Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership.

Sounds a little wussy, sounds a little soft, and yet it is and continues to be, more importantly now than ever, the most effective way of leading an organisation.

Serving those around you, putting others before yourself. It’s been around for a couple of thousand years. Western civilization, the idea of it was really built on the back of the individual having sanctity and serving those people around us. And creating a Culture of Honour is paramount, I think, in an environment where the momentum of the marketplace is so quick that you have to leverage the collective experience and intelligence of those around you or you’ll fail as an individual. So it’s about serving the team.

The team is more important than the individual.

You can have a very high-performing individual who’s bringing in all the sales. I had a sales manager for a company that I ran. You know what? He was the samurai warrior. He was kicking down doors for a living, doing a great job, but man, he was so disruptive. He just didn’t treat people well and we’d done a values exercise. We’d all agreed this was the way that we’re going to treat each other. With respect, with dignity, and treat each other nice. And he was just not engaged in that at all. He upset a lot of people, just trouble, and yet bringing in huge amount of dollars. And so it was an opportunity for me to look at, am I going to put the individual or the team first?

I chose the team first, met with him, and said, “Hey, love what you do. Fantastic, what you do. But this is the way we’ve agreed to work with each other around here. If you want to do that, that’s great. If you don’t, there’s the door.”

Not a pleasant conversation, but try to encourage them to see the error of his ways and be able to engage with the people around him in a more positive way. He chose not to do that and then, to the astonishment of the team around him, I helped him out the door and he left and you know what? It impacted our sales for a short period of time, but everybody realised that, you know what? Culture is important. We will treat each other well, we will work as a team, and the whole place went up a notch and that organization went on to do some extraordinary things, built, I think, fundamentally on some great people in a great environment with a great culture, where they knew we would take it seriously, that I would put the team before the individual and that those things, those values are important.

Once we’ve agreed what they are, we should operate them.

As a leader, it’s your job to make sure that the team gets priority and you serve that team.

That same principle happens across broader stakeholders. Where a lot of companies have got themselves in trouble is it’s only the shareholders that matter. But at the shareholders, you know what? They do matter. They want a return and they should have get a return, but the team matters. They should have a great environment and become great people and have their skills and their talents and abilities developed. And the customers are important. We just serve them, give them an excellent product and maybe we have some responsibility for our broader environment that we sit in around. The local community and health and safety, all those things that might impact a broader range of stakeholders. We’re to serve all those stakeholders and it’s a paradox.

One against the other. How do you balance those things? It’s very situational, but your heart needs to be, “how do I serve all these stakeholders in a way that’s balanced and measured and gives a good result?” We’re called to be, I think, stewards of that which has been given to us. So if we have authority, if we have resources, then how do we steward those, look after them, make sure that they’re well-employed, and giving a great return. So if we think about it from a stewardship perspective, that brings a servant heart and removes it from us and gives it to other people and those around us.

You know, it sounds a little soft. You know, maybe it wouldn’t work in companies that are rigid and structured. Not true. The General Electric have a plant, an engine plant in Durham, where they build massive jet engines. Not something you want to get wrong. Not something that is a kind of a fly by night. It’s not a hyper-creative environment. They build jet engines, they run self-managed teams. These are engineers that need to have a hair width of error. It would be a problem.

There’s absolute detail, they’re building jet engines, the engineers, and yet that whole plant is self-managed teams. There’s one manager and he’s pretty much just doing the paperwork. And those teams create their own schedules, create their own ways of doing things, and they have the lowest quality problems, the highest productivity, an extraordinary plant, and a demonstration that if you create an environment where people serve each other, work together and collaborate, you can do extraordinary things.


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