How the Leadership-Profit Chain Works

For years I have said that profit is the applause you get for taking care of your customers and creating a motivating environment for your people. My son Scott worked on a project with one of our founding partners, Drea Zigarmi, who heads up our research team, to learn the relationship between leadership, employee passion, customer devotion, and what they call “organizational vitality,” which has to do with profit, performance, reputation and other observable and memorable indicators of organizational success.

            When Scott and Drea looked at leadership, they looked at two aspects of leadership: Strategic leadership, which is all about vision and direction—where your organization is going. When I talk about servant leadership, I say that strategic leadership is the “leadership” part of servant leadership, because leadership is about going somewhere and  if people don’t know where you are going, your leadership doesn’t really matter. The second aspect of leadership is operational leadership, which is when you say, “Okay, now we know where we are going—how do we make it happen?”  In talking about servant leadership, I say that’s where you turn the traditional hierarchical pyramid upside down and that’s the “servant” part of servant leadership.

            Scott and Drea found that strategic leadership—which is really important because it starts the whole process—only had an indirect relationship with organizational vitality and success. The biggest impact came from operational leadership. I think that’s because when operational leadership is done well, the hierarchy is turned upside down, leaders are working for their people and empowering and encouraging them to accomplish the vision and the goals that have been set. What happens when you empower and involve your people? They get passionate about what they’re doing because they know you care about them and you think they are important. And what do passionate employees do? They go out of their way to serve your customers. What happens then? Your customers get blown away by the legendary customer service and become raving fans—devoted customers who start telling stories to their friends about you and your people. Then that comes back and remotivates your people.

            Scott and Drea’s research found that this interaction between passionate employees and devoted customers impacts organizational vitality more than anything else. That relationship really drives the bottom line—and that part is driven mainly by operational leadership. I don’t want to diminish the importance of strategic leadership, because that’s what starts the process. But as a leader, once you set that vision and those goals, don’t turn your back and run away. Stay around as a servant leader and support, encourage, and build your people up. Because they’ll be passionate, they’ll blow away your customers with their service, and—I’ll use a phrase we used back in the day—your cash register will go “Ca-ching! Ca-ching! Ca-ching!”

Serve, Don’t Expect to be Served

You know, I was recently listening to a tape by a wonderful young guy named Matthew Barnett, who heads up the Dream Center in Los Angeles. I’m on the board there. They have taken over an old hospital that was condemned, and they have refurbished the whole thing through money raised. They have 1400 people living there; people who are really learning how to turn their lives around. They also have a church, a temple, that was given to them and they run services there. Matthew is just an amazing guy. The essence of his talk was that, when he took over and started to plant the church and they had nothing, he was mainly focused on his own success and thinking about how many people he could get to come to church. And all of a sudden one day, when things were really going downhill for this church, he realized his problem—it had been all about him. And when he got that he was there to serve, and he went out into the streets and met with the people and talked and walked with them and helped and served them and all, slowly they began to trust him. And they started to come to him. And then he was able to, unbelievably, get control of this old hospital. He said when he turned the corner and really realized that life is about serving, not being served, that just made all the difference.