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Management Consulting

5 Obtrusive Blockers to Avoid as a Servant Leader

Obtrusive balloons blocking a city street.

We’ve all heard of servant leadership. The concept of “being a servant” to your teams and treating employees as critical individuals to be cultivated and empowered, has strong merit. However, many organizations fall short, with those at the top of the hierarchy viewing employees as interchangeable cogs in the corporate machine.

Instead of diving deep into the theories, practices, and benefits of servant leadership, I will focus on a specific, related principle or mind-set: being unobtrusive. This can help managers support their teams, clear the path, and improve productivity by stepping out of the way as much as possible. Then I’ll provide five obtrusive blockers to avoid as a servant leader or manager.

Being Unobtrusive as a Servant Leader

The principle at play here is that managers, leaders, and business owners realize the importance of individual contributors’ time. The leader’s position can help reduce unnecessary load and help the employee focus on top priority business objectives.

Deloitte reported in 2017 that payroll accounts for 50-60% of Fortune 500 spending. With that, it seems obvious to realize that leaders should help maximize the time of their employees. The opposite side of that suggests that you should remove as much redundancy and unnecessary cognitive load on them as you can.

Reduction of obtrusiveness can be in all areas: technically, procedurally, managerially, and even within the set expectations for the individual. It applies everywhere.

Falling in Love with the Concept of Unobtrusiveness

In the early 2000s, while studying design and web development, I learned to love unobtrusive practices. “Unobtrusive JavaScript” meant separating interactive code from static HTML, avoiding cluttered event attributes like “onclick” and “onmouseover” throughout the code. With dynamic, data-driven sites, we also had query string variables which made URLs longer and less readable. Now, some sites are using URL rewriting practices for “pretty URLs” that are cleaner and unobtrusive to us humans who use and share them.

As I then transitioned into manager and director roles focused on digital sales and marketing, I became further convinced of the power of being unobtrusive. Tracking conversion rates for sales and marketing initiatives showed a clear incentive. Our team used data to convince clients to step away from ego-centric approaches of what the company wanted, and instead help them realize that some of that was unimportant and prevented prospects from becoming paying customers. The customers had their goals, and they just want everything else to get out of their way.

In all cases, the customer just wants their experience to be unobtrusive. Everyone prefers unobtrusive! For the love of all that is holy, don’t make them read their account number after already typing it into the phone system!

Five Obtrusive Blockers

There are several types of things that leaders often impose on teams that can kill the productivity of the team. As a servant leader and good steward of the time being used by your team, it is best to avoid these types of mental drains.

  1. Micromanagement – When I interview potential candidates, I ask them what the main thing is that they want to avoid in a new role. Across the board, people always say they don’t want to be micromanaged. It’s obtrusive. For managers that feel it is necessary, you are likely avoiding a tough conversation that needs to be had.
  2. Lack of Clear Goals – Not giving your team clear goals is a sure-fire way to cause rework. It is demoralizing to them if they try to address what they think you want, only to be told that they got it wrong. Don’t put it on them to read your mind, instead consider a strong North Star Goal.
  3. Poor Communication – You’ve seen it before. You ask three questions in an email and the reply back answers only one. Don’t do that to your team. I tend to over-communicate. I once offended a business partner because they felt like I shouldn’t have to explain everything in detail to them. For me, I view it as removing ambiguity and adding detail for posterity. If one of my emails is forwarded to someone who isn’t familiar with the topic, it should be clear to them too.
  4. Inflexible Policies – HR departments do their best to provide meaningful policies that protect the employees as well as the company. It’s a tough thing to get right. As a manager, you probably have some “policies” of your own. Just be aware that countless hours can be spent by the employee at home and at work fretting about their interpretation of the policy and how it affects their unique situation. All that time and cognitive load is wasted before they even mention their concern to you.
  5. Menial Tasks – “Busy work” is rampant in businesses. Not just assigned busy work, but the little menial tasks you assign your team members that you might not even realize. Have you ever sent someone a list of dates and times and failed to convert them to the recipient’s time zone? Or maybe a list of tickets logged in your work management system, but you gave them ticket numbers without linking to the ticket detail page? You are micro-assigning obtrusive tasks to others.

The Benefits of Being an Unobtrusive Manager

I know… You’ve read this article and are thinking, “Great idea, but I don’t have time to do anything more than I already do.” Yes, being unobtrusive to others means you have to take on that effort yourself. Just like in our digital projects, making something “easy” for the user takes a whole hell of a lot of effort for the rest of us. We don’t attain excellence by taking the shortest path.

This is an exercise in empathy and understanding. If you want to clear the path for your team, then you must make the effort yourself. The good news is that there is direct benefit in doing so.

Your goal is to complete projects on time, within budget, and (hopefully) exceeding expectations. You have a team with varying levels of expertise, different personalities, and certainly some who are more diligent than others. By taking a little more time yourself, as a servant leader, you can collectively save the rest of the team an untold amount of cognitive load. This can keep others focused on the important work they are assigned and even prevent errors before they happen.


Being a servant leader is a wonderful thing to strive for. No doubt you want to help others be their best, and to make a difference within your organization. As part of that journey, I encourage you to try to watch out for those obtrusive blockers that can slow your team down. Some are large, some are very small, but the goal is to get things out of the way of the team so they can avoid stumbling and simply do great work!


If you are looking for a partner who can help remove obstructions for your team, reach out to your Perficient account manager or use our contact form to begin a conversation.

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Brandon Luhring

Brandon is a consumer experience engagement manager at Perficient. His career has included running digital and marketing projects both in-house and as a consultant. He enjoys topics around creativity, innovation, design, technology, and leadership.

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