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Ask Dave

Real Leadership Is Service

Phillip drives a cab, and he has an opportunity build a fleet. He isn't sure how to wrap his head around being responsible for other people's lives. Dave says real leadership is service.

QUESTION: Phillip in Oklahoma City drives a cab, and he’s been at it for nine years. One of the opportunities he has is to build a fleet. However, he doesn’t know how to build a business, so he isn’t sure how to wrap his head around being responsible for other people’s lives. Dave says real leadership is service.

ANSWER: You’re asking the right question. To bother to get your head around it is the first step. Real leadership—and the first time you hire someone to work on your new team—is service. You’re serving them. I don’t mean you’re subservient. I don’t mean you have to wait on them. That’s not what I’m talking about. But you are putting their interest, their future, their family—at the center of your decisions. You have to think that way.

If I’m going to bring people in here on my team who I’m responsible for, I’m going to bring people in here who I need to get work, creative ideas, and passion out of and who I can turn my back on and walk away and they still work when I’m not looking at them. If I’m going to get those kinds of quality people on my team, how do you want to be treated? You treat other people like you want to be treated. If you treat them like they’re slaves, you won’t have anybody who’s quality, because anybody who’s quality will go work for somebody else. They’re not going to put up with your crap. They have to be under authority. You have to be able to direct them. And they have to be trainable and coachable, but then you can still care about them. That doesn’t mean if they misbehave, you have to keep them. I’ve let people go who I care about. But they’re people. I’ve never done stuff like that in a mean way because it’s all about me or about the bottom line. It’s about doing the job well, serving the customer well, and in the process of that—as I lead you, if you’re on my team—I’m going to lead you well.

It’s a journey you’re getting ready to go on, Phillip. There’s not one conversation you and I can have, and I can’t give you one little insight that causes you to suddenly be able to lead people well. Most businesses don’t lead their teams well. Most people look at them as employees, and they treat them like crap. Most people, then, don’t want to work hard for the place they work for. It’s really easy to stand out in a situation like that. All you have to do is treat people well.

Do people always stay after you’ve treated them right? No. Sometimes, they turn around and treat you like dirt. That happens sometimes. But if you do that enough, everybody else is watching. It’s not just that one person you’re dealing with. I have 310 people here, and everyone else is watching how I react to that. It affects everyone else’s attitude in the building. If you fire somebody the first time you stub your toe, then everybody else is walking around in fear of stubbing their toe. That’s what leadership is. You understand that there are unintended consequences to every word you speak and to every action you take with your team and how you treat them.

Treat other people like you’d want to be treated.