There are some books that I read, perhaps take a few notes, and then move on. There are others that are dog-eared, have my notes in the margin, and become reference guides. Today I am sharing one of those books.
This is one that I will recommend to aspiring leaders everywhere. It’s written by Richard Sheridan, CEO and cofounder of Ann Arbor-based Menlo Innovations. Menlo has won the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility for six straight years and many other awards.
Art Barter recently wrote a journal, The Servant Leadership Journal, which takes readers through an 18-week journey. Filled with space for reflection and exercises, the book is a thoughtful way to reinforce the servant leadership mindset. Art is the owner of Datron World Communications, Inc., and he took that business from $10 million to $200 million using these principles. Because of his passion for this type of leadership, Art has also founded the Servant Leadership Institute.
I recently asked him about his work in this area.
“There’s a wonder and magic in leaving your ego behind and serving others.” -Art Barter
What would you say to yourself if you could go back and talk to the Art just starting his career?
I would tell the Art just starting his career to respect authority, find his “why” and not let others define him. And I would tell him to find a mentor who practiced servant leadership. With that kind of attitude, I would have looked for the significance in my career, not just success, at a much earlier age. I wish I had realized the importance of serving first and knowing the joy that comes from helping your employees thrive.
“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.” -George MacDonald
Why did you decide to do a journal versus a traditional book?
The word “serve” is a verb, an action word. Presenting our behaviors of a servant leader as a journal gets readers involved in action — working to change their behavior, which in turn helps to change mindset. Working through the journal and creating their own visualization for living the behaviors will have a greater impact on their transformation. As Ken Blanchard says, “Leadership is an inside out job.” The journal involves readers with the “inside” work only they can do. The goal is to create leaders who live with an orientation toward serving others.
What’s the best way to change behavior? How do we know which behaviors to change first?
I think the best way to change behavior is to practice, practice, practice. Set small goals and be intentional. You will begin to assess situations differently, from a servant’s perspective. You will approach others with an attitude of, “How can I add value here?”
As for which behavior to change first, one approach we advocate is to work on the Serve First behavior before moving on to the other behaviors. But we also need to meet people where they are, so another approach is to do a self-assessment or have peers assess you on the nine behaviors and work on the ones for which you have the lowest scores.
Through this process, I cannot emphasize enough the need to listen to those closest to you. They will give you great feedback if you are willing to listen and then act.
“The best way to change behavior is to practice, practice, practice.” -Art Barter
When you read those two words, what comes to mind?
Words like: tough, decisive, driven, fearless, disciplined?
What can leaders learn from the SEALS?
Under incredible conditions, Navy SEALS prove their worth by getting the job done. When I meet a SEAL, I am intrigued because I know this is someone who is proven. Recently, when I had the opportunity to interview Brian “Iron Ed” Hiner, about his new book, First, Fast, Fearless: How to Lead Like a Navy SEAL, I knew I would walk away with many lessons I could apply in business and in life.
“When leadership is right, you really don’t see it any more.” -Ed Hiner
Becoming a NAVY SEAL means you have overcome all odds. What can corporate leaders learn from the selection process in terms of hiring and recruiting the very best team possible?
We have identified four major traits that we look for in a perspective SEAL candidate: physical courage, moral courage, problem solving, and what I call “teamability.” Physical courage is obvious, but moral courage does not rank far behind because we are an organization that relies heavily on trust and for our people to do the right thing for our country.
We also want SEALs to be problem solvers who thrive in what we call VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity), an environment often referred to as the “fog of war.” In our Gallop polling, we discovered that chess players are almost four times more likely than non-chess players to successfully make it through Navy SEAL training; chess players are problem solvers, and the board is VUCA writ small.
The last trait that I call “teamability” is a person’s ability to lead and be led, who can move from team to team seamlessly.
The 4 Must-Have Traits of a SEAL
1: Physical courage.
2: Moral courage.
3: Problem solving.
The takeaway of this is that hiring and recruiting needs be very deliberate. Organizations that understand the critical traits they need in their employees, and actively recruit for these traits, will be more successful down the road. Obviously all organizations look for skills and experience, but oftentimes they overlook the fundamental traits they actually need to be the elite organization that they wish to be.
“Leadership is something you do with people, not to them.” -Ed Hiner
Could you cover teamability a little more and what that means? What methods do you employ to get people to put “mission before me.”
Teamability requires that leaders and team members put mission and team before their own personal interests. When people know that leaders are selflessly making decisions for the team to succeed, and protecting their people along the way, it sets the conditions for teamability. From the beginning of SEALs training we set conditions to reinforce this concept.
In some ways it’s like we turn the pyramid upside down and take care of the broader team mission first and work our way down to the individual. For example, after we finish a mission, we take care of the teams’ common gear first. Then we all split off to our smaller teams and take care of that gear and issues until we get to the individual. This applies to everyone on the team, rank doesn’t matter; the motto is mission before me. This applies everywhere in the SEAL Teams. During staff meetings SEAL Team issues get addressed first, then the smaller Task Unit issues and so forth. It’s a practiced ritual that develops teamability and mission focus. As for the leaders of team, the rank of importance is the Mission, the men and then me. When it’s time to shower and eat, leaders eat last.
When organizations depend on teamwork it’s critical for them to reward the teams that exhibit this trait. In the SEAL Teams your performance review is heavily skewed toward your teamability; we don’t just give it lip service. We reward the traits that we want, to be the elite organization that we need to be. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of just rewarding individual performance at the expense of critical traits that you need for overall mission success.
“Servant leadership means that the team is not about you.” -Ed Hiner
You say, “The biggest enemy of humility is our own ego, which is molded by our fears.” Talk about that interplay between fear and ego.
We are an organization of “Alpha males” and high performers, and it’s easy for individuals in any organization with high performers to fall in love with their own ideas and abilities. Elite teams perform at their best when their leaders are humble. It’s an outward indicator that the leader is willing not to fall in love with his or her own ideas but is instead willing to find the best direction for the mission and the team. When leaders are humble and act selflessly it builds trust, and trust is the invisible thread that holds all elite teams together. When this invisible thread is broken and leaders act in their own self-interest, and don’t engage the skills and talents of the team, results will suffer.
We all have fears, and those fears can contribute to shaping our personalities: fear of failure, not being intelligent, shame, etc. Humility is the antidote to those fears. Elite leaders are not worried about being right; they are focused on the cause-and-effect relationship to get results and accomplish the mission.
I’m not saying that people should completely get rid of their egos so that they dance naked in the halls; I’m saying divorce your ego, yet stay friends. Don’t let your ego run your life. As the saying goes, “Humble people don’t think less of themselves, they think of themselves less.”
Who do you think of when you think of a servant leader? What are the traits of a servant leader? Is it possible for an entire organization to have these characteristics?
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I love to watch baseball. Live, up close: Hearing the “thwack!” of the bat making contact, feeling the crowd take a collective breath as a ball heads for the outfield, peering through the dust to see if the runner made it to home plate. There is something incredibly different about being there versus watching it on television. It’s just not the same reading about the game in the newspaper the next morning.
“Servant leaders give more in value than they receive.” -Skip Prichard
When I was young, I had the extraordinary opportunity to watch a different game. It was also live and up close. It was servant leadership at home. My parents literally took people in from all walks of life, individuals who needed a place to heal for all sorts of reasons. That childhood experience taught me the incredible lessons of a servant leader. There’s nothing better than watching servant leaders in action, in person, live in the game.
It was early in my life when I started studying leadership. Attending seminars and listening to teaching became a success habit. Even more importantly, I realized what I didn’t know, what I had to learn, what I was missing. I became determined to learn from those who were further along the leadership journey than I was. Because of this, I began to seek out leaders and ask them questions.
What I’ve learned is that learning is a choice. The most successful people I meet are constantly learning. They realize that they don’t have all the answers.
“Servant leaders have your best interest in mind.” -Skip Prichard
I’ve run a few global companies and, as the CEO, have hit home runs and have also struck out. Still, I’m always excited to keep improving my game. The learning continues.
Launching this blog a few years ago, I decided to share what I am learning from my own experiences, from books I read, and from thought leaders in many industries. Many of you have said these articles have helped you, but the real beneficiary has been me. I learn to be a better leader every time I share one of these ideas. And I also learn from your comments and engagement and the relationships I have established online.
Leaders realize that sharing and giving to others paves the way for more opportunities. It reinforces ideas and opens unexpected doors.
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“A servant leader cultivates a culture of trust.” -Skip Prichard
Previously, I shared the nine qualities of a servant leader. The servant leader has characteristics of both a servant and a leader. The characteristics are blended together in a harmonious balance. The result is a servant leader we can all admire.
“A servant leader harmoniously blends characteristics of leadership with service.” -Skip Prichard
Defining reality is a huge part of leadership. You want to follow a leader who is honest about the current situation you face as an organization.
A leader should be optimistic but still realistic. If a company is nearing bankruptcy, you want a leader who understands the gravity of the situation—but not one who is frozen by that reality. You want someone who can navigate through the storm and lead everyone to the best possible outcome.