1: Danny Meyer is a raving fan of servant leadership. He believes it is a crucial ingredient for tapping into the resourcefulness and imagination of his team to solve problems and make decisions.  

So, how can we activate servant leadership in our organizations?

It begins with the development and training of managers, Danny writes in Setting the Table. “It’s delusional to think that the day-to-day performance of your business is anything other than a reflection of how motivated (or unmotivated) your manager’s make your line employees feel.”

2: There are two tools, in particular, Danny believes, that a servant leader must learn: coaching and communication.

“Coaching is correction with dignity,” writes Danny. “It’s helping people refine skills, showing how to get the job done, and truly wanting employees to reach their peak potential.”

Danny observes that communication is often the underlying driver of our success or failure in business. “When things go wrong, and employees become upset, whether at a restaurant, a law firm, a hardware store, a university, or a major corporation, nine times out of ten, the justifiable complaint is, “We need to communicate more effectively.”

As a young leader, Danny struggled with communicating effectively. “I had no problem standing up in front of a group to give a talk. I thought I was a pretty good communicator, but then it dawned on me: communicating has as much to do with context as it does content,” he notes. “That’s called setting the table. Understanding who needs to know what, when people need to know it, and why, and then presenting that information in an entirely comprehensible way is a sine qua non of great leadership.”

3: Danny uses the “lily pad” theory to teach leaders the importance of clear, timely communication, which he believes is a crucial tool in applying constant, gentle pressure, his guiding philosophy on leadership.

“Imagine a pond filled with lily pads and a frog perched serenely atop each one. For the fun of it, a little boy tosses a small pebble into the water, which breaks the surface of the pond but causes just a tiny ripple. The frogs barely notice and don’t budge.

“Enjoying himself, the boy next tosses a larger stone into the center of the pond, sending stronger ripples that cause all of the lily pads to rock and tilt. Some frogs jump off their lily pads, while others cling to avoid falling off. But the ripples affect them all.

“Not content, the boy then hurls a huge rock, which creates a wave that knocks each and every frog into the water. Some frogs are frightened. All are angry (assuming that frogs get angry). If only the frogs had had some warning about the impending rock toss, each one could have timed its jump so that the wave would have had no serious impact.”

When managers understand and implement the lily pad theory, it prevents most communication problems.

“People who aren’t alerted in advance about a decision that will affect them may become angry and hurt,” Danny writes. “They’re confused, out of the loop; they feel as though they’ve been knocked off their lily pads. 

“When team members complain about poor communication, they’re essentially saying, ‘You did not give me advance warning or input about the decision you made. By the time I learned about it, the decision had already happened to me, and I was unprepared,'” he writes.

Danny observes that team members will generally “go with the flow and be willing to hop over the ripples, so long as they know in advance that you are going to toss the rock, when you’ll be tossing it, and how big it is, and mostly-why you’re choosing to toss it in the first place.

“They key is to anticipate the ripple effects of any decision before you implement it, gauging whom it will affect, and to what degree. Poor communication is generally not a matter of miscommunication. More often, it involves taking away people’s feeling of control. Change works only when people believe it is happening for them, not to them. And there’s not much in between.”

More tomorrow!


Reflection: How would I rate myself as a coach and a communicator? Are there any lessons I can learn from Danny’s lily pad theory?  

Action: Share my perceptions with someone close to me. Ask them to share their observations about how I show up.

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