Transformational Change and Servant Leadership with Earl Maxwell
15th June 2012 · 0 Comments
Earl Maxwell has been a leading voice for non-traditional leadership and transformational change for decades. In addition to authoring Service Prosperity and Sanity – Positioning the Professional Service Firm for the Future, Maxwell helped his accounting firm Maxwell, Locke and Ritter spearhead a major shift in its corporate culture. Following his retirement from the firm in 2007, he underwent a personal transformational change by launching a second career as CEO of St. David’s Community Health Foundation. I was fortunate enough to have a talk with Maxwell about these major attitudinal shifts and their role in redrawing the corporate landscape.
“Transformational change occurs whenever a leader of an organization decides to turn things upside down,” says Maxwell. “It means un-learning what you’ve learned and doing something dramatically different. For instance, when I left accounting a few years ago, I could’ve simply stepped down from a leadership role and gone into consulting, strategic planning or other familiar roles. But I wanted to make a transformational change. So I made the giant leap out of my comfort zone into the non-profit sphere. And the one field I’d had no exposure to was healthcare — so that’s where I went.”
Transformational change empowers leaders to make major cultural changes within their own businesses as well — but those leaders must in turn empower their employees to take that journey with them. Maxwell describes this approach as servant leadership, as opposed to to command and control leadership. In command and control leadership, employees simply do what they’re expected to do for fear of committing of “career limiting moves.” Servant leadership, on the other hand, allows workers to fully participate, lending their own creativity to the corporate culture.
Robert K. Greenleaf originally coined the term in his 1970 essayThe Servant as Leader. “The servant leader prioritizes the people being led instead of his status as the leader,” says Maxwell. “Greenleaf quotes from the Bible — and Stephen R.Covey echoes it in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People — ‘Seek first to understand, and then be understood.’ The servant leader is about listening more than talking, and allowing employees to create and contribute their own ideas.”
Maxwell has seen the benefits of shifting to a more people-focused, value-driven, team-oriented corporate culture. For many years. he recounts, CPA firms had trouble trouble retaining good employees, largely because they were shoehorning them into the rigid roles of the command and control model. By contrast, Maxwell’s team set things up so people did things because they wanted to, not because they were afraid to disobey. As a result, Maxwell, Locke and Ritter enjoyed a turnover rate of less than 5 percent while their competitors’ turnover rates hovered around 20 percent.
From the transformation of leaders to the transformation of leadership itself, today’s business world continues to evolve rapidly and with more complexity and chaos than ever experienced. And with leaders like Earl Maxwell taking an active interest, that evolution promises much.
About the Author
Christina Randle created and developed integrated executive coaching and training solutions to solve business challenges for leaders, people managers and their teams as CEO of The Effective Edge. Bringing 20 years of practical productivity coaching and consulting to Fortune 500 clients, including companies like Dell, Intuit and PepsiCo. She and her team at The Effective Edge bring insight, action, immediate results and long-lasting value to clients.