November 15, 2014 Doug Shaw

Leaders, at any level within an organization, can create an environment of joyful service. Conversely, there are many leaders who view power as something to be held onto tightly and used to control those who report to them. In fact, this kind of person need not be a top executive to exert their realm of power over an entire institution.

As one who has used power in both ways, I can vouch for the benefits of using power to create an environment of freedom and joyful service. After all that’s what philanthropy is all about; serving your nonprofit and those within it to accomplish your mission while making the world a better place. Since service is at the very heart of philanthropy, it’s worth the effort to consider a leadership philosophy or style that encourages rather than dictates.

Organizational health is created by people who in turn create a corporate culture which can be dysfunctional and oppressive, or better yet, functional and innovative.

I can usually sense the corporate culture of a nonprofit within minutes of arriving for a meeting. If the workplace is silent, that tells me something different than if I hear laughter in the halls and conversations in the cubicles and offices. The body language of the employees is another indicator. Important signs like full eye contact, smiles, and openness make me feel welcome, whereas a quick walk past the “minions” in the cubicles to the executive offices tells me a lot about the style of leadership in place, and the cultural health of the organization.

As I mentioned, a person need not be a leader to influence your corporate culture. Our firm once worked for an internationally focused organization that was being held captive by the Information Technology department. It’s true; this department had opted for control versus service. Since they held the keys to all of the communication and data resources, they impacted every department within the organization. Employees almost trembled when they found themselves in need of help with a computer or a special report. Last I heard, this organization is still trying to find its way. Their finances are in short supply, and employee turnover is a significant problem.

I’ve also worked with nonprofits where an attitude of service in the IT department was very much in evidence. Needs were responded to quickly and with grace. The people in this department knew they existed to help their co-workers accomplish their mission. There was an air of humility and openness that made their department a welcome haven for anyone with a technical need.

If you would like to learn more about forming a culture of service, there are two authors who can be of great service to you. Max DePree, former Chariman of the Board of the Herman Miller Corporation has written three wonderful books for your consideration: Leadership is an Art, Leadership Jazz, and Leading Without Power. The second author, Robert K. Greenleaf in his book, Servant Leadership: A Journey Into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, has left a wonderful legacy from his life’s work at AT&T.

May you hear laughter in your hallways!

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