The Best Use of Power Is in Service to Others

Most new leaders are excited to have power because they feel they finally have the title and position to do things their way. But having power doesn’t guarantee cooperation from your people. Leaders who think they are a big deal because of their position are at risk of losing their best people and not getting the performance they need from those who remain. Yet theories still abound that the best kind of leader is one who is forceful, powerful, and commanding. How can that be reconciled with the tenets of servant leadership?

When I was elected president of the seventh grade, I came home from school excited to tell my parents about this achievement. My father, who retired as a rear admiral in the US Navy, had a quick reminder for me. “Congratulations, Ken. But now that you’re president, don’t use your position. Great leaders are great not because they have power but because their people trust and respect them.”

My dad knew an important principle of being a successful servant leader: people will give you their best when they trust you and know you have their backs. I’ve never forgotten his advice—and it has inspired my leadership style for seven decades.

Want to know how to make this commonsense leadership principle common practice in your work? Don’t focus on the power that comes with the title of leader—focus on the people you have an opportunity to serve.  Here are a few suggestions: 

  • Continually emphasize we over me.
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Encourage and support people’s efforts rather than directing them.

When you show your people you are there to serve, not to be served, they know they are part of a team and are motivated to give you their best efforts.

All kinds of people struggle with the notion of power. The abuse of power, the use of status and position to coerce others, and the egoism associated with people who have social and political power have turned people off to the acceptance of power, let alone the use of it. But there is nothing wrong with being in a position of power if you use it properly.

Randy Conley, my coauthor on Simple Truths of Leadership, wrote this on the use of power: Being a servant leader rather than a self-serving leader means giving away my power to help other people achieve their personal goals [and] the objectives of the organization, and to allow them to reach their full expression and potential as individuals. One of the paradoxes of leadership is that placing others before ourselves, and using our power to serve rather than dominate, actually brings us more power, respect, commitment, and loyalty.

I’ll close with the words of 17th century Spanish writer and philosopher Baltasar Gracian, author of The Art of Worldly Wisdom.

“The sole advantage of power is the ability to do more good.”

The Best Use of Power Is in Service to Othersis Simple Truth #14 in my new book with Randy Conley, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. Find it at your favorite bookstore or online retailer—and go here to download a sneak preview!

How Coaching Has Helped Me—And How It Can Help You

I’ve talked a lot about how leaders can help people succeed through day-to-day coaching. In fact, our company recently offered a webinar called The Manager Who Can Coach: Bringing Coaching Skills into Your Organization, which you can view here.  

For my blog today, I wanted to share how coaching has helped me to be successful in various aspects of my life—and how it can help you. While some of these people didn’t have the formal title of “coach,” they had experience in the areas where I needed help.

A coach can give you what you can’t give yourself and provide the direction and support you need to succeed.

As a youth I had a great example of what coaching could do for me with my basketball coach, Paul Ryan. Paul coached me to focus on my strengths—in my case, my big hands and outside jump shot. While I wasn’t much of a runner, people nicknamed me “Hot Hands” because I was an excellent shooter.

A coach can help you set the goals that matter to you and keep you accountable as you move toward them.

Later in life, my affinity for food combined with my busy career made it difficult for me to keep my weight under control. When I finally decided to get serious about getting into shape, Tim Kearin, my coauthor on Fit at Last, became my primary fitness coach. We used SLII® to figure out the kind of leadership style I needed to get healthy. I now know that I need ongoing coaching and support to keep me accountable with my diet and exercise, so I work with a fitness coach on a regular basis. This is how I “keep my commitment to my commitment.”

A coach can improve your skills and deepen your knowledge.

I was never a great student. My first intellectual coach was my brilliant sister, Sandy, who taught me good study habits. In college I found coaches who guided my academic career. During graduate school at Colgate University, Warren Ramshaw coached me to find a major that really captured my interest. Later, Don McCarty helped me get accepted into the doctoral program at Cornell and coached me as I pursued my PhD.

As a writer, I also consider the dozens of coauthors I’ve had over the years to be my intellectual coaches. Every one of them exposed me to new learning and helped me drill down into subjects that interested me.

A coach can clarify next steps, ask smart questions, and keep you moving forward toward your goals.

In the late 1970s a group of presidents who were members of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) encouraged my wife Margie and me to start our own company. We were flattered by their high opinion of us, but in those days we couldn’t even balance our own checkbook! Fortunately, five of those presidents became our business coaches and helped us get our company going.

Twenty-five years ago, we began using professional advisors for our family business. We wanted to make sure the business didn’t mess up our family—and vice versa! An advisor meets with us once a quarter, giving us invaluable coaching.

A coach can help you gain self-knowledge and improve your relationships.

One of my weaknesses is that I’m a pleaser and tend to say “yes” too often. That’s why it’s important for me to work with a coach to look at what I’m doing and help me set priorities that align with my purpose.

My wife Margie and I are always looking for ways to improve our relationship and how we communicate with each other, so we’ve worked with several relationship coaches over the years. The key to a good marriage is being open to learning.

When we met Norman Vincent Peale and his wife, Ruth, in the 1980s, we learned how important it is to be a team when you’re married. We observed that they each had their strength areas and didn’t try to tell the other one what to do. Every morning Norman and Ruth would take a two-mile walk together, holding hands, but they wouldn’t talk. They called it their “alone time together.” When it came to the teamwork of marriage, Norman and Ruth were great coaches for us.

A coach can give you perspective and someone to confide in.

After seeing how badly my old church treated a pastor who protested the Vietnam War back in the 1960s, I turned my back on my spiritual side. Fortunately for me, I found a great spiritual coach in Norman Vincent Peale when we got together to write The Power of Ethical Management. Norman gave me a broader perspective and helped me get back onto my spiritual path. Since then, I’ve had several great spiritual coaches, including Bob Buford, coauthor of Half-Time and founder of The Leadership Network, Phil Hodges, my long-time friend and coauthor, and Bill Hybels, former senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church.

Take Advantage of Coaching

If you’re avoiding doing something just because you’ve never done it before, a coach can help you with that.

If you’re stuck in any area of your life, a coach can help you identify what’s stopping you and find ways around your roadblocks.

Take a look at your life. Where are you now—and where do you want to be? Where do you need more direction and support? Be honest with yourself about the areas where you’re not able to succeed on your own, and find a coach to help you with them.

To get the most out of a coaching relationship, you’ll need to be honest with your coach about what’s happening and where you need help. You’ll also need more than one session. Coaching is most effective when you meet regularly over an agreed-upon period of time.

My final advice is to let go of your pride and stop struggling on your own. Go get yourself a coach!

Everyone Benefits When Leaders Get Real

I had a wonderful experience when I coauthored the book Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Real Success with my good friend Colleen Barrett, president emeritus of Southwest Airlines. Colleen has a delightful point of view about vulnerability in leadership. She says:

People admire your strengths, but they respect your honesty regarding your vulnerability.

Too many leaders are closed books when it comes to relating to their teams. They are distant and detached, both physically and emotionally. Like the Wizard of Oz, these leaders are afraid to allow their people to look “behind the curtain” for fear they will be seen as less than perfect.

Colleen believes when leaders express vulnerability, it shows that they own their personal positive and negative characteristics and are willing to be themselves around their direct reports. This accomplishes two things: (1) it allows team members to get to know their boss as a person, not a title; and (2) it builds trust by letting people know it’s okay for them to let down their guard as well.

Brené Brown, the famous researcher and bestselling author of Dare Greatly and Atlas of the Heart, has been studying and writing about vulnerability for years. She says leaders need to be courageous and take chances that allow them to make a difference, but they also need to be vulnerable because they will inevitably make mistakes along the way. Being vulnerable requires humility—but that’s not the same as lacking confidence. It’s about being real.

I think being your true self at work is so important. Are you willing to let your people see the real you?  Consider taking these practical steps:

  • Focus mostly on others, not yourself. Why? Because people who are self-focused behave in ways that preserve their carefully curated (but counterfeit) public image. Being others-focused is about working alongside your people and meeting their needs—not being perfect.
  • Here’s a shocker: your people already know you have flaws! So if you make a mistake, admit it. If you need help, ask for it. When leaders admit their mistakes and ask for help, it creates stronger, more trusting relationships with team members.

Dropping all pretenses and letting your people get to know the person behind the title won’t cause them to lose respect for you. Quite the opposite. It will allow them to see you for who you really are—a confident leader who cares about their people and is comfortable in their own skin.

“People admire your strengths, but they respect your honesty regarding your vulnerability” is Simple Truth #31 in my new book with Randy Conley, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. Find it at your favorite bookstore or online retailer—and go here to download a sneak preview!

Inviting People to Follow

I’ve met a number of leaders who get upset when they give an order and people don’t obey it  immediately. They think when you are a leader, if you tell people what to do, they should blindly submit.

The reality is that most people don’t like to be told to do something. They like to be involved in decisions. That’s why I talk about servant leadership being a better way of leading than top-down, command-and-control leadership. Here’s a big distinction:

Servant leaders don’t command people to obey; they invite people to follow.

Servant leaders know people want to be part of the team. They invite their people to follow them in a side-by-side working relationship that the people have had a part in creating.

Making Common Sense Common Practice

If you want people to follow your leadership invitation, take the following steps:

  • Focus on we more than me.
  • Continually let team members know why they are important and how they can contribute to the success of the team.
  • Use your language wisely, as it makes a difference when talking to team members. “Would you mind?” comes across as an invitation. “Do this for me” sounds more like a command.
  • Say the words please and thank you; they are always welcome in any relationship.

Anytime you are seeking to influence the behavior of another person with the intent of getting something done, you are engaging in leadership. So whether you are a team member, supervisor, middle manager, or top executive, you’ll be more effective if you practice these steps.

Leading by command and position doesn’t work. To make a difference in the world, you need to act in a way that inspires people to follow your lead.

“Servant Leaders Don’t Command People to Obey, They Invite People to Follow” is Simple Truth #21 in the new book I’ve coauthored with Randy Conley, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. It’s on sale now at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. Go here to download an eBook summary for a sneak preview!

Let Your Team Know You Appreciate Them

Working in teams is more common—and more crucial to organizational success—than it’s ever been. At our company, we define a team as two or more persons who come together for a common purpose and who are mutually accountable for results.

No matter whether teammates are face to face, virtual, or some mixture of the two, members of a high-performance team have the following mindsets in common:

  • They require clarity in communication above all else.
  • They thrive on trust among members and leaders.
  • They aren’t afraid of conflict because they know it is necessary for growth.
  • Ultimately, a high-performance team essentially leads itself.

If you have ever been part of a high-performance team, you know what a fulfilling experience it can be. Just for the fun of it, I referenced Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust—my new book coauthored by Randy Conley­—and found that the benefits of leading or working with a great team are featured in two of our Simple Truths.

SIMPLE TRUTH #19: “No one of us is as smart as all of us.”—Eunice Parisi-Carew and Don Carew

Servant leaders realize leadership is about working alongside their people, sharing information and keeping lines of communication open. When that happens, people get to know each other’s strengths and build on them to help their team perform at the highest level.

SIMPLE TRUTH #36: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” —Maya Angelou

As a trusted servant leader, when you establish a sincere, caring environment through your words and actions, you can be assured people on your team will always remember you for the way you made them feel.

To make these commonsense truths common practice:

  • Show your teammates you care through friendly camaraderie and acts of kindness.
  • Ask for help from one another when making decisions or trying to find solutions to problems.
  • Encourage your teammates to catch each other doing things right and praise progress. People never tire of being told they’re doing a good job. It’s good for motivation, morale, and momentum.

I have been a member of a fabulous team for the past three months—the folks who are working together on marketing and promotion for Simple Truths of Leadership. Our team fits the definition of having a common purpose and being accountable for results, and we all share the four mindsets I mentioned above. Each person is a self-directed achiever with special skills and unique talents. What a joy it is to be part of this team!

So please allow me to take this opportunity to thank the extraordinary Simple Truths marketing and promotion team. First, our internal team at Blanchard:

  • Marketing leads: Randy Conley, David Witt, Vicki Stanford, Debbie Blanchard
  • Media Team (videos, podcasts, blog posts, articles): Michael Bowles, Adrian Henke, Chad Gordon, Renee Broadwell, Lisa Boyle, Evelyn De La Garza, Cheryl Horton, Richard Andrews, Mike Ortmeier
  • Social Media Team: Stefanie Hincks, Martha Lawrence, Andrew Broschart, Kayla Ratz, Madeleine Blanchard, Sidney Hernandez

Second, our external team—our publisher and promotional partners:

So here’s a big shout out to all my teammates for your hard work these past months getting our book and its important message out to into the world! Each of you has made such a positive difference. Thank you so much.

Whether you are a team member among peers or a team leader leading direct reports, it’s important to let others on your team know you appreciate them. So don’t forget to show appreciation to the folks you work with. It only takes a minute to give people a much-needed boost—and it will make you feel good, too.