Skip to main content
leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Old-school leadership can be boiled down to MBWA: Managing By Wandering Around.

Here's how it works: Managers – the planning, organizing and controlling folks – wander through the workplace without a whole lot of focus, trying to "find out what's going on."

The process is relatively undisciplined. They look for clues on team performance, observe the efficiency of business processes and try to spot dysfunction that impedes productivity.

There's nothing wrong with MBWA, but it promulgates traditional management behaviour and doesn't go far enough to create teams of passionate, turned-on people that are necessary to ensure organizations thrive and survive in today's highly unpredictable and volatile world.

New-school leadership can be summed up as LBSA: Leadership By Serving Around.

Here's how this works: Leaders – the inspiring, caring and motivating folks – purposefully go through the workplace looking for "serving moments" or opportunities to help someone.

Managers ask: "What's going on?"

Leaders ask: "What can I do to help you?"

The manager's agenda is organizational performance. The leader's agenda is to offer personal help, recognizing that if someone's individual problems are solved, performance enhancement follows. If you take care of the person, performance takes care of itself.

Serving leaders are the icons of tomorrow. They earn followers through an undying display of caring for people and their well being.

We don't need more managers. We need serving leaders who care about people and who treat serving them as their raison d'être.

How can you be a serving leader?

Do your homework. Determine what and where the issues are and "serve around" according to what you learn. For example, visit your customer service operations if customer feedback suggests improvements are needed in that area; if sales needs a boost, serve there.

Lose your groupies. You are on your own when you "serve around." Leave your entourage at home. LBSA is a personal act.

Leaders should allocate time on their calendars every week to serving around. You can't spot a serving moment if you are in your office. And don't make excuses for not making this a weekly ritual. There are no more pressing priorities than this; there is nothing more important than making it easier for people to do their jobs.

LBSA is not about giving stump speeches, monologues or presentations to an audience. Minimize your talking; do a ton of listening. It is difficult to resist the temptation to share your words of wisdom or pronounce something that you think is thoughtful and wise, but zip it. Give people time to tell their story. At an appropriate moment, ask questions to clarify what they are saying. It is critical that you clearly understand the individual's issues so that any action you take will have the right outcome.

Critical to LBSA is note-taking. Take lots of notes. This shows you believe what your employees say is important – because it is – and that you will take their words seriously and support them.

Pay attention to people's names and something interesting or special about them. Make a note. This will be useful in follow up, and it shows you care.

LBSA is normally considered to be a one-on-one activity, but it can effectively be done in a group setting as well; something I call "bear pit sessions." Assemble a group of your employees in a room and go through your "How can I help?" process.

Continually hone your LBSA skills. Follow up with the employees you have set out to serve. Provide feedback on how you are addressing the help they have asked for.

It's time we changed the conversation from managing to serving leadership; from managing output and controlling productivity to serving people and enabling them, and the organization, to realize their greatness.

LBSA is the critical tool in the leader's kit bag.

Roy Osing (@RoyOsing) is a former executive vice-president of Telus with over 33 years of leadership experience. He is a blogger, educator, coach, adviser and the author of the book series Be Different or Be Dead, dedicated to helping organizations and individuals stand out from the competitive herd.