A Publication of WTVP

There are many books and articles written about what it takes to be a leader. Many focus on the qualities of vision, foresight, strategic thinking, and mental and emotional toughness needed to take on the hard decisions that promote a sound return on investment. These qualities are important, and successful men and women certainly do embody them.

There are two leadership essentials missing from this list, and from most of the business bookshelf—courage and service. A servant leader who also is courageous in tough times earns undying loyalty and commitment from those who work for and with him or her, and these leaders also obtain extraordinary results.

One of my management heroes is Max DePree, the retired chairman of Herman Miller, Inc., a successful and innovative office furniture manufacturer in Holland, Mich. In a book called Leading Without Power, DePree pointed out no leader really has lasting power from a position or title, monetary reward, or even from a commanding presence. Power flows from within from core values and deeply held respect for all in the workplace. In turn, trust, loyalty and followership is earned.

So the "powerful" charismatic leader who pushes people to produce, barks out orders, or sets ambitious targets really does not have any power.

One of the best books on this subject is The Most Effective Organization in the U.S.: Leadership Secrets of The Salvation Army, by Commissioner Robert Watson and Ben Brown. The leader, Watson says, truly embodies the mission and vision, and calls others to be loyal to that, not to him or her. That’s risky.

It’s easier—at least at first—to say to someone, "Here’s what I think, do it," rather than, "What do you think—and how would you do it?" Asking an employee or co-worker for their meaningful input on a project means the goal is consensus and then decision, rather than decision and endorsement.

If the manager seeks a consensus, loyalty results and a decision is implemented quickly because it is owned by all. If the manager presses a decision, there often is resistance, frustration, and crisis, because the employee is not invested in the outcome.
In the same way, the servant leader says, "I want to help you achieve our corporate goals and your goals as well. Let me help you." Contrast that with: "I’m the boss, so help me achieve my goals, and I’ll see that you get something, too." Or worse, he or she can declare, "Get it done, or else."

Servant leaders develop people and call forth extraordinary results; demanding leaders develop themselves and their strategy and enlist others to get the job done—and that’s exactly what they do. No more. Over the long term, who really wins the employee’s heart and will?

So where does courage enter the picture?

A popular view might suggest that courage means "guts," making the unpopular choices, taking risks with goals and objectives, and implementing the necessary cuts to bring leanness and strength.

To some extent, that is courageous. But there’s more to courage than that. More often, it means taking risk with people as much or more than with process. It means releasing the power of others to innovate, trusting them to implement efficiently, and doing the right things.

It also means believing what people can do with you, rather than for you, or even to you.

Courageous servant leadership is what will move an organization into the 21st Century and avoid the myths of power and authority so we can get out of the way of others and empower them to discover their potential and true greatness. IBI