Servant Leadership | An Interview with Pat Falotico


Pat FaloticoPatricia Falotico is the CEO of the Robert K Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. Founded in Indiana in 1964 by Robert Greenleaf, the Center advances the philosophy and practice of Servant Leadership which enriches individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a better more caring world. The ultimate measure of success for a servant leader is how those who are being served grow.

Pat retired from IBM following 31 years, leading a broad range of projects, including technical sales, sales management, service business development, software distribution, marketing and development of business partner relationships on the local, regional, national and international level. She served as IBM’s Senior State Executive for Georgia and Senior Location Executive for Atlanta; providing leadership for IBM in the community and across the state, linking Corporate Citizenship and Employee Engagement activities with strategic IBM initiatives.

Pat is active in several civic organizations and is committed to ensuring that all students have the opportunity to get a high-quality education which enables them to become contributing members of society.

Pat holds a B.S. in math and computer science from Manhattan College. Originally from New York, Pat now lives in Marietta, Georgia with her family.

She recently delivered a webinar for LEADx subscribers called “10 Secrets Servant Leaders Know About Servant Leadership.” After the webinar, I briefly interviewed her. The following transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Kevin Kruse: You spent 31 years at IBM, is that right?

Pat Falotico: Yes I did, I did, I was 12.

KK: For most of the time there, did you encounter a lot or servant leadership inspiration models, or did it change over time at all?

PF: I think it changed over time, but I would tell you that across my career I encountered role models and examples of servant leadership, we didn't call it that. The company was founded over 115 years ago and when it was founded, it was founded around a set of basic beliefs and respect for individuals. It evolved into a set of values of respect and responsibility in our relationships, which was its modern manifestation, but no matter where you are there were people who embodied that and lived it, and there were people who did not. I had a number of great leaders over the course of my career that really did embody it. Perhaps some of them who knew the terminology, but we never used it, coming out of their faith development. But it really wasn’t until I heard Carol Tome use the term that I knew it was a business thing.

KK: Well that was going to be my follow up. So when did you discover the Greenleaf Center and the work under Robert Greenleaf's model?

PF: The honest truth is I discovered the Greenleaf Center 4 months before I took the job. When the search for a new CEO happened, now I didn't know Robert Greenleaf. I knew the term servant leadership, but it's interesting once you start hearing the term you hear it everywhere. Then once you hear it everywhere and you're interviewing for a job you get to start doing some research. Anne will tell you over the course of the last 5 years I have gone from not knowing anything about Robert Greenleaf to being an absolute follower from what he said. I quote him incessantly, there is so much that he said that is right. There is so much that he said that has meaning in our world today. He wrote in 1970, think about that.

KK: So where did he get his inspiration? I mean you mention was it a faith-based approach or something else?

PF: So Greenleaf was a Quaker passed in 1990. From what I understand from his biography he was really into small individual groups the way the Quakers approach faith is kind of different than the traditional church. Universities weren't his thing. He thought Universities and big institutions, although important, were not the best way for people to learn.

So he came to the concept of servant leadership probably through the 38 years that he worked at AT&T. He retired as the director of what we would call Leadership Development today; it was Management and Research at the time. He had access to some of the greatest leaders of the time. He spoke of the insight and the foresight of some of the leaders as the way they managed to deal with anti-trust issues before AT&T was broken up.

When he left AT&T, he continued to do consulting and study and he read Hermann Hesse's, Journey to the East. And he reflected on that character of Leo and how Leo led the expedition then disappeared and then reappeared that he said “Yes. The secret to great leadership is that you are experienced first to servant.” He acknowledged the spiritual and religious aspects. He acknowledged Jesus Christ as a great servant leader but that is now where he got it. But we see it manifested as the concept of service in all of the Western Religions. We do believe it's got a lot of religious roots, but we believe people of every faith and of no faith can truly embrace what we talk about in servant leadership.

KK: Yeah, and I'm curious, again these are sort of like, I say it's my self-interest, I'm being selfish with these questions – they're really things I am curious about. What I find interesting about servant leadership is unlike other leadership styles or motto's that have become trademarked or associated with certain companies. Servant leadership if you were to google on it you'll find lots of books and articles from people and maybe even some trainers on it. How do you feel about that, is it like “Isn't it great that more people are spreading the gospel of servant leadership” or is it like “Wait a minute here, they're not an official apostle and I'm taking the religious angle too far and they might be changing the meaning or going in a direction that's diluting it in some way.”?

PF: Let me tell you a story. Yes, I believe that having people take this concept of servant leadership out and bringing transformation to the way people lead is the best answer. Would I like them to do it according to what Greenleaf said? Of course, I would. But Greenleaf didn't feel the need to do that, or he would have trademarked servant as leader in 1970. He didn't feel the need to do that, so what we do is we really do hope that when people talk about servant leadership that they embody what it is. And I hear from so many people on the circuit, even Ken Blanchard in his latest book, when I met him a year ago turned to the back index and said, “Pat, look at all of the places I have referenced Robert Greenleaf.” The ones who are out there today who are speaking about servant leadership are inspired by Robert Greenleaf, they will tell you that. So we're good because they understand the basic premise.

I was talking to an association probably 4 years ago and they had, it was set up in a luncheon framework and there were flower pots as a centerpiece. Everyone was painted with a different attribute and they said “Oh isn't that great? Look at all these great servant leadership attributes aren't they great?” And my answer, I kind of took a step back and said, “They're wonderful.” Because it isn't a question of right and wrong. Of course trust, empathy, the things I spoke about are elements of servant leadership. But there are others that will say lack of blaming others. Of course, that's an element of servant leadership.

So if we really agree on 3 things about leadership we're good:

  1. Natural desire to serve, you need to be naturally integrated as a servant and not a leader. You can't just pretend to be the servant part; you have to be both.
  2. That you hold yourself accountable to the best test and by investing in the growth in others.
  3. Why we do it. We do it really so that we create a better world.

And if we agree on those 3 things and how you define it, remember where you got it and let’s continue to build a community that brings this kind of leadership to the forefront.

KK: Yeah that's powerful and seems like a great healthy way to keep doing your work for the center and collaborating with others as needed. The other thing I was curious about is that you mentioned in the webinar this idea of self-awareness. I'm a self-awareness junkie, personality profiles and all that good stuff. You used an example of DISC, being a high D on the high D in the DISC model. Do you have a preferred assessment, or do you think self-awareness is good wherever you're getting it from?

PF: If I need to in workshops, I am a reseller of DISC. I do believe that it's the most straight forward way to make my point. If an organization brings a different model to the table, I'm happy to use it. In our online program, we do something very rudimentary just to get to the same outcomes of knowing about yourself and about others. To be able to answer the question, do I enrich or am I neutral or do I diminish and deplete. But yes, if I need to bring a survey to the table, I use Wylie's DISC Assessment.

KK: And the other thing that I learned, something new, and I would encourage anybody who is thinking about going to your website and doing some training for themselves or maybe bringing you and your resources into their organization. I think a lot of people hear servant leadership and think it's this philosophical “oh yeah I know we're supposed to put others before interest.” They don't realize there's a lot of practical stuff you can train on and I think fundamental for management leadership is giving feedback. I've taught that for years, I'd spoken to Kim Scott, who wrote the book Radical Candor, a great book about feedback. Tell everybody a little bit because you shared in your webinar your approach to giving feedback.

PF: Well my approach to giving feedback just starts with observable facts. Because when you think about it, one of the things that we have to really tackle is what are the inhibitors to giving and receiving good feedback, and when we understand what those inhibitors are, well how do I get around them. One of those major inhibitors that I will hear people say is “I'm worried about the reaction I'm going to get when I offer feedback” and one of the things that comes to mind is that you probably don't do it very well right? We try to shorthand the back. You blew it. Well, I would be kind of pissed off if that's what my leader told me about a situation. If instead, I focused it on the learning then I would be in a much better frame of mind to hear what's being offered. I encourage people to really examine their own barriers and work through strategies. But I tell people, in summary, if first you focus on the learning and give it as well as you receive it. If people are uncomfortable giving it to you, that's probably because you've not been open to receiving it.

You should also think about if you give feedback when the situation warrants a celebration. Do I do it as often and as thoroughly as when it's a situation? And if I'm not doing it, then I want you to triple the amount that you're doing. If you're doing once a year then do it three times a year. Get in the habit of offering feedback that sounds as detailed around that model I showed you in the webinar for celebrating. My ear is going to come to expect that you're not going to offer me feedback only when I've done something wrong. More likely to receive it because you're as apt to give it in the way that celebrates. I encourage people to recognize that tone matters. We are human beings. Servant leaders are not saints, alright? We are human beings that get frustrated. If I offer you feedback, tone matters.

So although I ask you to do it right away because you would miss some of the things you needed to observe. If you're really frustrated I encourage you to take a walk first, cool down, and really focus on your tone. Because your tone is really going to underline your emotions even if your words are perfect. Those are just some things I offer as ideas.

KK: Yeah and what I love is that many people struggle to give feedback. It continues to be something that I struggle with. The idea of starting with facts and talking about impact and catching people doing things right. Instead of “Good job today Pat” you know there's some positive recognition it'd be better to say “Pat when you did that trial close at the end of the sales call, he then opened up and gave you one more objection you were able to handle.” State the fact, what did you do, the impact and just do positive feedback with that model and tell it like second nature and then it will spin into the constructive version.

PF: Yeah just practice it, people's ears will be trained that you are focused on their learning. And they're going to be so willing to hear it. So people are out there saying why don't we give people the sandwich method. Say something nice, then say something constructive, then say something nice – I lose the meat in that. I heard all the good stuff and my brain wants to latch onto the good stuff. You've got to be honest about the meat. If they're even acknowledging you.

KK: So let me leave with this. I mean, do you get frustrated thinking about how long we've had servant leadership out there right? And how long people have been trying to spread that message, whether it's our government institutions, whether it's businesses, whether it's our neighbors, it often seems like we're going backward in terms of the spirit of this and that we need the message now more than ever before. I mean how do you see it?

PF: So I am an incurable optimist, so let me start with that. So much so that on January the 21st I sent 535 servant as leader poppies to every member of Congress and I encouraged them to explore their servant nature as they opened the new year and asked them to think about do we serve first. I think the issue in our society is that we still equate leadership with those that accumulate power. And I think we need to demand something different. This is my other absolute belief.

I am the mother of millennials and I do believe that they are going to demand something different. They'll change society. We can truly invest in their growth and the way they think about the broad definition of leadership. Because I know they get the purpose thing. I think we can really invest in the growth in that generation of leaders. Over time this will shift but that's what our call is. I have some great friends here in Atlanta, where I've lived for about 25 years that have been in great business roles, great civic roles, and they give back to our community. And at the 60-70 year old level of their life, they're focused on what does civic leadership look like for the 20-30 somethings. And they're coaching, and they're mentoring, and they're inviting those younger people to the table that they otherwise wouldn't have access to. Because we know that we're going to build this society. You're younger than I am, I might not see it but I want my son to see it, I want my daughter to see it. I want them to be a part of it. And that's why it's so important for us to invest in the mentality of how younger people see leadership.

Universities have a huge place to play in that, there are a number of them around the United States that practice servant leadership, and it's embedded in their curriculum that put it in experiences, that's where we've got to be.

KK: I think that's great. I feel more hopeful. I've got 3 kids, 2 in college, 1 in high-school and I know that those who are a little bit older than them it does seem that the younger generation disassociates power with leadership and is a little bit more focused on others and giving back.

PF: So I'm going to ask all of your listeners to go to my website, find the little bit, actually on Linked-in and on Facebook back in January when they posted about that Congressional mailing. Send an email to your elected official and say “Hey, what'd you get out of that greeting that she sent you?”

KK: That's great.

PF: It'd be so much fun to get people challenged. I've got a lot of people saying “That's a great idea.” But I asked them. Put all the group pressure. Do you know from what I understood when I worked for IBM, you've got 3 people who call a congressman's office, they pay attention. 3, 1 is not good enough, so I did the 1, I sent it over the bough. Need 2 more people for every congressperson.

KK: I'll be the 2, so now we just need one more.

PF: Times 534.

KK: That's right, it's doable.

PF: Pat, tell our listeners who haven't watched the end of the webinar, what's the best way to learn more about the work you're doing and the way to follow along.

KK: Yeah, so the Greenleaf website is the best place to go. it lays out all the history of Robert Greenleaf that we talked about, it lays out our programs and our offerings and ways you can get engaged. We're on all the social media platforms as well, @GreenleafCenter on Facebook and Twitter. The Greenleaf Center of Servant Leadership on LinkedIn.

KK: Pat, thanks for coming on the show and thanks for the work you're doing.

PF: Thank You so much for having me, it's been fun.

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