When Reginald Freeman took command of the Hartford (Conn.) Fire Department, it faced a number of systemic problems, including safety issues and alleged criminal activity by several members of the team. These problems were exacerbated by a lack of communication, guidance, leadership and accountability.
During NAIFA’s Virtual Impact Week event in May, Freeman described how the ideals of servant leadership helped him address and overturn the problems within the fire department. Thousands of financial professionals learned some powerful leadership lessons from Freeman, Hartford’s fire chief and emergency management director. NAIFA hosted the online event to offer educational and motivational programs and to provide a platform for financial professionals to come together as a community.
Solving The Problem
As a leader, Freeman pointed out, the first step in addressing systemic problems like these is to understand the climate of the organization and any problems that may be rooted in it, because unaddressed climate difficulties can affect the overall culture of an organization. “If you don’t address problems before they get out of control, that becomes your cultural norm,” Freeman said.
Being in a position of authority does not necessarily mean that the person in that position is a leader, Freeman said. You have to “know when to manage and know when to lead,” he added. A leader lays out expectations for the team and asks what the team expects from him.
To lead effectively, Freeman said, he embraced the elements of “servant leadership” as established by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970.
The elements are:
» Empathy. Servant leaders must understand the needs of their team and how their leadership impacts others.
» Listening. Strong communication, and especially active listening are crucial to the development of the required empathy.
» Healing. Individuals’ relationships in any organizational situation can become strained. A servant leader will use the healing of relationships as a tool to transform their organization.
» Awareness. “Awareness helps one understand issues involving ethics, power and values. It lends itself to being able to view most situations from a more integrated, holistic position,” Freeman said.
» Persuasion. Servant leaders achieve success by persuading their teams to buy in to their decisions, rather than by using power and authority to coerce compliance.
» Conceptualization. Servant leaders “dream big dreams,” Freeman said. They address problems by thinking “beyond day-to-day realities.”
» Foresight. Servant leaders anticipate outcomes. “Foresight is a characteristic that enables the servant leader to understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present and the likely consequence of a decision for the future,” Freeman said.
» Stewardship. Serving the needs of others is a priority for a servant leader. “It means I care about you as individuals and I want you to be successful,” he said.
» Commitment to the team’s growth. A servant leader will inspire his team to perform at its best by nurturing “the personal and professional growth of employees and colleagues,” Freeman said.
» Building community. A servant leader recognizes the benefit of strong communities “as the primary shaper of human lives.”
The Benefits Of Servant Leadership
Servant leadership offers many benefits if it is used effectively. Freeman said servant leadership allowed him to significantly improve the Hartford Fire Department’s performance. Response times are down, accountability is up and morale, along with pride in the department, has increased. In addition, many members of his team have obtained professional development certifications.
“Servant leadership is critical to the success of 21st-century persons in positions of authority,” Freeman said. “With four different generations in the workplace, being able to lead and manage individuals from diverse backgrounds and perspectives is challenging.”
However, with an understanding of servant leadership, a leader can effectively communicate and accomplish their goals.
“Lead with confidence,” Freeman concluded. “Lead with integrity. Lead with passion.”