leadership development

Illustrations and Design: Angela Rogers

Leaders Are Made, but Servant Leaders Are Born

Some think you can’t make talent; you’re just born with it. Others think that after 10,000 hours of training you’ll become expert at anything. In terms of servant leadership, we think it’s both, in that order. (A multitude of different leadership styles exist, but we’ve chosen servant leadership as our goal.) While valuable leadership skills can be developed through training and practice, a servant leader is born with a high level of compassion, empathy and a desire to learn. By bringing into our company people with a humble, growth mindset and developing their leadership skills through RIDE (Relationship, Instill Meaning, Development, Executions) we’ve created a culture of servant leadership and it’s worked. We’d like to share our leadership development process with you: from hiring to training; and then to ongoing mentoring and coaching.  

Raising up Leaders Begins with Hiring

It’s important to not only instill meaning in what we do, but to hire folks who find meaning in what we do, and their role in particular. That way, their passions are aligned with everyone else in the organization and the meaning of the organization as a whole.”–Andrew Fayad, CEO

The critical point where we start establishing leaders happens right when we hire, at the very beginning. Often organizations wonder why they have horrible bosses and bad management. Hiring is where it all starts—at the very beginning.  At ELM, we don’t set out to specifically hire “leaders,” that is, people who demonstrate natural authority or self-assurance. What we look for are people who value and cultivate healthy relationships, in other words, servant leaders. Servant Leadership works especially well for us, being in a learning and development industry. Our goal and purpose are not only to train one another but create a culture of continuous growth, learning, and development. Our hiring process really sets the tone for our organization. By intentionally seeking out people who value other people, we set ourselves up for organizational success.

Why the Traditional Hiring Process Doesn’t Work

The traditional process of hiring is archaic. In most organizations, it’s not done objectively, nor is enough emphasis put on reviewing for potential personality conflicts. They check the boxes for certain skill sets and then undergo an entirely subjective interview process fraught with potential for failure. Interviewing, in that sense, is just like dating. You usually don’t see anything real about someone in the first, second or sometimes even third date. Dating and interviewing are often complex impression management rituals involving creative uses of half-truths and lies of omission, for example, you would tell your date or the interviewer that you’re into minimalist living, but fail to mention that you sleep on a mattress in your parent’s basement.

To counteract this, many modern organizations use data from personality assessments to better hone in on potential candidates. From the beginning, we wanted to use as much as we could, statistically, to determine whether or not a person was capable of being a part of our organization, in that they fit in with the personality traits and behaviors we deemed to be culturally responsible. What we found with the assessment tools we tried were that it was too easy to ‘cheat’ on them and none of them were skewed towards our company culture. We asked Paul Fayad and Professor Chak Fu Lam at City University of Hong Kong to make one for us. No hiring process is perfect, but so far, we’ve seen positive results from this.

An Assessment for Hiring Servant Leaders

Our Personality Assessment Tool (PAT) is a digital questionnaire that all potential hires take, so we can determine whether or not their personalities match up with successful servant leaders within our organization. Fayad and Professor Lam derived this test from our own employees, leadership team and a poll of 4,000 other top performing people in their respective organizations. The PAT is timed with about 114 questions and takes 25 minutes. We have tested and used those results over the years and it works, as we now know what sections we like and where we want people to be. If a potential hire’s results match up with the kind of people we want; we put them through the interview.

The PAT’s Five Measurements of a Servant Mindset:

  1. Personality – We suggest different scenarios and ask how candidates would respond. This gives us an understanding of whether or not a candidate has a positive personality, i.e. are they compassionate, empathetic and do they enjoy relationships with people?
  2.  Leadership Behavioral – Do they focus on mistakes, are they forgiving, do they foster a higher learning environment?
  3. Customer Service Mindset – We measure how they will meet the needs of the customer. Are they positive during unfavorable outcomes, e.g. if a customer asks you to do something against company policy and procedures, would you do it?
  4. Change Champion Mindset – They don’t have to want change to occur, but do they support it? Are they open to it? Our rationale is that change occurs, always. People that have an aversion might slow down the process and we won’t be nimble as an organization with those people.
  5. Honesty Score – This is a series of questions we ask to determine whether or not the person is using impression management to pass the test.  

The 70-20-10 Rule to Successful Leadership Training

“Relationships don’t come naturally; you have to work at them. We should always be working towards being better. The wrong kind of leader takes all that for granted by saying, ‘You should listen to me because I have experience.’ No. Every day you become less of who you are unless you become better at who you are.”–Paul Fayad, CFO

Leadership at ELM is an ongoing process that can be best summarized with the 70-20-10 Rule:

  •      70% of leadership development occurs on the job in a self-directed process. Most of what we learn as leaders and managers occur daily in the interactions and decisions we make involving our staff, clients, and finances.  
  •      20% of leadership development occurs through mentors and coaches. We give everyone at ELM the opportunity to have an on-the-job mentor and coach and we grow them into a mentor and coach for others.  
  •      10% of leadership development occurs through education. This includes classes, seminars, business books, journals, online learning courses and other formal learning tools.

Leadership Education and Training with RIDE

RIDE is an acronym for the Four Pillars of ELM Leadership: Relationships, Instill Meaning, Development, and Execution. Our employees hold the leadership accountable to these precepts and likewise when we hire a new employee at ELM, we expect nothing less than a “RIDE or die” commitment, like Steve McQueen and the Magnificent 7. We know we want to be different at ELM, in that rather than a top-down organizational structure, we want our leadership to serve the needs of the team, which in turn helps our clients.

The Four Pillars of RIDE explained

4 Steps to Putting a Servant Leadership Development Plan into Action

  1. Select Mentors and Coaches in Your Organization

At ELM, we have a training process for both leaders and mentors. Mentors are more informal (at ELM they volunteer). They choose to welcome someone and provide help to make them more comfortable with the social aspects of the organization and culture. They preserve and perpetuate the continuation of culture in an organization. Coaches are a formal part of the leadership team. They have expertise in their professions and can give solid answers based on life experience.

  1.     Hold Leadership Team Check-ins, Workshops and Team Building Activities

Coaches have a door-open policy for quick questions and advice. Leaders also have one-on-one’s between coach and employee, usually over coffee every week or two. Teams have formal weekly Pulse meetings, where they talk about potential issues and review problems/solutions. Workshops are held as needed, during onboarding and anytime a task force comes up with a new solution (more on that below.) We hold quarterly All Hands, where we discuss large topics like customer service and team building activities.

  1.     Allow Decision Making to Come from Everybody

“Who wants to have change forced on them that they weren’t a part of or don’t understand? Most organizations make decisions from the top, down. That is the farthest away that ELM wants to be.”–Paul Fayad, CFO

At ELM, we use task forces to solve issues and to allow the opportunity for anyone in the organization to be a part of the higher-level decision-making process. The benefit is threefold: 1. Everyone receives on-the-job leadership training; 2. Buy-in to change is inevitable when ideas are democratic; 3. Organizations are nimbler when they can jump right into implementation without being slowed down by a natural resistance to change.   

  1.     Foster a Company Culture that Celebrates Mistakes

At ELM, we get really excited about mistakes, because mistakes are opportunities for growth. We aren’t afraid of them, as we have humility built into our culture, whether it’s a mistake we can learn from or a win we all celebrate as a team.

How A Servant Leader Organizational Structure Looks

“We are led by the people that work for us. We provide support, as leaders, to empower them. We give them as many tools and opportunities possible to create a stronger company. Therefore, it is a team that creates a better company, as a collective, not individuals who are deemed to do that because of their titles.”— Andrew Fayad, CEO

Traditionally, corporations are run in a typical hierarchical format, where all of the decisions come from the top of the pyramid, or board of directors and the C-suite. This becomes problematic when 90% of US CEOs are concerned about finding employees with strong problem-solving skills and 88% are worried about lack of leadership abilities in their current workforce.  At ELM, we have a traditional structure hybrid, which we call the ELM New Order. We want our structure flatter in order to make decisions faster, but also somewhat traditional to have experts in the form of the leadership/coaching team in place, to ensure that it’s the right decision.

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