Starting today we’re going to get our toes in the water on the three shortages I regularly see in leadership: service, servitude, and stewardship. Honestly, there are MANY leadership shortages. I’m just looking at these 3 over the next three days.
You should know my bias. Leadership isn’t about position. It’s about service. Let’s frame some context around this.
You own a business. Or perhaps you’re a CEO or executive leading a team. You have a title and a position of authority. That’s the boss element of your identity. I’m not diminishing that, but that’s not what we’re talking about today. Being the boss is about the position, but that’s not leadership. So today, separate these two things in your mind. And do that again for the next few episodes this week because I’m not talking about your authority, your power or your capacity to make decisions as a boss.
Great bosses are also great leaders, but not all great leaders are bosses. Since you are a boss it would be ideal for you to excel at both being a boss (having authority) and being a leader (serving with positive influence). It’s a tough chore being both, but it doesn’t need to be impossible.
Service is aimed at helping others. It’s action-oriented. That’s why I picked it first. We can sit around and think of stuff, but it’s infinitely more profitable to do stuff. Doing helps us figure it out.
I heard Joe Rogan talk about starting his stand up comic career. He talked about how there’s only one way he knows to get into that business or to get good at it. Do it. Stink at it. Get better. Stink some more. Improve. He pointed out that there are no books, classes or coursework. You learn from others, but mostly you learn by doing it yourself.
Leadership may work best the same way. Do stuff…for others!
Self-serving leadership isn’t leadership. It’s just selfishness.
The big gap in leadership is the ability and willingness of people to get their mind and attention off of themselves and onto others. It’s a gap in the ability to recognize when people need help, when they need encouragement, when they need recognition, when they need something you could supply to help them. Not because it advances you, but because it advances them.
That’s the service you should provide to everybody who reports to you. If you own the joint or you’re the CEO then it should be service you provide to everybody in the company. If not on an individual level then through whatever hierarchy exists in your organization.
Let’s forego talking about why you should do this. If I need to convince you why you should do this, then you’re that interested in this podcast anyway. I’m not your cup of tea. Instead, let’s talk a bit about HOW. How do you serve?
Rather than dive into specifics which wouldn’t likely serve to help you, let’s pull back and think more globally. Let’s fly to a higher altitude so we can see the bigger picture.
It’s about people. Question: how would you characterize the problems you’ve experienced in life? Can you possibly do that?
Not likely. Because life is complicated and our problems, challenges, and opportunities are all over the board.
“Well, people’s personal problems aren’t my area. I don’t have any business going there.”
Is that true?
Your right-hand person tells you it appears they’re headed toward a divorce. They’re wrecked. What are you going to do? Tell them it’s none of your business? Tell them it doesn’t pertain to the company so you’d prefer to not discuss it?
If you’re an uncaring jerk you may. But you’re not. So you won’t. But what will you do?
You’ll serve this person. Their life and this problem will become a priority for you to help them in whatever way you can. Maybe you tell them to take some time away from work and you implement a plan to spread their work around so they can step away to focus on their marriage. There are any number of things you could do as a great leader.
Lessons can be learned by looking at how pathetic bosses behave. It’s what NOT to do.
A right-hand person won’t tell their boss about their problems. That’s where the problem begins. They don’t feel safe to confide in their “boss” what’s happening. They come to work, keep their head down and try hard to do their work. But the boss notices they don’t have their head in the game.
Performance may slip, if only slightly. The boss can get angry because the expectations are unaltered. He has no idea what’s going on with this key person. Nor does he really care. That’s why the employee never told him.
But a day arrives where the boss confronts the behavior. The employee still may or may not divulge the problem. If he doesn’t, then the pressure is on to up his performance in the face of a very stressful personal situation. If he does, then that pressure exists plus the pressure of worrying how the boss will respond or what the boss may think. It may feel like making a bad situation at home even worse by bringing it to work.
The net result may be deterioration of performance where the boss decides the demote or terminate the person. And great leadership would have likely resulted in a very different – much more positive outcome for both the employee and the boss (the great leader).
I noticed his performance slipping. It started early in the week. I was in my 20’s. It was my first real #1 job of running a company. Something was off with him and I noticed it. By day 3 I asked him to come see me.
He walked in and I asked him to close the door. I knew something was wrong and I suspected it was personal because I knew of no work-related issues that might cause his behavior change.
He settled in and I asked, “I know something’s worrying you. I don’t want to pry, but I want you to know I care and I’m here to help if I’m able.”
He broke down, crying. His wife had moved out. Taken up with a boyfriend he never knew she had. He didn’t know what to do.
I moved from behind my desk to occupy the chair beside him. I listened. I put my hand on his shoulder and told him I was sorry he was enduring this.
We talked about it and I let him lead the conversation. He told me everything.
My mind was reviewing the alternative courses of action I could take as the boss to relieve him of work responsibilities so he could focus on his life. When the clouds of emotions cleared I asked for his permission to talk about what I could do to help him. He readily agreed.
I said, “There’s no reason to let this impact your career. We’re going to do everything in our power together to make sure that won’t happen. It won’t serve your life to let things crash here so I’m going to do whatever it takes to prevent that.” He was very appreciative.
We huddled, reviewing the next two weeks of work scheduled. Together we collaborated on what might be our best course so he could step away to handle his personal affairs. There were a few days he needed to be at work and he expressed strong desire to be there. Basically, he wanted to work, but knew he needed a few days to get with an attorney and figure out how to navigate his divorce. We devised a plan where he’d take 3 days off immediately, then over the next few weeks there’d be some additional time away from the office. We also agreed on how we’d let the company know (again, he was in full command of that message – he decided he wanted people to know it was a divorce, but nothing more).
We communicated and put the plan into action. Things went fine. Different, but fine. For about 3 weeks. He may have missed 6 days plus a few half days, but in the end he got through it and so did the company. If anything, his performance went higher post-divorce. Our company proved how safe we were for him during the most troubling time of his entire life. It wasn’t about the company. It was about him. Yes, we put a plan in place so the company’s needs could continue to be met, but his needs drove that – not the other way around.
I can’t possibly know every challenge, problem or opportunity your people face. But I know great leadership is gifted at making sure they know the people well enough to know what’s going on. Without intruding, if it’s personal.
When you take square aim at SERVICE, putting the needs of people in the forefront, then compassion rules the day. People feel safe to share. They know you want what’s best for them.
Great leadership isn’t conditional. That is, it’s ineffective if you serve people provided you can get what you want. Service doesn’t have an IF. You simply do what you must do. It’s like Harold Geneen, the crusty tyrant who ran ITT, said, “Managers must manage.” Translation: you find a way. In this sense, you find a way to serve the people doing the work.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!