By Bob Williams
A Thai-born, Korean raised, American educated - from High School - small, humble and tremendously focused woman runs the largest female owned business in the U.S. She runs this highly successful company (Thai Lee, of SHI International) with an intense focus on her customers, but she also takes daily, visible and powerful measures to make sure her employees not only feel empowered, but also makes sure they are encouraged to take challenges and try new ideas. Could this be considered "disruptive" behavior in the otherwise behaviorally stereotyped world of entrepreneurs?
Does it cast doubts on the effectiveness of the let's-not-do-anything-to-stress-the-system - or piss off the top guy - demeanor? Well, although I haven't spoken to him personally, there are reasons to believe that the renegade activist hedge fund manager (Patrick Walsh of PW Partners) dismisses these ideas daily... His brilliance lies not only in his ability to listen effectively and ask sharp questions, but also in his intuitive way of empowering managers in organizations where they were previously just told what to do... There's a huge difference, and empowerment clearly makes Mr. Walsh and his various teams VERY successful.
These are elements of "servant leadership", not philosophical abstracts for debating over cheap scotch! > This is not your dominating disciplinary drive-em-just-hard-enough-not-to-kill-em death or my kingdom ruling over all the plebes mentality, even though that has worked in some models - ignorant and mismanaged prime directives add up to many infamous watermarks though out history.
> This is not your "my way or the highway" routine, or your keeping your teams under your thumb by requiring mammoth data input that totally detracts from the prime directive - unless of course, the prime directive is to provide the maximum information to protect your boss, or their boss!?!
> It's not the old "I was successful doing it this way, so we will all do it that way", or any of the other cliches that almost inevitably involved more luck (still an important edge!), than any type of skill or proven methodology....
Usually, the list above applies when the basic and intrinsic values of servant leadership are as unknown as the bottom of a black hole. Being "in charge" does not mean being "right", it does mean owning the responsibility to maximize business performance by constantly enabling your functional teams to constantly enable your customer's support. Servant leadership, by any other name, has been around longer than any luck or imagined genius!
Wegman's is a regional grocery store chain in the northeastern U.S. It's management empowers each team in each of the store's departments to do whatever necessary to make their customers happy. No 20 reports for each transaction, no series of authorizations, no requisitions or even asking permission from the team management - just get it done, and make our customers happy. Wegman's customers are fiercely loyal, and the stores are phenomenally successful and ranked constantly in the top performing companies by various national measures.
There are stories like that throughout history, but many times the ones that get in the news are the ones that support stereotypes that are politically or culturally popular. They steal the hype and focus of even some of the best students of management. At the same time, the practitioners of servant leadership carry on with honesty, humility, patience, a love for learning with driving passion for success within their colleague and their customers quietly leading top performers under the radar.
One more example that is hard to miss - Pope Francis. I am willing to bet big bucks that he is familiar with a "leadership" style, over 2,000 tears old, that has proven over and over again to promote a focus on the critical areas of human dignity and fulfillment. Now if you can't see how those things lead to happy, loyal and truly driven teams, well... Never mind!!!