Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Thoughts on Service Leadership


 By John A. Akec

On the 15th of May 2021, the deans and directors of the University of Juba gathered at a magnificent conference hall in Palm Africa Hotel in Juba to celebrate the Annual Excellence Awards for 2020. It was the first time ever such an occasion has been mounted by the University of Juba. In that ceremony, certificates of “excellence in service” were awarded to sixteen members of the University of Juba’s staff for “exceptional works of service rendered in 2020” to the University of Juba community or the general public. My speech at that occasion was centered around the subject of ‘service leadership’. And in order to spread this message wider, I would like to share my thoughts on this subject in this monthly article. 

To begin, Ronald Heiftez and Marty Linsky of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government have defined leadership in their book (Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading, Harvard Business School Press, 2003) as a process of going forward and risking dying. They highlighted how opportunities for leadership arise in everyday life, such as when a neighbor watches a one-time nice kid down their street, getting astray during his or her teenage years after the mother had passed on, and mobilizes the community in the neighborhood to provide support to the father and the family so as to change the path of the teenager for the better.

Each day, argued Heiftez and Linsky, brings opportunities “to raise important questions, speak to higher values, and surface unresolved conflicts.” And that each one of us has opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the people around us. That true leadership often involves exceeding our own authority in order to tackle the challenge at hand. That communities, organisations, and the entire societies need people from all walks of life to take up challenges within their own reach and not complain or think that someone else will come down from above and do it for them.  

In most cultures, it was always thought that ‘leaders’ are born and standout as distinct characters by their good looks, their extraordinary abilities, their attributes, and their skills. Not true. Leadership can be practiced by everyone who accepts to take up responsibility within his or her community. It can also be nurtured, learned, and developed. We often hear about different types of leadership. They include: transformational leadership, charismatic leadership, servant leadership, religious leadership, service leadership.

However, service leadership is the focus of this article. It gained prominence when the structure of global economy began to shift from industrial mode that was based on manufacturing, to postindustrial mode in which service industries such as banking, insurance, hospitality, health, and education) take an increasing share of nations’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  For example, in 2014, the share of service sector was 79% of United States’ GDP, 78% in United Kingdom, 79% in France, and 71% in Japan.

This structural transformation of global economy has been accompanied by changes in organizational structure, human capital, and the required leadership attributes. And unlike the the industrial economies where major decisions were taken by the top managers, service economies give plenty of opportunities for individuals to play leadership roles at every level of the organisation, including at at the very bottom of organizational hierarchy. And unlike the concentrated authoritarian leadership for which industrial economies were known, service economy dictates the distribution and decentralization of authority throughout the organization.

One more thing, in service economy such as higher education or hospitality industry, the goods are intangible. And that production method involves the cooperation between the producer (a school registrar or library assistant) and the consumer (the student). The quality of service depends on the quality of interaction between the producer and the consumer. The term for this production method is called co-creation. Bad interaction leads to poor quality service. Good interaction leads to high quality service. 

What’s more, there are no fixed rules or clear standard operating procedures in production of service. The situation can change dramatically, depending on who you are dealing with at the front desk. This requires service leaders to be competent in their job, have integrity and honesty to tell the truth, and a have disposition to care for their clients.

Strive to be a good service leader in your space.


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