Most companies take a good approach to developing leaders, but generally miss the point. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on good decision making, effective communication, and team building. And all those are important, but don’t address what matters most.
When you get right down to it, the essence of leadership – the thing that best reflects good leadership – is when a leader is able to bring out the best in others. If a leader is able to elicit excellence from the people around him or her, then that person can truly be deemed great leader.
In order to be a great company, the culture of bringing out the best in others must permeate the entire organization. Let me offer some perspective on how to make that happen. In order to do that, three questions need to be asked and answered.
The first question that needs to be asked is, “Who is the most important person to your company?” (Notice I didn’t ask “in” your company, but rather “to” your company.) The answer, of course, is your customer. No Customers = No Company.
The next question is, “Who is the most important person in your company to your customers?” Clearly the answer is not “the CEO”. No… the most important person to a customer is the person they come in contact with – the “front line”.
And the final question is the one that really drives the leadership point home. Here it is: “What then is the job of the manager of those front line people?” The job of that manager is to bring out the best in the people he or she “manages”. (Read that as “leads”.) The manager must ensure that his team has the training and knowledge they need. She needs to provide the support and environment to allow them to be their best. The whole goal is to make their work as enjoyable, productive, and rewarding as possible.
If this philosophy is taken up one level and applied to the manager of the managers, and then to the leader of the managers, and ultimately to the leader of the leaders one ends up with a servant leader organization. It results in an organizational chart that looks like an inverted pyramid; an organization that acknowledges the importance of the front line and reflects a philosophy of service throughout.
This isn’t simply a theory or a type of feel-good culture that compromises profit and performance. Far from it. It is a practical, proven, and extremely effective approach to conducting business. I can point to three businesses that have embraced a servant leader philosophy and have not only done well, but are out-pacing their competitors by orders of magnitude.
The first example is a relatively small company in Denver. It’s in an industry where many of their competitors are struggling just to survive. However, this company is making a seven-figure profit! The owner has adopted a philosophy of helping those around him to become successful. He applies this philosophy to his employees, his customers and even his vendors. I’ve interviewed the owner and his employees, and found his team to be loyal, enthusiastic, professional, free from stress, and highly productive. The results speak for themselves.
The second example is Frontier Airlines. In an industry plagued by stagnant growth and evaporating profits, this company has adopted a servant leader approach to business and out-paced its competition by leaps and bounds – both in growth and profits. By way of example, when the office closes for a holiday, many of the office staff will go into the field to help the front line folks with the heavy holiday workload. Servant leaders abound within the organization.
The third example is Nucor Steel, which ended up dominating the U.S. steel industry by adopting a servant leader, almost egalitarian, business model. The leadership of the company minimized the perceived differences between the front line and the management/executive team. It became a company that recognized the important role each person plays in the success of the organization.
Adopting a servant leader philosophy can make a tremendous difference in the productivity, growth and profitability of an organization. Bringing out the best in people always yields excellent results. It advances the people doing their best, it advances you as a leader, and it advances the company. This is a smart and savvy approach to business that should be adopted and implemented in any company, no matter what industry or size.