A Journey Inward
Servant-Leadership is a journey. It is more than a destination with an end point or final grade. Katie’s journey toward Servant-Leadership began two years ago when reading, ““In countless for profit and nonprofit organizations today we are witnessing traditional autocratic and hierarchal modes of leadership yielding to a different way of
working – one based on teamwork and community, one that seeks to involve others in decision making, one strongly based in ethical and caring behavior, and one that is attempting to enhance the personal growth of workers while improving the caring and quality of our many institutions. This emerging approach to leadership is called Servant-Leadership” (Spears, 2010).
This assessment of Katie as a servant-leader-in-training will explore her background leading up to Servant-Leadership, the different roles she plays in society and looking forward for ways Katie can continue developing as a servant-leader.
The origin to Katie’s interest in Servant-Leadership roots itself in a six-year career in the insurance industry. Joining the insurance industry in the years leading up to the Great Recession of 2008, Katie saw ethics compromised and dishonest business practices performed within legal contracts and laws protecting organizational giants. As a Farmers Insurance Group Agent, she had numerous situations where she was asked to communicate unethical decisions made by the corporate office in a way that implied she held the responsibility. This put her in a position to answer to their decision without disclosure for the reason.
As an Agent, Katie signed a contract to Farmers Insurance Group based on a 10% commission structure. Without explanation or consideration of Agents, Farmers Insurance Group cut her commissions by over half of her income. This led to the closure of her business and the subsequent stress-induced micro-premature birth of her son.
Most importantly, as the owner of a small business, Katie practiced Servant-Leadership without knowing Servant-Leadership existed. Katie encouraged a work-flex schedule for mothers seeking part-time employment, invited an employee’s son in part-time to help offset childcare costs and emphasized relationship with employees. Though a very rough reflection of Servant-Leadership as she now knows it, early signs pointed to an easier acceptance of Servant-Leadership as a philosophy.
People who have yet to formally hear or understand Servant-Leadership, like Katie, may still be Servant-Leaders. Robert Greenleaf first coined the term Servant-Leadership writing, “The servant-leader is a servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The best test is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?” (Greenleaf, 1970).
Three of Katie’s employees went on to pursue licensing or a collegiate education. Yet, eighteen other employees paraded through Katie’s Agency in two years with poor work ethics: “servant-leadership is much more than a feel-good concept; it is an integrated way of serving all people within an organization. It takes a good deal of risk-taking and tenacity, and a high degree of trust, to make the changes that will foster a servant-led organization” (Ruschman, 2002). Sometimes letting employees go in a respectful, authentic way is a necessity to build a servant-led business with the right team.
Katie believes our society is in the midst of a leadership crisis. Something deep down drew her to Servant-Leadership through the original quote by Larry Spears. This introductory thought led Katie to pursue her Master’s degree and exceptional transformative growth. As Greenleaf wrote, a servant leader is a servant first followed by the conscious choice to lead. Pursuing her Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership is Katie’s conscious decision to lead.
Katie plays many different roles in her life: wife, mother, daughter, friend, student, church member and servant-leader-in-training. Brian Hall (1994) outlines seven cycles of development towards growth as a servant-leader. Katie is at different stages in the roles she plays (Horsman, 2013).
As a wife, Katie is married to Captain John A. Cascamo, Ph.D. Soon to be pinned to Major in the Oregon Air National Guard and newly coined Ph.D (May 2013), John is very busy and important. John is a high maintenance individual that is often crotchety. Dr. Horsman best describes John as a Cycle 1: Dictatorial or Autocratic leader. In order to respond effectively with John, Katie is in Cycle 4 as a Communitarian. John and Katie are actively engaged parents with their son Giovanni and it’s in leadership of Giovanni that their cycle differences are greatly distinguished. The, “leadership at Cycle 4 is that of enabler/mentor. Leaders are caught between adherence to the institutions demands, procedures and systems and a new view of human dignity and sense of self” (Horsman, 2013). Though John has grown significantly in their eight years of marriage, there is still a distinguishable right/wrong behavioral approach.
In recent years through her own acceptance of Servant-Leadership and pursuit of a graduate degree, Katie has grown to accept less dictatorial commands from John raising her up to take a greater role of leadership. As a communitarian, “a laissez-faire form of leadership can develop, with the leader unable to make critical decisions” (Horsman, 2013).
Katie and John’s son Giovanni continues to have a few remaining developmental delays and challenges as a result of his micro-premature birth. Giovanni has a pending diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder that is often blocked by John’s inability of foresight. Foresight is a servant-leaders ability to see characteristics of the past, the current reality and it’s impact on future decision-making (Spears, 2010). Katie effectively uses foresight in to Giovanni’s care through early intervention therapies including occupational therapy emphasizing sensory integration and pursuing a pediatrician that specializes in a holistic approach to A.D.H.D. In order to proceed in Giovanni’s care, Katie has to carefully weave around John’s dictatorial Cycle 1 Dictator/Authoritarian cycle. It is necessary to effectively provide the care Giovanni needs meanwhile modeling servant-leadership characteristics of awareness, persuasion and conceptualization of the long-term impact of treatment (or lack of) for Giovanni.
Looking forward at developing more as a Servant-Leader in her relationship with John, Katie needs to continue emphasizing awareness, persuasion and conceptualization with John.
Katie’s most important role in her life is that of a mother to Giovanni Victor Angelo Cascamo. Born 2 ½ months premature at 2 ½ pounds in December 2009, Giovanni has overcome exceptional hardships as a result of his micro-premature birth in the last four years. Katie sees Giovanni as the strongest, most resilient and victorious person she’s ever met and is committed to ensuring he continue on this path towards growth as a good individual. Raising an impulsive and hyperactive child with sensory challenges puts Katie to the test regularly. Giovanni grabs impulsively at dangerous items, climbs on counters, throws temper tantrums or screeches when under- or over-stimulated. Giovanni is also developmentally delayed and while he appears to look like a healthy four-year-old, he has the developmental skills of a 2 ½ or 3-year-old. As a result of these delays in addition to Giovanni’s hyperactivity, Katie sees failure regularly in serving Giovanni as a servant-leader-in-training. Katie sees herself in Cycle 4 with Giovanni. Cycle 4 includes, “it is critical to growth at this level to learn planning skills that envision the future 5-10 years ahead…learning new creative and imaginal skills, and enhancing one’s interpersonal skills, is critical at this stage. Developing creative visioning and system planning skills are often of great importance at this cycle” (Horsman, 2013). Katie’s logic behind placing herself in this cycle revolves around her transitioning commitment to caring for a micro-premature special needs child with delays due to prematurity to a lifelong vision of caring for Giovanni’s needs through therapies to grow on. Katie’s creative visioning requires putting emphasis on sensory integration through occupational therapy that is not a traditional form of therapy for A.D.H.D. Katie’s goal is healing the sensory processing challenges to clearly see where A.D.H.D. affects him with plans to take holistic and lifestyle management steps with a pediatrician specializing in A.D.H.D.
Giovanni is very independent and if Hall’s cycles of leadership can be effectively applied to a 4-year-old, Giovanni is likely a Cycle 5, “Participative Collaborative Leadership: leaders learn to balance work and play; leaders are enthusiastic and visionary with empathy and conflict management skills”(Horsman). All of the other children can be running around on the playground and if a child falls or cries, Giovanni will be the only child to gently approach the injured one, kindly caring for them or letting them know he cares. Giovanni’s early childhood challenges have created in him empathy, a desire to care for and heal and instinctual wisdom well beyond his years. He has a wise man’s heart. Greenleaf writes, “what we now call intuitive insight may be the survivor of an earlier and greater sensitivity” (Greenleaf). Katie’s primary goal is to nurture this servants heart with Giovanni by ensuring he attend a Catholic school whose mission is to be a servant-leader and by trying to model servant-leadership to him and for him.
In addition to Katie’s familial roles, she is a budding leader in her community. These leadership roles are reflected through her participation at her Catholic church, service volunteer activities and other roles that place her in a position of leadership and decision-making.
Katie had several leadership roles prior to her withdrawal from the community limelight in 2009. In 2006, Katie best reflected Cycle 2: Institution: Loyalty to Leader. Katie took loyalty to Farmers Insurance Group very personally and expected the same level of commitment from her staff. Through the external pressures and examples of leadership at her corporate office, Katie closed her Agency in 2009 as a Cycle 1: Dictatorial Leader. The stress and pressures for performance externally were equally as intense as Katie’s desire for achievement creating a fissure in what had been a solid character in her. It has taken significant self-awareness and growth to regain the loss in character due to her Agency.
In the last year, Katie has reassumed several leadership roles and has several new prospective opportunities on the horizon. Examples of leadership roles include being on the Pastoral Council (Board) of her Catholic Church parish, serving a national non-profit named Hand to Hold (www.handtohold.org) as a volunteer/graduate intern and as a participant in a program called Leadership San Luis Obispo (www.leadershipslo.org) that prepares community members to take an active role in the future of our community.
This new Katie, post-crisis, is significantly different and more empathetic and caring. Exemplifying a bulldozer at times before her life crisis, Katie now has a fearful understanding of what crisis and struggle is and it’s lifelong impact on people. As a graduate student that is eager to develop as a Servant-Leader, Katie finds herself in conversations often in the third person. Examples include working on a team as part of the Pastoral Council and suddenly hearing herself speak as a Servant-Leader should by emphasizing Cycle 5: Participative Collaborative Leadership. In a recent Pastoral Council meeting, Katie brought up a conversation with a leader in the parish named Jackie that expressed significant frustration. While most of the issues required planning, one topic of concern was the simple act of changing the answering service to sound more professional. Katie brought this to the table emphasizing the importance of the Pastoral Council’s relationship with Jackie and how changing the answering machine would meet an emotional need for her (or quell an irritation). Katie’s focus was first on the relationship, “if an organization wants to be participative in style it must have leaders with a relational values orientation for it to occur. We can’t apply higher-level relational values as situational leadership without higher integrated values and a new vision” (Horsman, 2013).
In closing, Katie considers herself a work-in-progress as we all are. She feels uncomfortable rating herself so highly on Hall’s (2004) Human Development Theory while at the same time recognizes qualities in herself that are appropriately rated.
Looking forward at continuing to develop as a servant-leader, Katie needs to always ensure the tenet of healing is actively a part of her daily, weekly and monthly goals. Katie is a sensitive person and takes people’s hurts and thoughts to heart. This puts her in a high-risk position for bitterness. Steps Katie can take is to continue her exercise program that allows her to process and think about the day’s activities and keep a positive mindset. Katie can also emphasize self-awareness and self-renewal through time allowed for introspection. Most importantly is to continue growing and help others grow alongside her.
Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. Retrieved February 26, 2014, from www.amazon.com
Spears, L. C. (2010). Character and Servant Leadership: Ten Characteristics of Effective, Caring Leaders. The Journal of Virtues and Leadership, 1(1), 25-30. Retrieved February 26, 2014, from http://www.regent.edu/acad/global/publications/jvl/vol1_iss1/Spears_Final.pdf
Spears, L. C., & Lawrence, M. (2002). Servant-Leadership and the best companies to work for in america. In Focus on leadership: Servant-leadership for the twenty-first century (pp. 123-139). New York: J. Wiley & Sons.
Horsman, J. H. (2013). Foundations of servant leadership. Retrieved from https://learn.gonzaga. edu/bbcswebdav/pid-1281171-dt-content-rid8132963_1/courses/ORGL530_A2_23219_ SP14/M3%20Listening_%26_Moral%20Intelligence_for_Servant-leaders%202013 %282%29.pdf