Management guru, Stephen R. Covey frequently noted that high trust was not only “the glue that holds organizations together” but the key to extra-mile employee effort, innovation, and improved quality.
Covey also emphasized that trust deteriorates when leaders fail to recognize that the implicit “psychological contract” between leaders and employees is not fully understood and honored by those who seek to create trust.
Covey is just one of many researchers who have found that employees interpret the exchange relationship in organizations far differently than their leaders. The evidence confirms that leaders build trust only when they honor the commitments that employees perceive are owed to them – commitments that are often much different than leaders may believe are owed. Thus, it behooves today’s leaders to not only strive to honor the commitments that they make but to also recognize that the psychological contract may be easily misunderstood – and that wise leaders will constantly seek to obtain feedback about the duties owed to them in the minds of their employees.
Moses Pava has suggested that the leadership relationship is a “sacred covenant” which involves five key roles that employees often expect leaders to play, and has emphasized that the wise leader will embrace each of those roles as he or she seeks to build trust and commitment, optimally achieve organization mission, and empower organization members to achieve their highest potential. Each of these five roles is key to Pava’s covenantal leadership model, and those roles are not only endorsed by other leadership scholars but are put into practice by some of today’s most highly respected leaders.
- Leader as Servant – The covenantal leader is a servant first, and views service to employees as a debt owed in honoring the leader’s moral obligation to each employee’s welfare, growth, and wholeness. Max DePree, the former chairman and CEO of Herman Miller, the perennial leader among companies in the furniture industry, often spoke and wrote of the covenantal obligation owed to Herman Miller employees but explained that honoring those duties increased employee commitment and enabled Herman Miller to become widely recognized for excellent in its industry.
- Leader as Teacher – Covenantal leaders constantly are learning and share that which they learn to help others to add organizational value by applying correct principles. MIT’s Peter Senge emphasized the importance of constant teaching and learning in today’s information-based economy. Perhaps no organization does a better job of focusing on creating new learning opportunities than 3M.
- Leader as Exemplar – The award winning research by James Kouzes and Barry Posner has confirmed that great leaders “model the way” and lead by their example. Southwest Airlines’ Herb Kelleher and has been widely cited for his ability to walk his talk and inspire others to do the same.
- Leader as Truth Seeker – Covenantal leaders constantly pursue new meaning and strive to improve, discover new truths, and incorporate that new insight into what Harvard’s Clayton Christensen labels “disruptive innovations.” This constant pursuit of new and better ways to increase market share by creating new and better products has been a core principle of great companies like Intel and Sony.
- Leader as Empowerer – The covenantal leader recognizes that systems created must match core values in order to empower employees and enable them to succeed. Stanford’s Jeffrey Pfeffer emphasizes the critical value of aligned human resource systems in building the high performance work systems that consistently outperform their competitors. Pfeffer cites NUCOR Steel as a company that excels in empowering its employee teams – to the point where team members actually interview and hire applicants for vacant team positions.
The evidence by a growing list of scholars and practitioners confirms that Pava’s highly ethical covenantal leadership model creates improved performance. Harvard’s Lynn Paine is just one of many scholars who have cited the success of companies and leaders who integrate financial and ethical values to achieve greater profitability. Two outstanding examples of leaders who have been recognized as high in honoring all five roles of covenantal leadership are Chick-fil-A’s founder, S. Truett Cathy, and David Packard – co-founder of Hewlett-Packard. Both of these men exemplified the understated but passionately committed servant leader who worked tirelessly to empower others and achieve world-class organizational achievements.
Covenantal leadership’s five roles enable leaders to recognize and meet the high expectations that employees have which make up the implicit and often unspoken assumptions of the psychological contracts that exist between employees and their organizations. Wise organizational leaders are beginning to recognize that the five roles of covenantal leadership enable them to build employee commitment, increase extra-role behavior, and enhance their organization’s competitive position in an increasingly competitive global environment.
Co-author Zuhair Hasan is a mechanical engineer in Atlanta, Georgia with more than 17 years of experience and currently pursuing PhD in business administration from the NorthCentral University in Arizona focusing on management and leadership.