By Mark Rounds, VP of Corporate Development

As I travel down the parallel paths of Lean Construction and Servant Leadership, I continue to find synergies between both approaches to leadership. The primary synergy is the respect for the worker.

Many models of management in use are based on top-down theory, where the supervisor is in charge and the worker is responsible for meeting the company objectives. This model has been and continues to be successful for businesses. But how successful is it for the workers? When I started working in the “real world” the mantra for the worker was Johnny Paycheck’s Take This Job and Shove It. Work was work and it was a means to afford what you truly enjoyed doing in life. Rarely, did anyone honestly love his or her job. Unfortunately, too many worker-company relationships are the same today as they were back then.

Greenleaf’s primary tenant of Servant Leadership requires the leader to meet the priorities of the worker. The barometer is does the worker grow as a person? Deming brought this to light in Lean by implying the organizational chart should be turned upside down. It is the leader’s role to support the worker. The company must create an environment where workers can do their best work and managers help them to do it. Greenleaf and Deming note the role of the leader and manager is to help the worker achieve his or her best.

Deming noted that failures are the result of the process and not the people. When a problem happens, we should be seeking a process solution, and not blaming the worker. Too often, we fail to explore the exact problem and take the easy solution of blaming the behavior of the worker. Blaming behavior does not make the worker’s environment safe. The organization should seek a safe workplace, both physically and mentally, where the worker is free to express his or her concerns, which is Deming’s point number 8 Drive out Fear. Likewise, Greenleaf urges leaders to make the worker feel safe, so that they can perform at their highest potential.

So how do we make the environment safe? Both Deming and Greenleaf note it starts with listening. This requires a firm belief that the worker is part of the team and not just a means for accomplishing an outcome. People have a desire to understand. By showing respect and listening to others, the leader gains the trust of the workers. Leaders and managers must be excellent communicators, and this involves being good listeners. I like to say it is listening with HEART: Hearing, Empathizing, Asking, Respect, & Trust. The best way to receive respect and trust is for one to give respect and trust to others. A servant always accepts and empathizes, and never rejects. This goes for ideas as well as feelings.

It is the organization’s responsibility, starting with the leaders, to create a work environment that allows the worker to grow professionally and personally. This is people building. Too many organizations look at the workers as assets. This is wrong. Assets are something a company owns. People are the most significant resource a company has. Without people, you have nothing. At Vogel Bros. People are the Key to our Success. That means everyone, both internal and external to our company. Without people, we have no clients, no partners, and no workers. Both lean organizations and servant led organizations understand this concept and put people first.


Servant Leadership and Lean Construction: Respect for the Worker is the second article in a series by Mark Rounds. To read the first article, click here.