The Latest from the ABM Experts
February 25, 2020
Why Great Leaders Serve Others First
Written by Sangram Vajre
What does being a leader really mean?
Is it the title? Is it the responsibilities? Is it the number of people you’re in charge of?
Determining your definition of a leader could help you serve people better and, ultimately, make a bigger impact.
In this episode of #FMF, I catch up with my good friend Patrick Lencioni. Patrick is the founder and president of The Table Group, a firm dedicated to helping leaders improve their organizations’ health.
Here’s what we’re unpacking today:
- Defining what a leader is and why it matters
- Seeing your job as a verb instead of a noun
- Why doing the difficult things sets a leader above the rest
This post is based on a podcast with Patrick Lencioni. You can listen to the full episode here and below.
Definition of a leader
What is the definition of a leader? What advice do you have for someone wondering if they’re a leader or not?
Patrick: When you really think about it, there’s no other kind of leadership besides servant leadership. If you’re not leading in order to serve the people you’re leading — if you’re not doing something to make their lives and the business and your customers’ lives better — why are you doing it?
If you’re doing it for yourself, that’s not leadership, that’s just self-interested economics. I actually would like to stop saying servant leadership because it implies there’s another choice.
So, to all those people out there that are saying, “How am I going to do better in my life,” serve the heck out of the people you’re with over time. That will always work.
You might lose a battle here and there if you work in an organization or for a leader who doesn’t value that. But, eventually, so many people are going to want to follow you because you serve them that you will find yourself in the position you want to be in.
Why is that so lost on people? Well, I think it’s because we live in a world that has lost sight of what the purpose of life is. And at the end of life, we usually have a little more clarity on what we remember and what we value. What we regret is not having loved others more.
Somehow, society has said, no, get what you want out of life. I’ve known these people, I work with some of these people, some of them have been that person. They’re not any happier. I’ve worked with professional athletes, with CEOs of big companies.
My sons in college are like, “Elon Musk. Wow.” No, no, no, no, no. I hope the best for him, but he’s not on the right path. That is not the path to happiness because this is a guy who’s prioritized his own stuff over his family and others.
There’s a trail of destruction behind him. And yes, he’s famous. But this is not a guy firing on all cylinders. Yet we hold him up as an example, but I’m saying don’t aspire to that. Aspire to serve others and do something important. Then the rewards that come will be the right ones.
Your job is a verb
I love that you define CEO as the chief executing officer instead of the chief executive officer. Can you explain your reasoning behind that?
Patrick: Executive is a noun. So the chief executive officer says, “This is who you are.” Chief executing officer is a verb, technically a participle, and that’s what you do.
Being the CEO is a verb and you have to do the things that a CEO does. The truth is in the world today, you could take five different organizations and five different CEOs and they will define their jobs completely differently. That’s a problem because there really are certain things that the person at the top has to do.
So, we need to realize your job as a verb. I like to say love is a verb. You love your children. You do these things because if you’re not doing those things, your title might be parent, but you’re not actually fulfilling the responsibilities.
If you’re not having really hard conversations frequently, you’re probably not filling the role of CEO.
Doing the difficult things
What’s a challenge you have for current or potential leaders?
Patrick: Ask the people at work if you do the difficult things. Because if you’re not doing them, maybe you have to recommit because you want to be a leader for the right reasons.
Even if you’re currently like, “Yeah, I’m probably being kind of selfish,” you can change. But the only way you can change is to sit down with your people and say, “I want to do this differently.”
One of the things I like to talk about is when you go to a graduation speech and somebody stands up and says, “Everybody out there, go be a leader. Change the world.” I want to stand up and say no!
If you want to lead for the right reasons — and you probably don’t yet because you don’t know why — don’t be a leader. Go out and think about who you are and what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
And then if that’s the right fit for you, then do it.