Saturday, April 07, 2007

Servant Leadership is great, but does Ricardo Semler go too far with it?

Hi Andrew. As you will recall, I have been talking to you about Servant Leadership for a long time now. Its principles resonate well with me and have validated my preferred leadership style.

One of the fundamental principles of Servant Leadership is to 'Upend the Pyramid' and is described nicely in The Serving Leader by Ken Jennings. Essentially 'Upend the Pyramid' says a Serving Leader is to invert the hierarchy within an organization - put the executive leadership of an organization at the bottom of the pyramid, focusing on serving the management layer above them. The management layer is to be focused on serving the layer above them, the people within the organization that are actually getting things done - the factory line workers, software developers, etc. All great stuff which I heartily embrace.

Lately I have been reading about Richardo Semler as several friends have suggested I read his books including Maverick and The Seven-Day Weekend: Changing the Way Work Works. In my research I have learned that Semler embraces the concept of upending the pryamid to a degree far beyond my wildest imagination. I found this on's profile of Semler: "Workers set their own salaries, share company profits and hire and fire their own managers. " (Emphasis mine!)

Is Ricardo Semler going to far with the empowering of his employees to fire their own managers? If you look at his results at Semco SA you would have to say 'No'. How do I feel personally about being a manager working in an environment where I could be fired by my own development team? Well, if the development team is made up of the caliber of developers that I get to work with today at Tacit Knowledge or those that I had the priviledge of working with at ThoughtWorks, I'd say I'm fine with it. Their focus is on adding value for their customer and not their own personal agendas. If I am not doing my job of creating an environment where they can be successful in adding value, then I want them to let me know it, but hopefully before it gets to the point where they would be handing me a pink slip.


Blogger Brad Thinks said...

Semler's stuff is absolutely brilliant because he was able to take it so far. I hope that we don't get side tracked by the hire and fire concept and instead focus on many of the self-managed team techniques that he so skillfully executed.

April 8, 2007 at 4:35:00 AM PDT  
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