Evolve your leadership, grow your team
Alicia Koné, Owner and President, Koné Consulting, LLC

Many books have been written on management and leadership in government and the private sector, some trendy and others which stand the test of time. One theme remains constant: truly successful leaders must be invested in their people to stay competitive. If the adage is true that people leave managers, not companies, then perhaps the reverse is also true that people stay with managers, not companies — or, at the least, managers have a significant impact on whether people stay or go.

Being an effective leader requires a willingness to grow and evolve along with your team. Such leaders create safe, open workplaces where employees can showcase their strengths and be upfront about challenges, develop their own potential and successfully do their jobs. In growing the talent and capabilities of staff, we grow and sustain our organizations.

Hierarchical vs. team-based leadership

In 1997, my first job out of graduate school was working as a policy analyst in the largest state agency in Washington, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The DSHS management culture was starting to change, but it was still mostly a traditional hierarchical bureaucracy.

The function of a regulatory agency is by definition hierarchical and defined by process (one that ensures public input), so it’s not surprising that the management culture of a regulatory agency might be more like the military and less like a farming collective. However, an over-emphasis on traditional hierarchical models of management (just doing as you are told) and not enough emphasis on modern team-based problem-solving creates a workplace environment that is:

Servant leadership

Robert Greenleaf coined the term "servant leadership" in the 1970s. What sets servant leaders apart from others in leadership is that servant leaders are first called to serve; from service comes the conscious choice to aspire to lead.

In my own experience, I was called to serve our public safety-net system first, after having my own experience with poverty when I was a single mother finishing my bachelor’s degree at UW. That led to my getting an MPA from the Evan’s School because I believed in this country’s health and human services programs and wanted to help make them better. I was subsequently called to lead other people who shared similar values to mine and help people achieve their highest level of self-sufficiency. Now, as a consultant, I mentor and advise other managers who want to do the same.

Guided by Greenleaf’s principles, as a leader I am challenged to continually ask myself, Do those I serve grow as people? In Greenleaf's view, no one is perfect and leaders must be attuned to and dedicated to others' growth. As Greenleaf wrote:

The servant-leader leader must constantly ask: How can I use myself to serve best? Acceptance of the person, though, requires a tolerance of imperfection. Anybody could lead perfect people — if there were any. But there aren't any perfect people.

Values-based management

You may not feel you were "called" to leadership in the servant leadership sense. You may have been attracted to leadership for different reasons or through a different path, but how you manage is almost always a reflection of your values.

An organization is strongest when there is alignment between its values and those of the people who work there. At times when you feel your leadership or organization is flagging, ask yourself:

By considering these questions, you can find a way forward ― a path for change and growth.

Ultimately, the success of a leader’s approach rests on their specific situation, competence of staff, and competence and style of the leader. The more aware you are of your style, the more easily you can adjust that style to increase your effectiveness across a range of situations. The more readily you stop and reflect about what is and isn't working, and the more you remain open to change and self-improvement, the more you will continue to evolve as a leader who can, in turn, grow and sustain your organization.

Alicia Koné leads Koné Consulting and is a member of the University Consulting Alliance.


Greenleaf, Robert. “Servant Leadership: a Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness.” Paulist Press, 1977.

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