Hey Compliance Warriors!

In the second part of our Leadership series, we are looking at Service Style Leadership. Read on…

Leadership as Service

Whether you prefer an authoritative leadership style, a lenient one, or something in between, one factor that can truly enhance your effectiveness in leadership is to see yourself as serving the needs of your employees even as you serve the needs of your company or organization. Often these two sets of needs will coincide. The needs of your employees are the needs of a well-run organization as well. When they do contradict, seeing yourself as a kind of servant to your employees can help you to better weigh your priorities in both the long and short terms.

Top-down Hierarchies

The traditional form of hierarchy in business organizations is known as a top-down or vertical structure. This means that you have a clear ranking from CEO to mail-room clerk, and everyone understands their place. This structure has both advantages and disadvantages. If you are a leader in this type of organization, it is helpful to understand what those advantages and disadvantages are in order to better serve the needs of your employees.


  • You always know who is in charge and who to report to.
  • Decision making is efficient.
  • Advancement up the career ladder is clearly defined.


  • The potential for power-based politics and maneuvering can result in flattering and yes-man type behavior rather than providing accurate information.
  • Employees at the bottom can feel less of a stake in the goals of a company.
  • If you have a weak leader, you will have a weak organization.
  • Information from management and higher-ups is prone to distortion as it trickles down through multiple filters.
  • Both management and employees can have a distorted understanding of what the other group does and has to deal with.

A Lateral Perspective

An alternative to the tradition vertical organizational structure is known as a lateral or horizontal structure. In this structure, the different departments are administered by project managers who report to upper management and serve as a conduit between the team and the administrators.  This approach has its own pros and cons:


  • This approach tends to reinforce creativity and innovation because employees are more willing to take risks when they know that they won’t lose status in doing so.
  • The organization can better adapt to changes in circumstances because communication does not have to go through as many filters.
  • Employees have a greater feeling of a stake in the organization.
  • Employees have a greater sense of autonomy which can lead to greater development of a wide array of skills.


  • When something goes wrong, the lack of a clear structure can lead to blaming of different teams and departments.
  • Decision making can be a slow process.
  • The lack of authoritarian supervisors can lead to an undisciplined and chaotic work environment.
  • Transitions from vertical to horizontal organization structures can be difficult because those used to authoritarian management styles find it difficult to adjust to seeing co-workers as peers.

 Know Your Employees

Regardless of which organizational structure you employ, to lead effectively it helps to know your employees on a personal and professional level. Obviously, with larger corporations, the former is more difficult than the latter, but taking the time to get to know your employees as people can help inform your decision making in ways that not only affect employee morale but also help in crafting more effective approaches. If you understand what it is like to work on the front lines, you can better address problems in such a way that does not create additional problems. Keeping abreast of what goes on in your employees’ lives can also help you in addressing each person as an individual.

Genuine Empathy and the Power to Lead

Brian Browne Walker’s commentary on the I Ching offers some excellent advice about leadership: “Gentleness and understanding create in others an unconscious willingness to be led.” When you can genuinely understand where your employees are coming from, you are able to know exactly what to do or say to get the best results from them. This requires developing your own capacity for empathy. Here are some suggestions for developing your empathy:

  • Listen. You may not always understand where an employee is coming from. Even the most creative and open-minded of people can fail to grasp another individual’s unique circumstances. Consequently, the only way you can understand where others are coming from is by listening to them. Listening in this sense is not merely listening to the words a person says, but listening for the underlying needs that the person may be expressing even while failing to articulate this.
  • Validate. Particularly in times where people seem far apart in their beliefs, it’s really easy to look at a person with whom you disagree and see an enemy. However, we all have the capacity to feel the same types of emotions, whether these are fear, anger, or joy. We also all have the same basic needs. When you try to recognize that beneath any disagreement are two people who need love and respect, it’s not so easy to see someone you disagree with as the enemy.
  • Consider your own attitude. When you find yourself in a disagreement with someone else, ask yourself what you want from the interaction. Do you want to see the other person punished? Is this about winning or being right? Wanting to see another person punished presumes that you know best, a dangerously arrogant attitude, especially from a leader, who should be looking to serve employees.
  • Suspend your own viewpoint. When you are trying to understand another person’s feelings, your own point of view isn’t a necessary perspective. In fact, it gets in the way of seeing another’s point of view. Remember that suspending your views is not the same as dropping them or changing them. Your viewpoint will still be there if you still need it.


Alice was running late to work because of a horrible traffic jam. She was nervous about being late, but she was not afraid because she knew that her boss Juan would listen to her explanation and be understanding because even though he was strict about tardiness, he would also listen to your explanation and take that into account. Instead of trying to sneak into work, she went straight to Juan first and let him know that she was late. This was fortunate because Juan had given the rest of his employees specific instructions for how to handle a particular customer service call that was coming in more frequently that day. If Alice had tried to sneak past Juan out of fear of his not being understanding, she would have taken the first customer service call and handled it incorrectly, costing the company a lot of money.

Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly.
It’s your masterpiece after all.

Nathan W. Morris

Until Next Time, Be Audit-Secure!

Lisa Smith


Lisa Smith is CEO of Andere Corporation and Chief Content Developer at HelpDeskSuites.com. Follow her on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn, listen to her Small Business Spoonfuls Podcast, and find more in her HR Like a Boss Facebook group.

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