In IA Thought, Information Architecture
Summary: TUG operations manager Paul Metler shares how listening is an integral part of Servant Leadership and making things be good

It’s easier to do a good job when you know what good is.

Paul MetlerI used to be the Director of Catering Sales and Events for Zingerman’s, a five-star Deli in Ann Arbor. I helped plan weddings and catering for people all over Southern Michigan, Northern Ohio and Indiana, often managing multiple events on the same day.

Planning a wedding means capturing the vision of the bride, (or often her mother) who’s been spending most of her waking hours thinking about what things will look like on the special day. It was a huge responsibility to make sure everything was perfect, from watching the weather, to coordinating vendors, to monitoring the temperature of the food and beverages (in a tent in a field, 25 miles from anywhere, on a 90-degree day).

When our catering team pulled it off—it was good. Why? Because we listened. We listened because we had leaders who tried to live out Servant Leadership, modeled after a book by Robert Greenleaf by the same title.

My job with The Understanding Group is similar to wedding planning. Integral to doing a good job is learning how to serve our team whose job, in turn, is making things be good. I still tend to call our clients “guests” and will always look at the people we serve (including employees, as my guests). This, I like to believe, ultimately makes things good.

“Quite simply Servant Leadership changes everything about the culture of a company and the outcome of the product a company sells, simply because good is defined. It is all about giving, and it is all about service…In any element of life, service is the highest form of contribution we can make to those around us…Perhaps the toughest Servant Leadership paradox to tackle is the higher up you move in the organization, the greater your obligation is to serve.” Ari Weinzweig Being a Better Leader.

Working for a start-up information architecture firm and thinking about how to create a culture of Servant Leadership, often working virtually, is a challenge. In Being a Better Leader, Ari breaks down Servant Leadership into simple steps that are easy to teach and model.

Six elements of effective Servant Leadership

  1. Provide an inspiring and strategically sound vision
  2. Give great day-to-day service to the staff
  3. Manage in an ethical manner
  4. Learning and teaching
  5. Help staff succeed by living the “training compact” (I’ll expand on this)
  6. Saying thanks

Having worked as a recipient and practitioner of these steps, I’ll be taking some time over the coming weeks to break down these elements of Servant Leadership in a way it can be applied in any work environment.

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  • Barbara Mitchell

    Loved your thoughts–you are so right about how Servant Leadership can be effective in organizaitons. I read the book several years ago and am so glad to be reminded of the concept and I am going back to revisit the book! Thanks.

  • Karen Himmelspach

    Hi Paul,
    How true: “the higher up you move in the organization, the greater your obligation is to serve.” Companies whose upper management recognizes this are even more commendable!
    Thanks for posting this!