Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Leadership Is All About Serving Others

Would You Bring A Ladder to Your Employees If They Needed One?

Leadership has many definitions, and when you ask 100 people, it's likely that you'll get more than 100 definitions. One definition for leadership is that leaders serve others. How often have you thought about leadership from that perspective? Someone who has given much thought to this perspective is James Strock, an entrepreneur, professional speaker, and citizen servant. He has served in a wide range of roles, from chief executive to board member to consultant; from starting up and turning around businesses and public agencies; to serving as an author and speaker, adviser, and mentor. Recently, Jim and I discussed a variety of leadership topics, and the highlights follow below.

QUESTION: How do you differentiate between a leader and a manager?
JAMES STROCK: A leader’s capacity to serve others - to add value - is based in large part on crafting a vision. A leader can help us to find a path to understanding and action. Ideally, he or she enables us to see our way to break new paths. By contrast, a manager adds value by advancing the vision. He or she directs scarce resources in the most effective way. Of course, in practice, the lines between managing and leading can be blurred. An effective leader must have a sure sense of resources and their application. An effective manager likely has cultivated leadership skills.

QUESTION: What three things can an individual do to inspire others?
JAMES STROCK: Serve, serve, and serve again. The farther one serves others, the more one can inspire others. Courage - giving one’s heart and well-being to the service of others - is invariably inspiring.

QUESTION: How can an individual gain respect without a leadership title?
JAMES STROCK: Achieving results, working effectively with others, these are approaches that will be recognized and rewarded in any properly functioning enterprise. Today, more than ever, leadership and position are recognized as not necessarily being one and the same.

QUESTION: What three things can individuals do to create a positive leadership legacy?
JAMES STROCK: Leadership legacies are vitalized through relationships with future generations. It’s said that life is short, art is long. Accomplishments per se can distinguish a life. And yet, most individual accomplishments are forgotten over time. Leadership is an art. It can have enduring impact, to the extent it inspires new generations.

Three things that people can do to create such a leadership legacy are:
1. Think of the rising generations always.
2. Study history. History provides examples of lasting leadership legacies.
3. Craft a vision that builds upon fundamentals. That will open up historical examples with relevance today. And a vision built on fundamentals can have continuing relevance - even as future generations build on it to meet their own goals.

QUESTION: What three tips would you give to a new leader?
JAMES STROCK: One can become a “leader” or a “new leader” anytime, simply by one’s own decision. Leadership is all about the service. This can be seen as profound or aspirational; it’s also entirely practical. In any kind of new leadership role, three areas of focus come to mind.

First: listen, listen, listen. Observe with an artist’s eye for detail. Leadership, by definition, is about working with others, serving others. Listening is at the core of all effectiveness. It’s also an unmistakable manifestation of virtues that make a difference: love, humility, a servant’s perspective.

Second, if your new role includes responsibility for others’ well-being, make certain that you adjust your own day-to-day, hour-by-hour attention and work toward that end. Many people who are “promoted” from staff positions, where their work is directed by others, have some difficulty in making this adjustment.

Third, remember that first impressions matter. They can advance your goals dramatically. Or, mishandled, they can set your cause back.

QUESTION: Can you provide some examples of impressive leadership that you've seen in your experiences?
JAMES STROCK: Once one internalizes the notion that “everyone can lead, because everyone can serve,” one notices great and small acts of leadership everywhere. Here's one example from history: the presidential leadership of Theodore Roosevelt. Among his greatest legacies is America’s commitment to environmental protection as a fundamental value. TR’s push for environmental stewardship was not the result of public or interest group pressure, much less polling. He saw that there were a series of challenges that were not yet recognized, much less seen as related: building the “national character,” properly conserving the nation’s resources, and connecting past and future generations to the American project. Roosevelt’s example - of moving the nation to action, in the absence of a universally-recognized crisis such as a war or calamitous economic downturn - is quite relevant at the dawn of the 21st century.

I have compiled a list of inspiring 21st Century Leaders with reasons why I chose them. Some members of the list include: Jeff Bezos, Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Tony Hsieh, Steve Jobs, Herb Kelleher, Indra Nooyi, and Howard Shultz. 

Check out this page on my website at http://servetolead.org/21st-century-leaders-list.

QUESTION: One of my favorite quotes about leadership is from author and consultant Mark Herbert:
Leadership is a gift, not a position. It doesn’t require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to trust and be trusted – and block and tackle for others. What does this quote mean to you?
JAMES STROCK: Such a fundamental, clarifying insight is embedded in that fine quotation! Ronald Reagan put it this way: “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” Lao Tzu merits the last word: “Fail to honor people, they will fail to honor you. But of a Great Leader, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, the people will all say, ‘We did this ourselves.’”

Learn more insights from James Strock on his website at www.servetolead.org, and connect on Twitter at @jamesstrock.

Image Credit: jesadaphorn via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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