Who Cares?


“Help thy brother's boat across, and lo! Thine own has reached the shore.”  -Hindu Proverb

Become an Exceptional Leader by Embracing Servant Leadership

In the United States Marine Corps, officers eat last. If there is not enough food, the officers don't eat. This sends a clear message that the officers' role is to take care of their subordinates first, rather than looking out for themselves. The highest performance organizations in the world also hold to this philosophy of servant leadership. This form of leadership espouses the concept that the leader's role is to take care of the frontline employees, so those employees can take care of customers.

Oftentimes leaders attempt to use superior knowledge as the basis for their authority. As a Harvard Business school graduate, I was responsible for Harvard MBA recruiting for the Disney parks organization. We would typically hire about five top-tier MBAs per year. Many of them would leave within two years.

As I did exit interviews and talked to the people who worked with and for these MBAs, a common theme was that "he was really smart, but he had trouble getting people to follow him." The MBA was usually task-oriented and emphasized her superior degree when challenged. Employees were driven hard, so the MBA could brag about the team output. The MBA jumped right into the work, spending little time developing relationships, common ground or loyalty. The result was frustration, disloyalty, resentment and ultimate failure.

Leading others requires trust. If your people don't trust you, they won't follow you and, by definition, you will not be a leader. Following are a couple of ways you can establish trust with those who follow you:

  • Demonstrate to your followers that you care about them and have their best interest in mind.
  • Challenge and correct people with respect and appreciation.
  • Ask for their suggestions and input.
  • Follow up on their suggestions.
  • Serve your followers by offering to help them.

By following these simple, but invaluable tips, you can change the way you lead others. You will attract the best people to work for you, experience the satisfaction in serving others and maintain high team morale and performance.

Action Point

Give those who work for you a 3x5 card. Write the following questions on a board:

  1. Do you trust me as a leader?
  2. Would you work for me again?
  3. Would you recommend your friends work for me?
  4. What is the one thing I can do to be a better leader?

Ask them to answer "yes" or "no" to the first three questions, and then write a short answer to the fourth. All cards are anonymous.

If you receive mainly yes answers and some good ideas, you are a servant leader. If not, evaluate what you need to do to serve your team better.

Adapted from Chapter 39, Who Cares?, of The Surpassing Life: 52 Practical Ways to Achieve Personal Excellence, thesurpassinglife.com.

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