’s gotta be something to this. Cuz you know, that people, I think people lead with that style, but some the term may not have been around to the masses. So, I just kind of picked up on what my clients were looking for and their senior leaders started researching it. And even as we’ve done a lot of podcasts with executives, you hear that common theme. But I would also say on the flip side of that is when we’re doing these replacement searches, you also hear, well, this leader was barking orders authoritative, and it just pushed people out the door.
So, you kind of hear both of what doesn’t work with the leadership style and then you hear what does work and I’m just naturally gonna gravitate towards what are our clients doing? What are they looking for? And embody that. And then I would say part two of this is having my own firm and I’ve been leading back to my twenties, so a lot of experience, but I kind of picked up on the habits of the bad leaders and, you know, do it this way and get it done by this date. And I would say I’ve transitioned from the early years of building the firm out with, hey, everybody should do the same thing the same way, and kind of evolved over time and it wasn’t like I was the bark order kind of guy. I learned to pick up on the individual strengths, really listen, really have empathy and just caring for them as an individual and just trying to create this incredible culture. One of our key values, core values is caring for people and giving back, and that’s just, I think that’s the backbone of servant leadership is being kind, caring for people. It just goes a long ways.[00:09:41] Chris Gaffney: I think that’s great and all of our experiences both leading and being led shape our own style. So, I think that’s the beauty of diving into this, is that we all have our lifetime of experience to say, what do we think is preferred? [00:9:57] Rodney Apple: Chris, could you maybe take us through some of these different styles and where does servant leadership fit in and why do you think it should be the preferred style? Because there are many styles, obviously. [00:10:09] Chris Gaffney: Thanks, Rodney. I think if we’re gonna dive into one style, we do have to acknowledge there are many, and I think there are many that can be successful. So, let’s look at the kind of the wheel. There are 10 commonly regarded leadership styles, and some of them you may scratch off real quickly, right?
There’s the autocratic leader, and I think you’re hard pressed to say that that’s gonna be super in style. You’ve got the bureaucratic leader, somebody who’s very hierarchical. That obviously also doesn’t work well. The laissez faire leader, kind of purely hands off, may sound good, but has a lot of challenges to it.
There are certain leadership styles that may work in startups. If you’ve got a visionary leader or a transformational leader that’s out there. Then there are some that may be starting to get close to the space of, what we call servant leadership. You can use a very coaching focused leadership style that may work well literally in the athletic kind of world that may work well.
There is a concept of a democratic leader that may work well in certain settings where you really do need group consensus, and then you’ve got kind of a pace setter kind of mindset that really is how do we just be helpful and motivational. I would also say transactional leadership is out there, and I think a lot of people would also say that, that doesn’t sound fantastic.
So, if you make the case for servant leadership versus all of these, we talked about our experiences. I think in particular in the last 10 years, people have a lot of options out there, and we’re even in a time today where the job market, particularly for high quality and the best people, presents a lot of options. So, if you want to attract and retain the best people, they’re looking for a leader who, yes, can provide clear direction, but one who can really support their growth. As you talked about, I think Mike and Rodney set somebody up for success. Give them the right resources, give them the opportunity to bring their whole self to work, bring their skills uniquely to a role and be successful.
I think that’s the biggest case beyond I think other things we’ll talk about is for me, this was how I got the best people to join my team and to stay on my team. So that to me, Tips the scales as much as anything else in terms of my views, why I think it’s a preferred style.[00:12:44] Mike Ogle: We each had shared some of our experiences, but is there any research that actually validates servant leadership? [00:12:52] Chris Gaffney: Mike, I’m trying to do a better job as we talk about these topics that are typically informed by our experiences to step back and say what is the rigor around it? So, this is an important question. So I think there is a bit of theory that speaks to the concept of servant leadership, and so there are actually two social theories that the social scientists look at an anchor to servant leadership.
One is called social learning and the other is called social exchange theory. So, the first one, social learning theory basically suggests that servant leaders are able and do influence their folks on their team as their followers then, and the team members observe and emulate the leader’s positive behavior.
The second theory, social exchange theory, argues that servant leaders, team members, followers are exhibiting positive behaviors due to the reciprocal relationship that they develop with their leader. So, there’s a lot in there, but I think when you take it to the next level, in terms of the evidence around the benefits that the research suggests for servant leadership, there are four elements that stand out.
So, the first is employee organization commitment. That headline is essentially that the commitment of the employees to the organization is a major contributor to how well an organization functions, and my anecdotal evidence would agree with that. And it also shows that the management style of servant leadership is a main factor in reducing turnover so that the research does say this helps you keep people on your team.
The second one is employee life, and in this case, servant leadership practices appear to have an effect on the life of the employee, outside of work. And so, that I think an employee can then say, this influences how I show up at work, but it also has a positive effect on my family life. And I think that’s a very positive attribute for a lot of uh, team members.
The third bucket is job performance. As we’ve kind of talked about, a servant leader’s goal is to build upon the skills of their employees, make them better people. Really place a lot of focus on investing in our employees development. And we overtly talked to them in our town halls and we said one of the ways we compete for your ongoing service is aggressively working to build your own capabilities for your success in this current role and your success in the future. And we want you to understand that we think that’s one of the reasons why you should stay with us. So, I’ve seen that in practice and it’s nice to see the research.
The servant leader’s reliance on one-to-one communication to understand the abilities, needs, desires, goals, and potential of those individuals aids in the employee’s ability to express themselves in the workplace. So, this is the idea of being able to bring your whole self to work. Being confident that you’re in an environment where you can talk about what you’re trying to accomplish with a manager. And I think this leads to these employees returning this same nurturing idea towards coworkers and making the workplace a great environment.[00:16:21] Rodney Apple: Chris, it’s good to have that validation through research and then through our own experiences. But I know we can recall back to some of the podcast guests we’ve had on, and some of these folks you come away after they talk about their leadership style and you almost wanna work for them. It kind of just exudes through the conversation. But, is anything that we might wanna highlight, for our audience, some of those nuggets from past leaders that we’ve had on. [00:16:45] Chris Gaffney: Absolutely. So, people can go back and pull these up. And one is with Steve Szilagyi from MSC Industrial. Again, most of the folks that we’ve got in our leader series have been at it for a long time in our very successful, and in many cases have been successful in multiple environments. So, you know, Steve’s headlines, leadership is about serving, if you get your mind right about that, then you can lead and you can earn trust and you can earn the right to lead people to greater challenges and to greater accomplishments. So that’s first on his list.
The second one from him is that people need to know what the goal is. We do need to paint the picture for what good looks like. And if we can give people that clarity, then they can go do a lot on their own.[BREAK at 17:36] [00:18:16] Chris Gaffney: And the next question that Steve says, you’ve gotta answer for the team, is do they have the tools to do their job? And I think, Mike, you quoted that in your own thinking around that. Are we putting them in a position to be successful? We’ve talked about giving people a winnable game in some of our discussions. Are you helping them get what they need?
I think the third thing that Steve calls out is First Break All the Rules. And that’s actually a book that our leaders can go find. And he says it’s a wonderful book. One of the best books on leadership that he’s ever read. And what that book calls out is making sure that people are in the right position to do what they do best every day. Understand your employee’s natural abilities. Put them in a role where they, can leverage those. Make sure that there’s a fit for the roles that don’t have them playing out of position. So, I think that’s a great insight.
The fourth thing on his list is just give people positive reinforcement. And he said, you can go a long way with just one compliment on a given day for an employee. Something small and simple, you know, that positive feedback on a regular basis about what they’re doing and I can totally relate to this, people will go a long way from that just simple affirmation.
And I think the fifth thing on this list is where it’s compelling is it gets personal, is that the employee understands that a servant leader cares about them as an individual. And as a leader, you do need to care about your team as people. You know, nobody works for the company and nobody works for you. People work, I used to say this myself, people work for I Incorporated. They work to support themselves and their families and dreams. And your job as a leader is to help them succeed in that. And then the last thing on his list is that you need to help people grow, take an interest in their development, help them grow. Coach them, mentor them, feed them, encourage them. And so that’s very consistent with what we’ve seen in the research as part of that growth is you need to make sure that their voices are heard and that they know that their opinion counts. That they can be participative if they’ve got an opinion, if they’ve got an idea how to fix something, they can get engaged in that. I sometimes say the answer is in the room, but you know, the process is the problem. And if we’ve got people, they know their process and they can help that process get better. So, I think Steve’s perspective is fantastic and so I would recommend people to listen to that podcast.
Mike and I just completed a podcast with John White, who is the recently retired Chancellor of the University of Arkansas University system. And he talked to us about his leadership class and his book, so listen to John White and go buy his book on leadership, but he brought in CEOs and senior leaders from around the US and he quoted in his book that, Don Smith, who was the CEO of Tyson Foods, and when he met with his class, said, listen, my job is to serve people who serve people and if you’re in a consumer business, that’s a pretty clear line.
And he defined servant leadership in response to a student’s question that servant leaders have a humble confidence, are a resource to people being led. They value teamwork. They never let people think they are superior to the people they lead. They never assign work they’re not willing to do, and they help others reach their potential. That’s pretty powerful. And he, Smith, associates three words with servant leadership. That’s heart, head, and habits. And the heart connects to a person’s core values, you know, their concern for others and their courage to make decisions. Head connects to vision and motivational strategies. You paint a picture for somebody where they can see something out there that they can march towards?
And accountability and responsibility are connected to the concept of habits. And so, he says servant leaders must have strong core values, evidence of genuine concern for others, be courageous and make tough decisions, have vision, be able to motivate their team, be accountable, and be responsible. Last but not least, they must be selfless.
So, some really cool experiential references in addition to our own experience and to the research that’s out there.[00:22:42] Mike Ogle: Those are great experiences that we had on our podcast episodes. And I think structure wise then, those were certainly a few strong pieces to focus on. So, this might be a great time to introduce the pillars and principles of servant leadership. [00:22:59] Chris Gaffney: Our folks out there who get fired up about this. The good news is there’s a lot of information out there in the public domain, and the good news is, depending on where you go, one person’s list of pillars is very close to someone else’s list of principles. And so, there are some very common items on that list. Many of them will track directly to what we’ve covered, but I’ll go through the list real quickly. So here are the 10.
The first is listening. And essentially the headline there is effective servant leaders don’t just speak, but listen to what their team has to say. Number two is empathy and effective servant leaders care about their team on a personal level. That’s huge, and I’ll come back to that one. Number three is healing. Effective servant leaders understand the importance of fixing problems before moving on to new goals and projects. You can’t have a car that won’t run after a year if you ignored every little thing that happened. You gotta take care of things as they come. Self-awareness is number four. Effective servant leaders are aware of their selves and their teams, and more importantly, how their own actions and behaviors land on their team. Number five is persuasion. Effective leaders guide and persuade team members. So Mike, in contrast to some of our discussions where an author authoritarian leader might tell team members what to do, a servant leader tells them why it’s the best method or process, and so get the team on board and build that consensus.
Number six is conceptualization and effective servant leaders can think beyond small tasks and communicate larger goals and why they’re important to the team. They help the team member understand how each person’s role fits into the larger objectives of the organization or the company. Number seven is foresight. Effective servant leaders understand the importance of learning from the past, both mistakes and successes, and using those lessons learned to evaluate the decisions that are on the table. They understand and identify what’s happening now. They use tools like SWOT analysis to evaluate their current situation and set smart goals for the future. Number eight. Stewardship. Effective servant leaders acknowledge and understand the importance of their responsibility and they protect and uphold the trust and confidence given them in their role. And make sure their team understands this and they do the basics. They do what they say they’re gonna do. Okay. They work hard, they’re dependable. They lead by example. Number nine, and we’ve definitely talked about this is commitment to growth and effective servant leaders motivate their teams to grow and are committed to helping their teams develop professionally. Last, but not least, and I think we’ve also connected this one, is that they build community. Servant leaders, encourage collaboration and engagement within their organizations. They do that by valuing the opinions of everyone on their team, encouraging folks to share their opinions, and they provide opportunities for interaction through social events, the way they design their workspace, the way they conduct meetings.
So that’s a pretty well-structured list. And the nice thing about it, again, it really anchors well to what we’ve heard so far in our scan of our own experiences, the research and the learnings of some great leaders.[00:26:33] Rodney Apple: Awesome, Chris. Good stuff. We’ve talked about these pillars and I think a lot of people could probably identify with a couple of these or some of these, and if you’re really good, all of them, right. But this is a journey, as I have experienced over the years. And it takes effort and self-awareness and sometimes coaching and listening to others. But you know, what’s your recommendation for folks that aspire to lead through the style, and maybe they’re not getting a lot of good results through their current management style. Where do you begin to make this transition? [00:27:07] Chris Gaffney: As we’ve discussed, most of us started our own leadership journey and went down one path or another and gained some humility and realized that the way we were doing things didn’t work. So, if I think of our audience, we have folks who aspire to lead, folks who are starting out on the leadership journey and folks who have been at it and are kind of sharpening the saw.
So wherever you’re at, if you’re like us, and you had that epiphany that said directive leadership, autocratic, all those other things weren’t working. You get that own self-realization. You say, where do I start? Well, the first thing you’ve gotta do is lead by example. So, if you’re leading a team and you had that epiphany and said, I’m gonna approach this a different way, I think the first thing I would do is, is make sure my team understood I’m gonna take a different path and I would ask them to work with me. Hold me accountable, be patient as I learn and grow. So, start by leading by example, and as we’ve heard in some of our quotes, be willing to do anything that you’d ask your team to do. Make sure they see that in you. Make sure they see you putting in the same level of work and effort that they do. If you do those things, I think that motivates them to engage in their work and that sends a signal that something’s different.
Now, if you’re the brand new leader and you could do this coming out of the gate, that’s wonderful. We actually will likely cover that in our next episode. But if you’re listening to this as you’re entering into your first leadership experience, these will be golden things to do right out of the gate.
So keep that in mind. I think number two on the list in that journey to servant leadership is show people why their job is important. And I recall Marcus Buckingham in one of his books, he talked about this, is that people need to understand how what they do contributes to the overall success of the larger organization. If they understand that they really are part of how an organization makes great products, sells great services, delights customers, they will definitely be more empowered, willing to work harder cuz they can see how they fit into things, how they fit into the big picture. So, make sure your team members know why the work they do is important and how it directly affects the company’s overall success.
Third one on the list is encourage collaboration and employee engagement. And I think this is a fantastic thing that you can do as an individual contributor, and you can surely do as a leader of people. And what the leader does in this case is making sure that everyone on the team is heard and everyone’s opinion matters, and that the ideas and input from the team translates into action that can improve the way the team does work. It’s not just listening, but it’s actually taking some of that to heart and action and, and it really then can show the team that you’re serious, that what they say matters and that their contributions can really tangibly change how the team works. This is a huge motivator. And really is one of those things that starts down that path of getting team members, not only to give you discretionary effort, but to also produce higher quality work. They really own it at that point.
Fourth on the list is this whole idea of helping your team grow and develop. I think if you’re interested in helping your team members become great leaders, if they know specifically that I want you to be successful in this job, but I’m gonna prepare you to do something more, you know that those are words that any employee would love to hear because there’s so many folks who say, I’m gonna sit here and do this job for the rest of my life. But if your manager or your leader is coming to you and saying, let’s talk about what you want to do in the future, what you need to do to be able to build your capability, to be able to aspire to that goal, and how we can work on that in the context of your current role. It’s huge and that can be, continuing education, employee, develop project teams, any aspect of things that will help them expand their knowledge and skills. It’s huge in particular when you’ve got aspiring leaders on your team to get them active leadership roles in group projects. This is the gateway to team leadership. And if they see you as committed to their growth, they’re more likely to listen as you give them feedback on how they can improve because they know you’re, bringing this to them from the heart. You actually care about them as a person.
And that really gets to number five, is that care for your team personally. And I would tell you in my last few roles, I knew I had good people and I typically would say to them, I’m actually interested much more in your personal wellbeing and in many cases, this was during the pandemic and it was their physical wellbeing, their mental wellbeing, what they had going on outside of work. I said, that matters to me more than anything. I know what you’re capable of doing. I know how much you care about your work. I’m interested in you taking good care of yourself, getting in and outta here, having good work-life balance and that may seem counterintuitive, but what I know and I’ve learned over time, and I think this is how you could start as a servant leader, is that if you’re empathetic, you can help people create work-life balance, help them cope with the stress that everyone has. If your team sees you sincerely embody that. And it’s not just this transactional employee relationship. They’re gonna root for you. They’re gonna tell people about that. They are a net promoter of your team to say, on my team, I’m confident that my manager truly cares about me and the work will come.
I think the last one that I think is a big deal is servant leaders are always working on how they can improve. How can improve their own leadership and how they can improve their contributions to the team. And so, servant leaders encourage their team members to provide feedback, the good, the bad, the ugly, whether it’s process improvement, whether it’s feedback for the leader or big ideas that they think could make the difference in the company. And if your team members see you soliciting that feedback and acting on it and championing their ideas, then they know that you’re on the path of being a servant leader. Those are some very tangible and very reachable steps for somebody who says, I want to get started down this path.[00:33:48] Mike Ogle: You know, Chris, hearing all those, I wish I would’ve had that on a sheet of paper back when I started at my first industry job about 25 years ago. That would’ve saved me a lot of angst, even as a servant employee to understand what it takes to become the servant leader. [00:34:07] Chris Gaffney: You know, it’s a great point, Mike, and we saw this as I looked and did some of the research on this, a lot of people know the term and they would intuitively understand elements of it. But when you break it down into these tangible list of things, it really gives something to people that they can act on. And as an employee kind of have a checklist of saying, here’s what I’m looking for if I’m looking to join a team, are these things in evidence? [00:34:33] Rodney Apple: Took the words out of my mouth. I was about to make that point. So, if you’re young in your career, a student, as you’re interviewing, there are some questions you could ask and probe and about their leadership style. And I think everyone, coming outta school early career, seek out that type of leader. And then once you find that type of leader, latch onto that person and really try to emulate their behaviors, when, as it relates to the leadership style, if you could get going early on this, you’re gonna advance quicker to leadership. And, you’re also gonna learn too, like how to avoid working for those types of leaders. You’re not always gonna be able to avoid it cuz sometimes you get promoted or pushed into another group. But, early on it’s a good thing to find a good servant leader, cuz I think it’ll help accelerate the career and both into management as well.
So good stuff, Chris. This has been, wonderful. Listener’s, audience, if you like what you’ve heard, you find it useful, we’d love for you to pop over to our website, SCMtalent.com. Check out the insights tab. We’ve also got the career resources tab of content on career advancement we’ve been accumulating and building for we’re well over a decade.
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Chris, what’s up for our next episode?[00:36:03] Chris Gaffney: So, Rodney and Mike. In our next episode, we’re gonna continue our focus on leading others, and we’re gonna talk about one that’s a challenge. So many folks out there aspire to graduate from being an individual contributor to a leader of others, but that first time leading other people can be very tricky. You may be leading peers, you may be leading people who are experientially older than you and literally older than you. And so there, there are many dos and there are many don’ts. And so, we’re hoping to dive into that one on the next episodes. I’m looking forward to it. [00:36:41] Rodney Apple: Well, thanks so much guys. Thanks audience, for listening, and we’ll catch you on the next time.
Who is Chris Gaffney?
- Principal at ECG providing Supply Chain Services to the CPG Industry
- 25 Years w/ Coca-Cola holding Supply Chain leadership roles:
- VP of Global Strategic Supply Chain
- President of Global Supply
- SVP of Product Supply Systems
- VP of Logistics for North America