New Wine - Old Bottles



The adage that "you can't put new wine in old bottles" still holds true, as evidenced by attempts to profit senior executives with new leadership styles. For 30 years I've worked with chief executives in many organizations, training them to be better coaches, servant leaders, and sources of help rather than be judges, policemen, motivators, and magicians.

Most training programs try to put new wine in old bottles. For instance, they take the marvelous "new wine" concept of servant leadership, which the Greenleaf Center has created and implemented so successfully, and they mix it with the old command-and-control or benevolent authoritarian approach. But such mixing only compounds the original problem because it gives the boss an aura of respectability as a coach or servant leader, when in fact he's fundamentally unchanged in his basic style. He's now a wolf in sheep's wool. That's why most people resent performance appraisals. In fact, when I speak to an audience, I know how to get a fast reaction. I simply say, "The latest artifact of modern-day bloodletting in management is performance appraisal." The audience will almost stand and cheer. People have had it with performance appraisals where management uses a human relations approach and a coaching style, but there's no clear performance agreement. And so the person is still not the one ultimately responsible for results. Servant leadership requires humility of character and core competency around a new skill set not just directing, motivating and evaluating people using traditional performance appraisals.

Three Steps to Transformation

To become servant leaders, executives need to take three steps: building relationships of trust, setting up win-win performance agreements, and then being a source of help.


  1. Build a new relationship. The new relationship is horizontal, not vertical, and is based on the principle of mutual respect and equality not on power and position within the organization. You view the roles of worker, manager, and leader in a new light. The roles are equal, but different. Only when you have built relationships of trust do you have the foundation necessary to set up a meaningful performance agreement.


  1. Create a new psychological contract or performance agreement. The agreement represents a clear, up-front mutual understanding and commitment regarding expectations in five areas:
  • Purpose - specify the quantity and quality of desired results;
  • Guidelines - focus on principles, not on procedures, policies, or practices;
  • Resources - identify available human, financial and physical resources;
  • Accountability - schedule progress reports and specify performance criteria; and
  • Consequences - state both positive and negative rewards that reflect the natural consequences of actions taken.

The new agreement gives the other person total freedom within the guidelines to accomplish objectives. The moment such an agreement is set, the leadership paradigm shifts from one of benevolent authoritarianism to one of servant leadership. You become a source of help to those individuals who have entered into this agreement with you. The accountability process is based on self-evaluation, using feedback from different stakeholders. In fact, I often refer to this agreement as "stewardship delegation," since in such agreements each person becomes a "steward" over certain resources and responsibilities.


  1. With the transfer of power and responsibility for results, the leader becomes the servant and a source of help. Once you establish performance agreements with a clear understanding of common purposes and a deep buy-in by all parties, then people can do whatever is necessary within the guidelines to achieve desired results. The leader then takes the position of a servant. He is no longer one who directs, controls, or judges Instead, he becomes a coach and resource who can interpret the data or lend experience, but the individual or team makes most decisions including staffing, budgeting, and coordinating. If the person or team hits a brick wall or finds the resources and guidelines insufficient, you may have to revisit and renegotiate the performance agreement with them. In the mutual accountability sessions conducted by the person or the team, the servant leader asks four questions:
    1. How's it going? or, what's happening?
    2. What are you learning from this situation?
    3. What are your goals now? Or, what do you want to accomplish?
    4. How can I help you?

These questions keep the person responsible and accountable for results. Without that new mindset and skill set, servant leadership won't work.

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About the Author

Stephen R. Covey

Over his lifetime, Stephen inspired millions with the power of universal principles. As he traveled the globe many times over, his message was a simple one: for true success and meaning in life, we must be principle-centered in all areas of life. A teacher at heart, he often taught, "There are three constants in life: change, choice and principles." From the oval office, the board room, community halls and to the school house and family room, Stephen taught the mindset, skillset and toolset found in The 7 Habits of Highly effective people, his seminal work. His legacy is woven in The 7 habits, and, just as these habits are universal and timeless, so is Stephen R. Covey, who is admired around the world for his simple, yet powerful, universal, timeless teachings. Recognized as one of Time magazine’s 25 most influential Americans, Stephen R. Covey was one of the world’s foremost leadership authorities, organizational experts, and thought leaders.

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