What Great Leaders Know and Do: It All Begins with “Seeing the Future”

OneThe Secret Book Cover of our favorite publishers, Berrett-Koehler, just released the 10th Anniversary Edition of The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do—the first book I coauthored with Mark Miller.

The message in The Secret is as powerful in today’s increasingly complex world as it was when it was published ten years ago: You can serve without leading, but you can’t lead without serving. I’ll be blogging a few times over the next several weeks about each element of the SERVE model we present in the book.

To begin, the S in SERVE stands for See the Future. As leaders of a group, department, or organization, we must have a compelling vision of the future.  This compelling vision stirs the passion not only within us but also within the people we serve. It tells everyone who we are, where we are going, and what will drive our behaviors.

Sheldon Bowles, a friend and coauthor, provides one of my favorite examples of a man with a clear vision for his company. Sheldon is one of the founders of Canada’s DOMO Gasoline company.

Many years ago when gasoline companies were all shifting to self service gas stations, Sheldon decided that it would be the perfect time to go into the full service business. He loved to venture where there was no competition—and full service would be DOMO’s market differentiator. He knew people didn’t go to gas stations for enjoyment; they went for a specific reason and wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible.

Sheldon decided to create an experience for the customer when they pulled into a DOMO station, and the pit stop of the Indianapolis 500 race served as his inspiration. He hired mothers, retirees, and others who were interested in working part-time and dressed them in red jumpsuits.

When a customer drove in to one of the stations, attendants would race toward the car, pump the gas, look under the hood, clean the windows, and take the payment. The values that drove everyone’s behavior were safety, speed, and fun. As the customer drove away, they were handed a card that said “P.S.—We also sell gas.” As a leader, Sheldon had a clear picture of the future and communicated it effectively to his people.

What’s your vision of the future?  Is it compelling?  Have you shared it with your team?

I look forward to sharing more about the SERVE model in future blogs. If you’d like to learn more, join Mark Miller and me on Monday, September 29 at 11:00 a.m. PDT/2:00 p.m. EDT when we will host a free webinar on the key concepts of The Secret.

Are You a Leader? Here’s How to Tell

Ripple effect of dew drop fallingSometimes when I’m leading a session for a big group of managers, I’ll ask, “How many of you think of yourself as a leader?” Usually only about one-third of them raise their hands. Somehow they think the word leader is reserved for high-level positions like President or CEO.

But each of us has the ability to influence someone else, whether it be a coworker, a child at home, a spouse, or a friend. Anytime you are trying to influence the thinking, beliefs, or development of another person, you are engaging in leadership. Of course there are traditional organizational leadership responsibilities that involve goals and objectives, but if you think beyond those confines, you’ll realize that everyone is a leader—you are a leader—unless you’re stranded on an island by yourself!

I’m always reminded of this when I ask people to tell me about someone who has influenced them and had a positive impact on their life. They very seldom mention traditional leaders at work. They usually talk about parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, coaches, or teachers.  The one characteristic common among all of these influencers?  Their interest in helping another person develop.

The truth is that we are all trying to influence people, whether it is in the office, at home, or with friends.  But we need to pay attention to how we do it. Are we there to serve or to be served? The most effective leaders know that true leadership is about serving and impacting people in a positive way. It’s about letting people know that you want to help them be the best they can be and that you truly care about them.

Even if you don’t have a traditional leadership role right now, chances are you are playing a significant role in the life of another person.  Identify it, claim it, and recognize the impact you can have in someone else’s life.

Is there such a thing as servant leadership in government?

(This is the eleventh installment in my twelve-part blog series A Leadership Vision for America.)

I realize that what I have been saying about creating a servant leadership culture in Washington is not easy to sell. To a lot of people, it sounds like “soft management.”

When I am confronted by these kinds of concerns, I love to tell about an experience I had several years ago at my local branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Stop me if you’ve heard this one!

When you mention the DMV, most people would say it’s a government bureaucracy that often treats them as a number instead of a human being. I felt the same way at the time—but like we all do every few years, I had to go there in person to renew my driver’s license.  I hadn’t been to the DMV in years and headed to the office with low expectations.

I knew immediately something had changed when I walked in the front door and was greeted by a smiling woman. “Welcome to the Department of Motor Vehicles! Do you speak English or Spanish?”

“English,” I replied.

She pointed to a nearby counter and said, “Right over there.”

The guy behind the counter cheerfully said, “Welcome to the Department of Motor Vehicles! How may I help you today?” It took me only nine minutes to get my replacement license, including having my picture taken. I asked the woman who took my picture, “What are you all smoking here? This isn’t the same old DMV I used to know and love.”

She asked, “Haven’t you met our new director?”and pointed to a man sitting at a desk right in the middle of everything. I walked over to him, introduced myself, and asked, “What’s your job as the director of this branch of the DMV?” The man gave me the best definition of management I had ever heard:

“My job is to reorganize the department on a moment-to-moment basis, depending on citizen (customer) need.”

The director obviously had a compelling vision for his department. The point of their business was to serve the needs of their customers, and to serve them well. What did this director do? I learned that he cheered everybody on—that’s why he was out in the middle of the action. He also cross-trained everyone in every job—that way, if a flood of citizens came in suddenly, they would be able to provide the service that was needed. And no one went to lunch between 11:30 and 2:00, because that was the busiest time of day for customers to come in.

This director created a motivating environment for his people. His team members were really committed. Even employees I recognized from past visits—who at the time had seemed stiff and jaded—were now excited about serving.

When leaders are servants first and leaders second, they make a positive difference in everyone around them. Would you like to work for this kind of leader? You’d better believe it. Why? Because he’s a servant leader who treats his people as his business partners in implementing the service vision and solving problems.

If this philosophy can impact a government agency like the DMV, why can’t it impact all segments of society, including the U.S. government? 

To me, what’s needed are leaders in Washington who believe we should:

  • Have a Compelling Vision: If people don’t have a larger purpose to serve, the only thing they have to serve is themselves.
  • Treat Citizens as Business Partners: People who are well informed have a greater commitment to help solve problems.
  • Involve Every Sector of Society: No problem can withstand the assault of sustained collective thinking and action.
  • Elect Servant Leaders:  The more leaders we have in Washington who realize that their job is to serve, not to be served, the better chance we have of breaking our political deadlock and maintaining our reputable standing in the world.

Thanks for tuning in to the Leadership Vision for America series.  America is a great country and I feel blessed every day to be able to live here. Let’s encourage our leaders to do what they need to do to keep America moving in the right direction. And if you’re an American citizen, be sure to get out and vote on November 6, on national, state, and local political races and issues. Your vote counts! 

I’ll have some final thoughts next week as I conclude this series. What are your thoughts as Election Day approaches?

Elect Servant Leaders

(This is the tenth installment in my twelve-part blog series A Leadership Vision for America.)

Now let’s look at the fourth and final secret for fixing Washington. This secret will encompass and bring to life the first three secrets.

The Fourth Secret: Elect Servant Leaders

Assumption: The more that our leaders are in Washington to serve and not be served, the better chance we have to mend what’s wrong with our country.

The world is in desperate need of a different leadership role model. Everyone has seen the negative effects of self-serving leaders in every segment of our society. In fact, to a great extent, the whole economic downturn has been the result of self-serving leaders through the years who thought all the money, recognition, power, and status should move up the hierarchy in their direction, and everyone else be damned.

Yet, when I mention servant leadership to people, they often think it means the inmates are running the prison, or trying to please everybody, or even some type of religious movement.  They think you can’t lead and serve at the same time. Yet you can, if you understand that there are two parts to servant leadership:

  • A visionary, or strategic, role—the leadership aspect of servant leadership
  • An implementation, or operational, role—the servant aspect of servant leadership

The first secret for fixing Washington—having a compelling vision—was focused on the visionary/strategic, or leadership, aspect of servant leadership. Once an organization has a compelling vision, they can set goals and define strategic initiatives that suggest what people should be focusing on right now. With a compelling vision, these goals and strategic initiatives take on more meaning and therefore are not seen as a threat, but as part of the bigger picture.

The traditional hierarchical pyramid is effective for the leadership aspect of servant leadership. People look to their organizational leaders for direction, as Americans look to Washington. While leaders should involve experienced people in shaping vision/direction, goals, and strategic imperatives, the ultimate responsibility remains with the leaders themselves and cannot be delegated to others.

Implementation/operational leadership, or the servant aspect of servant leadership—living according to the vision and direction—is where most leaders and organizations get into trouble. With self-serving leaders at the helm, the traditional hierarchical pyramid is kept alive and well, leaving the customers uncared for at the bottom of the hierarchy. All the energy in the organization moves up the hierarchy as people try to please and be responsive to their bosses, leaving the customer contact people to be “ducks,” “quacking” and saying things like, “It’s our policy,” “I just work here,” “I didn’t make the rules,” or “Do you want to talk to my supervisor?”

Servant leaders, on the other hand, feel that their role is to help people achieve their goals. They intuitively know that effective implementation requires turning the hierarchical pyramid upside down so the customer contact people are at the top of the organization and can be responsible—able to respond and soar like eagles—while leaders serve and are responsive to the needs of their people, helping them to accomplish goals and live according to the vision/direction, goals, and strategic imperatives of the organization.

Since the customer contact people are “in the know,” they see themselves as your responsible business partners and, therefore, are committed to not only serving customers but to solving problems. This is what the second and third secrets of fixing Washington are all about:  We must treat our citizens as our business partners and involve all segments of society to solve our problems.

To wrap up my Leadership Vision for America series, I’ll have some final thoughts for you next time and then a special message on November 3. Let me know what you think!

What, Exactly, Is Servant Leadership?

At The Ken Blanchard Companies, most of our work in the past focused on leader behavior and how to improve leadership style and methods. We attempted to change leaders from the outside. But through the years we have become convinced that effective leadership starts with self perception—it’s an inside job. It is a question of the heart. It’s all about leadership character and intention. Why are you leading? Is it to serve or be served? Answering this question in a truthful way is so important, because you can’t fake being a servant leader. We believe that if leaders don’t get the heart part right, they simply won’t ever become servant leaders.

The most persistent barrier to being a servant leader is a heart motivated by self interest that looks at the world as a “give a little, take a lot” proposition. Leaders with hearts motivated by self interest put their own agenda, safety, status, and gratification ahead of others who are affected by their thoughts and actions.

In a sense, developing a “servant’s heart” is a lifelong journey. It is my belief that you finally become an adult when you realize that life is about what you give rather than what you get. The shift from self-serving leadership to leadership that serves others is motivated by a change in heart. Servant leadership is not just another management technique. It is a way of life for those with servant’s hearts.

When some people hear the phrase servant leadership, they associate it with “soft management”—they think you can’t lead and serve at the same time. Yet you can, if you understand that there are two kinds of leadership involved in servant leadership: strategic leadership and operational leadership.

Strategic leadership has to do with vision and direction. This is the leadership aspect of servant leadership. The responsibility for this visionary role falls to the hierarchical leadership. Kids look to their parents, players look to their coaches, and people look to their organizational leaders for direction.

Once people are clear on where they are going, the leader’s role shifts to a service mindset for the operational leadership task, which is all about implementation—the servant aspect of servant leadership. How do you make your vision happen?  In a traditional organization, all the energy in the organization moves up the hierarchical pyramid as people try to be responsive to their bosses instead of focusing their energy on meeting the needs of their customers. Bureaucracy rules, and policies and procedures carry the day. This creates unprepared and uncommitted customer contact people who are trying to protect themselves and it leaves customers uncared for at the bottom of the hierarchy. This scenario doesn’t do much to move the organization in the desired direction toward accomplishing a clear vision. Servant leaders, on the other hand, feel their role is to help people achieve their goals. To do that, the traditional hierarchical pyramid is theoretically turned upside down so that the frontline people, who are closest to the customers, are at the top. Now the frontline people are responsible—able to respond—to the needs of the customers. In this scenario, leaders serve and are responsive to their people’s needs, training and developing them to accomplish established goals and live according to the vision.

Servant leadership is not soft management; it is management that not only gets great results but also generates great human satisfaction.

If you are interested in learning more about Servant Leadership, I will be speaking at the Servant Leadership Institute Winter Conference on February 1st-3rd in San Diego. For more information, or to buy tickets, please visit their website at http://sli2011winterconference.eventbrite.com/. See you there!