I published an iteration of this article before through other media, but the topic is too good to set aside, and frankly, too important to limit to just one article.
How to be a great leader? How to successfully move projects and teams forward? How to not become a whip-cracking boss whom no one respects but everyone fears in the process? I run a business, and every day those questions arise in my mind when I deal with my contractors, mentees, and even partners. How to convey your vision and inspire action without squashing employees ideas and feedback? What separates a leader from a boss? How do I make sure that I do right by my customers and my employees? There are no single-faceted answers to these questions, thousands of books have been written to tackle these complex organizational issues, so one blog post certainly won’t address them all; however, I’ve been seeing in publications a lot lately that I wanted to address it.
There are these two almost conflicting schools of thought between people who think customers come first and employees are just there to do work because that’s what they are paid for, no more no less. There are also people who think putting employees first is critical to running a successful business because happy employees do much better job and take care of the customers much better than disgruntled or discouraged employees.
In my opinion, management shouldn’t prioritize solely one group over the other because they are both crucially important to the success of the business. The business can’t survive without the customers, they are the main reason why business owner runs a business in the first place – to generate revenue through meeting the customers’ needs. Keeping customers happy and treated fairly is very important for them to keep coming back. On the other hand, keeping employees happy is equally important because dissatisfied, disgruntled, unappreciated employees, who don’t see themselves as part of the big picture and vision in the company or feel the commitment to the cause, will not be providing the high-quality customer service any owner or management team is expecting from them in order to keep customers happy. The bottom line is that both customers and employees are equally important, and neither group can be ignored by the leadership team if they want to operate a successful business. That is my mantra every day because I see myself responsible for the well-being of both my customers and my employees when it comes to my business. Even though the two groups have different needs and expectations from me, it is my duty and my privilege to serve them both.
Here is something else I’ve been seeing a lot in the recent blogs and publications – debates on the type of leadership that is deemed the most effective. I have witnessed many examples of what I call “entitled leadership”. Entitled leaders expect the respect and recognition for their mere job title and for just showing up to the office every day. Entitled leaders don’t treat their leadership responsibility as an opportunity for growth and improvement for them as well as their team members. Entitled leaders don’t get on the front lines and in the trenches with their employees and don’t go an extra mile to understand them, mentor them and share their experience with them. They just show up, sit in their seat all day and bark out orders expecting people to perform. Those types of leaders are usually in for a rude awakening when the company starts to experience high turnover among employees or high complaint and churn rates among customers. And rarely do those leaders look inward for the root cause for such poor company performance.
But we are in 2017, almost 2018… I would like to think that the age of entitled leaders is coming to an end soon. The twenty first century is the age of embracing servant leadership. What does that mean? It means remembering that being a leader is a privilege and a big responsibility to those looking up to you, whether it is a customer, an employee, a mentee, or a partner. As leaders, we are not entitled to our roles just because we woke up today and showed up to work, nor are we entitled to the respect of our employees and peers just because we have a high-ranking title. Respect is earned through action daily just like success. Being a servant leader means not thinking “what can my people do for me today?” but thinking “what can I do for my people today? How can I help them grow? How can I ease their lives and make their work better? How can I add value to my customers today and help their businesses be better?” That’s servant leadership. Giving more, sharing more, caring more, expecting respect and rewards less. We need more servant leaders in all industries to help move the society, the economy, and the humanity forward. So what kind of leader are you striving to be every day?
I have encountered many entitled leaders both in my corporate and business career. It is frustrating to work with those types of people, but it is also a lesson to be learned from them – the lesson of how not to behave when you get to that level. I’d like to think I have learned that lesson well. I can’t take the credit for coming up with the concept of servant leadership on my own. One of my mentors, former colleagues and a close professional friend introduced that concept to me and truly served as a wonderful example of how to behave as such. He demonstrates patience and care for his team every time I had the privilege to work with him. He also generously shares his knowledge and experience with me any time I seek to learn more. Once I learned about the concept of servant leadership, I have started to notice that people that I leaned on over the years for advice and guidance, people who I perceive as wise and knowledgeable, ethical and of high integrity, were all servant leaders. That is who I aspire to be as I grow in my business and career. This is no easy journey, it requires patience, commitment to life-long learning, openness to other people, and desire to add value. Servant leaders aren’t selfish or egotistical, they seek to help and empower not to subdue. So it takes a conscious choice and daily effort to be a servant leader, but it is that much more rewarding when I see those I mentored or helped at some point go on and succeed and do wonderful things. It’s not about taking credit for their success or getting a thank you card in the mail, it’s about knowing that my time invested into that relationship with that person added value to them and helped them get where they were going.