Part 2: Leadership is service, not control!

Apr 2, 2024 08:00 AM

by: Primary Residential Mortgage, Inc.

Last month, I introduced the first of eight leadership mindsets shared as a gift to my children who are new adults (Principle #1: Business is an ecosystem, not a battlefield!), philosophies which I have identified with extraordinary leaders with whom I have worked in my professional career. Today, I introduce leadership principle #2 which I hope may resonate with you as you take inventory of your own leadership philosophy.

Leadership Principle Two:

Leadership is service, not control!

Qualities of successful leaders who understand this mindset: Confidence, Humility, Selflessness, Patience, Empathy, Trustworthiness, Bravery

Early in my career, I was managed by a leader of considerable talent and intelligence. He had an academic and leadership pedigree that was second to none – an MBA from a top 5 business school, a commission from one of our nation’s military academies, and an impressive military and professional resume. Despite my greatest desire to impress this imposing figure, for the only time in my career, there was no mystery of the fact that I was not meeting his performance expectations.

This manager’s leadership style was autocratic and authoritarian. My relative inexperience at the time clashed with his brash confidence and results-at-any-reasonable-cost focus. One day he called me into his office to put me on a performance plan. That plan included the expectation that I would read and study Niccolo Machiavelli’s seminal work, The Prince. We would meet weekly to review what I had learned.

The Prince is a pragmatic analysis of power and governance. In it, Machiavelli focuses on the principles he deems necessary for rulers seeking to maintain and expand authority. He argues that rulers must prioritize the strength and stability of the state over moral considerations, advocating for the use of cunning, manipulation, control and even ruthlessness when necessary to achieve political ends. He famously suggests that it is better for a leader to be feared than to be loved.

I am grateful for my discussions with this leader, all that I learned from him, and all that I learned about Machiavellian leadership by reading this book. This study helped me learn early in my career that this leadership style, while it might work for some, would never work for me.

In contrast to Machiavelli, Robert Greenleaf popularized and introduced the phrase servant leadership. As the name suggests, servant leadership focuses on the idea that the primary role of a leader is to serve others, rather than being served. It emphasizes the notion that a great leader should prioritize the well-being and development of those they lead, empowering them to reach their full potential. Greenleaf believed that by serving others first, leaders can inspire trust, build strong relationships, and achieve greater organizational success.

In the best-selling book, Good to Great, Jim Collins describes the common traits of companies that transition from being good companies to great companies. What was one of those traits common to the great companies his team studied? They were all led by what Collins describes as the Level 5 Leader. What is the Level 5 Leader? One who builds enduring greatness through a combination of personal humility, selflessness, professional will and a commitment to long-term success rather than short-term gains.

The Level 5 servant leader is identifiable by the following:

  • The servant leader helps people understand the meaningfulness of the work they do in support of the organization’s customers and mission.
  • They care for their teammates as people as much as they do for their performance in support of the organization’s goals.
  • Servant leaders recognize their own limitations and value the contributions of others.
  • The Level 5 leader operates with honesty, integrity and an unwavering commitment to ethical standards.
  • The servant leader is not driven by ego or personal ambition but instead is focused on serving the greater good.
  • The servant leader prioritizes the needs of their team and is dedicated to supporting individual growth and development.
  • A servant leader never abuses their power or position to exert control over another.

Some have criticized the concept of the servant leader as weak, or not results-driven. I disagree! The servant leader is not “soft”, and they are no less results-minded than the authoritative manager who leads with fear and control. The servant leader stands in stark contrast to the Machiavellian leader who may believe that the end output justifies whatever means in achieving it. The greatest leaders I’ve known have inspired others in producing fantastic results by modeling the characteristics of the servant leader, maximizing the commitment and productivity of their team.

The legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, would often share with his players a quote from another truly legendary servant leader, Mother Theresa: “A life not lived for others is not a life.” It is hard to find an example of accomplished leadership greater than these two remarkable leaders.

Which brings me to a final point on which I do agree with Machiavelli - a strong prince (leader) is ultimately only as good as the quality of his servants.

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Part 3: Employees are peers, not children

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Part 1: Business is an ecosystem, not a battlefield

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