Great Leaders Carry the Right Keys

“I’ll tell you what the key is,” an elderly gentleman said to me, tugging downward on my coat sleeve to incline me a little closer to the message he wanted to speak up into my ear. “I always hired people a lot smarter than me!” There was a satisfied twinkle in his eye. He was summing up, in his words and experience, the talk I had just given to the 100 men who gathered very early this past Friday morning at the Tap House Grill in Palatine, IL.

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I was in the middle of speaking to four leadership groups over two days in the greater Chicago area, groups that were pulled together by my friends, Ace and Marge Mokry of Cru, Scott Beilke and Donna Brighton of Brighton Leadership Group, and Bob Schuldt of the Moody Business Network Distinguished Speaker’s Series. After each talk, there were quite a lot of sidebar conversations, and I paid very careful attention to what was on each leader’s mind.

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Upending the Pyramid: Why Serving Others Matters in the Workplace

While certainly not the author of the idea (or the practice, for that matter) of servant leadership, Robert K. Greenleaf catalyzed a modern “servant leadership movement” in management philosophy over the last 35 years. His famous question about the impact of a leader was this: “Do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

This is the right question to ask ourselves, whatever theory of leadership we hold. Do the people we lead—do the people we serve—become stronger, gain sharpness, grow in excellence and initiative, develop their own deep sense of worth and purpose as a result of our leadership? And just why is this the right question? It’s really quite simple: the people we lead (serve) do all the work. The more awesome they become, the more awesome their work—period. End of story.

Serve Others First

When Jim Collins went searching for the secret to company greatness, he told his researchers not to discover that the secret was leadership. He knew—and he was dead right about this—that greatness had to be the result of many people doing great things. There weren’t enough leaders in an enterprise to account for greatness. But Collins also discovered that he was dead wrong; leaders create the conditions for people to reach for greatness, or they create the opposite. Depending on your leadership, people will choose to give their all or they will choose to be miserly with their gifts.

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