In June, myself and several of my employees volunteered our time to the Discovery Center of Springfield. On a Thursday morning, we convened at the Center, enjoyed our regular morning chit-chat, and then dove into our task at hand – refurbishing one of the many galleries in our community’s science museum.
words Christopher Swan, AIA
photographs courtesy of BRP Architects
We quickly worked together to develop a plan of action. Everyone went to work without any clear assignments or direction, but we knew what we wanted the end result to look like. We broke the huddle and went to work on separate tasks, some in pairs and some on their own as the individual task required. As folks finished one assignment, they looked around to see what task needed help, all the while communicating, enjoying each other’s company, and sharing the joy of knowing we were making a difference. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, we were done.
Our work that morning serves my company two-fold: First, together we have the satisfaction of serving a local organization that wouldn’t normally have the resources to accomplish this work, and second, we had the opportunity to complete a project together outside the office. Our service to the local organization shows we care for our community and are willing to make it a better place. Our time together, and the fluidity of the act of serving, teaches employees soft skills that directly translate to the office and how we work with clients. For me, this is the exemplification of servant leadership.
Servant leadership is contrary to what is typically portrayed of a leader – someone who always has the solution for the company, someone who directs all matters of the company, someone who connects their authority to success. Servant leadership is none of those things. Servant leadership sets aside ego. Servant leadership allows others to grow. Servant leadership coaches and guides those in the organization to achieve more than they ever thought they could.
A servant leader has a serve-first mindset, and they are focused on empowering and uplifting those who work for them. They are serving instead of commanding, showing humility instead of brandishing authority, and always looking to enhance the development of their staff members in ways that unlock potential, creativity and sense of purpose. As a professional services firm practicing architecture, I believe this philosophy is how we should approach our clients. We should serve our clients, and each other, with humility, empathetic listening, and the “how can I help?” attitude.
It means we set our egos aside, abandon personal motives, and truly work to solve our clients’ problems.
The ethos of servant leadership is so engrained in our company that our tag line on all our marketing materials is Your Vision. Our Focus. It is a statement of our belief that our job is to understand our clients’ vision and to make that our focus while we are working together. It means we set our egos aside, abandon personal motives, and truly work to solve our clients’ problems.
My team’s time at the Discovery Center allowed us to practice those skills outside of the office. While I may be their employer, I was not the one directing traffic, barking orders, or telling people what to do. Instead, I ask, “How can I help?” My coworkers would tell me what to do, and I would go to work. We all knew what we wanted the end result to be, and we were all engaged to ensure its success. This is how we run projects in our office and how we work with clients. This approach is powerful both inside and outside of the office. Inside the office, it fosters everyone’s ownership in the outcome, creates better collaboration, fosters a positive work environment, and creates employee loyalty and trust. Outside the office, it has the same effect, but with our clients and consultants. Ultimately, I believe that servant leadership creates happier employees and happier clients. It all starts with one simple question, “How can I help?” CS