leadership-sherwood-415It’s likely that at some point in our lives we have worked with a my-way-or-the-highway type. Perhaps that person believed that leadership entailed being “strong,” which ultimately led to inflexibility or controlling behavior that made people fearful or apathetic. Nobody has fond memories of working with someone like that, and being “bossy” to get people to do things doesn’t work that well anyway.

At food co-ops, CBLD consultant Art Sherwood said directors want a different paradigm of leadership, one that emphasizes mutual goal-setting, communication and planning. He has found that the concept of servant leadership is congruent with co-op values, and so when he and CBLD consultant Joel Kopischke began developing the pilot for the newly designed Leadership Training for co-op leaders, they knew they wanted to highlight the idea that organizations can be more effective if service is at the heart of their work.

Servant leadership was an idea promoted by Robert Greenleaf in an essay he titled The Servant as Leader. He proposed that long-term positive change in organizations occurs when those involved come to understand that the desire to be of service and to help a team are the raw materials for effective leadership. Many of the characteristics of positive leadership—stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community—are congruent with the Cooperative Principles and the cooperative statement of values. “I want to emphasize that servant leadership is not about being wimpy,” said Sherwood. “It’s calling for being candid and being brave in situations when necessary. It’s not a servant-master relationship.” It starts with intent and the underlying reasons for leadership action. “If you want to serve your organization it means taking a leadership role.”

Sherwood said that a central ethic of servant leadership is to be stewards of the future, doing the necessary work of deciding what success means. For co-op boards, this means engaging in strategic thinking, which requires listening, empathy and collaboration. “For example, if we say to our general managers ‘do what I say’ that has a different flavor to it than wanting to understand them and be in a position to help them be successful,” Sherwood said. “If we start with our purpose as leaders to serve it flows into tangible and intangible ways leadership gets done.”

By following the path of servant leadership, co-ops and their boards can build a better understanding of all of their constituencies: members, employees, management and the greater community. Boards can make a significant leadership difference. Please join the CBLD consultants at the following training sessions.

2013 Schedule of In-Person Sessions

CityCBL101: Foundation for Board LeadershipLeadership Training: Growing Your Co-opStrategic Seminars: Growing Our Co-ops
Albuquerque, N.M.January 12January 12Fall—TBA
Asheville, N.C.January 26January 26March 2
Brattleboro, Vt.January 26January 26March 16
Buffalo, N.Y.July 13
Eau Claire, Wis.March 9
Minneapolis, Minn.January 12 & Sept. 21January 12
Mt. Pleasant, Mich.May 18May 18
Portland, Ore.March 23March 23
Sacramento, Calif.Sept. 28Sept. 28

More information about in-person sessions

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