Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why Isn’t ‘Servant Leadership’ More Prevalent?


With servant leadership, a leader's primary role is to serve employees. Everyone from Lao-Tzu to Max De Pree thinks this a wonderful model. Why then, asks Professor Jim Heskett, is this style so rare among CEOs?

 by Jim Heskett

Servant leadership is an age-old concept, a term loosely used to suggest that a leader's primary role is to serve others, especially employees. I witnessed a practical example of it at a ServiceMaster board meeting in the 1990s when CEO William Pollard spilled a cup of coffee prior to the board meeting.

Instead of summoning someone to clean it up, he asked a colleague to get him cleaning compound and a cloth, things easily found in a company that provided cleaning services. Whereupon he proceeded to get down on his hands and knees to clean up the spill himself. The remarkable thing was that board members and employees alike hardly noticed as he did it. It was as if it was expected in a company with self-proclaimed servant leadership.

Lao-Tzu wrote about servant leadership in the fifth-century BC: "The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware…. The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, 'We ourselves have achieved it!'"

It is natural, rightly or wrongly, to relate servant leadership to the concept of an inverted pyramid organization in which top management "reports" upward to lower levels of management. At other times it has been associated with organizations that have near-theological values (for example, Max De Pree's leadership at Herman Miller, as expressed in his book, Leadership is an Art, that emphasizes the importance of love, elegance, caring, and inclusivity as central elements of management). In that regard, it is also akin to the pope's annual washing and kissing of the feet as part of the Holy Thursday rite.

The modern era of servant leadership began with a paper, The Servant as Leader, written by Robert Greenleaf in 1970. In it, he said: "The servant leader is servant first … It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead … (vs. one who is leader first…) … The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons … (and become) more likely themselves to become servants?"

Now it appears that a group of organizational psychologists, led by Adam Grant, are attempting to measure the impact of servant leadership on leaders, not just those being led. Grant describes research in his recent book, Give and Take, that suggests that servant leaders are not only more highly regarded than others by their employees and not only feel better about themselves at the end of the day but are more productive as well. His thesis is that servant leaders are the beneficiaries of important contacts, information, and insights that make them more effective and productive in what they do even though they spend a great deal of their time sharing what they learn and helping others through such things as career counseling, suggesting contacts, and recommending new ways of doing things.

Further, servant leaders don't waste much time deciding to whom to give and in what order. They give to everyone in their organizations. Grant concludes that giving can be exhausting but also self-replenishing. So in his seemingly tireless efforts to give, described in the book, Grant makes it a practice to give to everyone until he detects a habitual "taker" that can be eliminated from his "gift list."

Servant leadership is only one approach to leading, and it isn't for everyone. But if servant leadership is as effective as portrayed in recent research, why isn't it more prevalent? What do you think?

Max De Pree, Leadership is an Art (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 1987)

Adam Grant, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success (New York: Viking Press, 2013)

Robert K. Greenleaf, The Servant as Leader (Westfield, IN: The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, 2008)

C. William Pollard, The Soul of the Firm (New York: HarperBusiness and Grand Rapids, MI: ZondermanPublishingHouse, 1996)

how to spot a liar

13 MAY 2013

Key linguistic cues can help reveal dishonesty during business negotiations, whether it's a flat-out lie or a deliberate omission of key information, according to research by Lyn M. Van Swol, Michael T. Braun, and Deepak Malhotra.

Want to know if someone's lying to you? Telltale signs may include running of the mouth, an excessive use of third-person pronouns, and an increase in profanity.

These are among the findings of a recent experimental study that delves into the language of deception, detailed in the paper Evidence for the Pinocchio Effect: Linguistic Differences Between Lies, Deception by Omissions, and Truths, which was published in the journal Discourse Processes. Asked why the topic of deception is important to business research, negotiation expert Deepak Malhotra responds wryly: "As it turns out, some people will lie and cheat in business!"

Malhotra, the Eli Goldston Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, coauthored the paper with Associate Professor Lyn M. Van Swol and doctoral candidate Michael T. Braun, both from the University of Wisconsin—Madison. "Most people admit to having lied in negotiations, and everyone believes they've been lied to in these contexts," Malhotra says. "We may be able to improve the situation if we can equip people to detect and deter the unethical behavior of others."

"Evidence for the Pinocchio Effect" fills a key gap in the field of deception research, says Van Swol, the study's lead author. Previous studies have examined the linguistic differences between lies and truthful statements. But this one goes a step further to consider the differences between flat-out lying and so-called deception by omission—that is, the willful avoidance of divulging important information, either by changing the subject or by saying as little as possible.

To garner a sample of truth tellers, liars, and deceivers by omission, the researchers recruited 104 participants to play the ultimatum game, a popular tool among experimental economists. In the traditional version of the game, one player (the allocator) receives a sum of money and proposes how to divvy it up with a partner (the receiver). The receiver has the option of either accepting the proposed split or refusing the allocator's proposal—in which case neither player gets any of the money. Because receivers will often reject offers they perceive as unfair, leaving both parties with nothing, it behooves the allocator to offer an amount that will be deemed fair by the receiver. In many instances, allocators choose to share half, Malhotra says.

For the purposes of the deception experiment, the rules of the ultimatum game differed from the traditional version in three ways. First, in this version, the allocator received an endowment of either $30 or $5 to share with the receiver. The receiver had no way of verifying how much money the allocator had been given, information which the allocator was not required to divulge. Hence, an allocator could conceivably give the receiver $2 and keep $28, and the receiver would be none the wiser, perhaps assuming only $5 was in play. The second change was that if the receiver rejected the allocator's offer he or she would receive a default amount of $7.50 (or $1.25)—whereas the allocator would get no money at all.

Finally, each game included two minutes of videotaped conversation in which the receiver could grill the allocator with questions, prior to deciding whether to accept or reject the offer. This provided ample opportunity for the allocator to tell the truth about the money, lie, or try to avoid the subject altogether. "We wanted to create a situation where people could choose to lie or not lie, and it would happen naturally," Van Swol says.

Ultimately, the receiver had to decide whether the proposed allocation was fair and honest, based only on a conversation with the allocator. Thus, it behooved the allocator to be either a fair person or a good liar.

As it turned out, 70 percent of the allocators were honest, telling the receivers the true amount of the endowment and/or offering them at least half of the pot. The remaining 30 percent of allocators were classified either as liars (meaning they flat-out lied about the amount of the endowment) or as deceivers by omission (meaning they evaded questions about the amount of the endowment, but ultimately offered the receiver less than half).

After a graduate student transcribed all the allocator/receiver conversations, the researchers carefully analyzed the linguistic content, comparing the truth tellers against the liars and deceivers in order to suss out cues for deception. They looked for both strategic and nonstrategic language cues.

"A strategic cue is a conscious strategy to reduce the likelihood of the deception being detected," Van Swol explains, "whereas a nonstrategic cue is an emotional response, and people aren't usually aware that they're doing it."

In terms of strategic cues, the researchers discovered the following:

Bald-faced liars tended to use many more words during the ultimatum game than did truth tellers, presumably in an attempt to win over suspicious receivers. Van Swol dubbed this "the Pinocchio effect." "Just like Pinocchio's nose, the number of words grew along with the lie," she says.
Allocators who engaged in deception by omission, on the other hand, used fewer words and shorter sentences than truth tellers.
Among the findings related to nonstrategic cues:

On average, liars used more swear words than did truth tellers—especially in cases where the recipients voiced suspicion about the true amount of the endowment. "We think this may be due to the fact that it takes a lot of cognitive energy to lie," Van Swol says. "Using so much of your brain to lie may make it hard to monitor yourself in other areas."
Liars used far more third-person pronouns than truth tellers or omitters. "This is a way of distancing themselves from and avoiding ownership of the lie," Van Swol explains.
Liars spoke in more complex sentences than either omitters or truth tellers.
The researchers also examined when and whether the receivers trusted the allocators—noting instances when receivers voiced doubts about the allocators' statements, and correlating the various linguistic cues with the accuracy of the receivers' suspicions. They also noted instances in which receivers showed no suspicion toward deceivers.

On average, receivers tended to trust the bald-faced liars far more than they trusted the allocators who tried to deceive by omission. In short, relative silence garnered more suspicion than flat-out falsehoods. "It turns out that omission may be a terrible deception strategy," Van Swol says. "In terms of succeeding at the deception, it was more effective to outright lie. It's a more Machiavellian strategy, but it's more successful."

In the latest phase of their research, the team is investigating the linguistic differences between lying in person and lying via email. Results regarding the latter may be increasingly useful as a larger portion of business is now being conducted via email, and such communications leave a transcript that can be analyzed carefully—and at leisure—by suspicious counterparts. "People detect lies better over the computer than they do face-to-face," Van Swol says.

That said, the researchers are quick to emphasize that linguistic cues are most definitely not a foolproof method of detecting lies, even among those who are trained to look out for them.

"This is early stage research," Malhotra says. "As with any such work, it would be a mistake to take the findings as gospel and apply them too strictly. Rather, the factors we find to be associated with lies and deception are perhaps most useful as warning signs that should simply prompt greater vigilance and further investigation regarding the veracity of the people with whom we are dealing.

Author : Carmen Nobel is senior editor of Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.