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Want to change a company culture? Train for it

What one manufacturer learned about adopting a culture of servant leadership.

6 min read




Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today’s post is by Art Barter.


“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” ~ Aristotle

The culture of an organization is all about how people behave on a daily basis in their organization. Many times, company leaders put a set of values or behaviors on the wall for employees and visitors to see, but they aren’t really serious about following them. If you want to change the culture of an organization, you need to change behavior. If you want to change behavior and the way people do business, investing in your employees through training is imperative.

When Lori (my wife) and I purchased Datron World Communications in 2004, we knew we wanted to run the company as a servant-led organization, which would be very different than the culture we inherited or even my own past leadership style. The company we acquired was firmly based on the power leadership model.

A year prior to our purchase of Datron, I had been introduced to the concept of servant leadership by Ken Blanchard. I became convinced that putting my employees first would reap many rewards, including better financial results. Today, Datron is a multimillion-dollar, multicultural, international company with customers in more than 80 countries.

We knew if we wanted to change the culture of the company to one where everyone was treated with dignity and respect, we would have to train for it. We developed training in servant leadership for all our employees. The training included everyone from C-level leaders to personnel on the manufacturing floor assembling products. Each employee received the same training. A total of 45 hours of training was provided over a two-year period in three-hour increments.

The training is behavior-based, first focusing on the individual, then the team and finally on implementation. Our goal was to inspire and equip people at all levels in the organization to put others first in all they do.

Through the training, we witnessed leaders who transformed from who they were and learned to behave for the sake of others. We discovered nine behaviors in those leaders who were successful in implementing servant leadership in their lives. Here are the nine behaviors with a brief description of each:

Serve first

A servant leader’s motives are important. In each encounter, at work and in everyday life, ask yourself the question: “How can I serve others?”

Build trust

Begin with a self-analysis and ask yourself: “Am I trustworthy?” Am I willing to extend trust to others? If you don’t trust yourself, it will be difficult to build trust with others.

Live your values

What are your values? In order to live your values, you must first define them. Take some time alone to write down your values and check on yourself in the next month to see how well you live by them.

Listen to understand

Do you talk more than you listen? Can you set aside all distractions and be present for people? Next time you speak with someone make the effort to listen understand and not just to answer. Ask others to “tell me more” or “help me understand.”

Think about your thinking

As you “serve first,” “build trust,” “live your values,” and “listen to understand,” it is important to reflect on what you’ve learned in order to become a better leader.

Add value to others

Are you a leader who consistently adds value to others? Do you always have to take credit? It is important to help employees become aware of their strengths and use them to add value to be the best they can be.

Demonstrate courage

Are you willing to make tough decisions and follow through on them with courage? Pay attention to how well you keep your commitments to others. Treat others with dignity and respect, even in difficult times.

Increase your influence

Will you do what is right even when it may produce an unpopular outcome? Do you strive to be open and authentic with no hidden agendas? How you get results is more important than the results themselves. Be the leader that does it the right way!

Live your transformation

Transformation is an active process. If you have something, do you share it? If you need something do you ask for it? Do you serve others with dignity and respect unconditionally?

As an example, to train the behavior of “add value to others,” it is important to focus on how employees can be aware of their strengths and use them to add value. Many people have no idea what qualities they possess that add value to the organization.

In the training exercises, employees tell stories about the times in their lives when they felt especially proud of their accomplishments. As they share these stories with fellow participants, they receive feedback from people on what strengths were demonstrated in their stories. In many cases, this feedback is a revelation; people gain a whole new awareness of what value they can bring to their teams.

As people are trained in the behaviors of servant leadership, they begin to see positive results in their work each day. They start to look at thing differently — they take on a new mindset; behavior changes; and over time, culture changes.

Datron’s journey has taken place over years, anchored by the deep intention to invest in and help our employees learn and grow, as individuals and as an organization. We are still learning and growing as servant leaders. We believe personal transformation is a lifelong journey, and only by changing yourself can you change your organization.

Want to change your company culture? Be intentional and train for it!


Art Barter is CEO of the Servant Leadership Institute, an organization that helps people and organizations put servant leadership into practice. He’s also CEO of Datron World Communications. You can learn more about servant leadership at this year’s 2019 Servant Leader Conference in Carlsbad, Calif.

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