Leadership Is Servanthood

James is a supervisor in a distribution center. The supervisors are meeting to try to change the culture. James wants to know what Dave would do to start.

QUESTION: James in Clarksville is a supervisor in a distribution center. The supervisors are meeting to try to change the culture. James wants to know what Dave would do to start.

ANSWER: Trust breaks down when I don’t think you care about me. In the military, there are two types of people who will lead you into battle: the ones who’ll save your life and the ones who’ll put you out there first. Both of them have stripes on their arms sometimes. You can’t tell that until you get there, but when I trust you with my life, then I’ll fight for you. The only way that happens is you’ve got to quit thinking about you all the time and think of leadership as servanthood. You’re there to serve.

Serve doesn’t mean you put up with crap off of people, and serve doesn’t mean you bring them coffee. That’s not what I’m talking about. Serve means that I’m going to look at a guy and his wife’s in the hospital, just had a miscarriage, and how am I going to deal with that if I’m his supervisor? You’ve got to start caring about these people as people, not units of production. If leadership will start that and start firing people when they’re screw-ups and quit sanctioning crap off of them, then the good people will be glad they’re there because you care about them and because you demand excellence. In a group your size, it’s going to take a three-year process to change the culture and the spirit. But what happens is the team says you don’t care about me, so I’m going to say, “Take it easy!” and mean it. It means I’m not going to work any harder than I have to. As a matter of fact, I’m going to work as little as I can possibly work to get that paycheck and then get home, because the company doesn’t care about me. How do I know the company doesn’t care about me? Because my supervisor’s not a leader. My supervisor’s a boss.

Quit being bosses. Be leaders. That entails servanthood. Servanthood simply means you use the Golden Rule. Before you do something with the team, you think about how you would feel if you were them. Every decision goes through the Golden Rule paradigm. That causes you to serve. Just love your people well. You’ll change the culture over time doing that. It really can be done. Corporate America’s forgotten that, but those of us who run small businesses know how to do it. We do it every day.

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