As I was sitting here trying to figure out an appropriate Christmas message, I realized that as an HR professional my career has been spent working with, developing, encouraging and inspiring leaders, so what better topic to discuss than the greatest leader ever known.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have worked with some superb leaders, you know the ones, those who establish a vision so compelling that they inspire others to walk on hot coals or jump in the way of a bullet – figuratively and literally, to achieve that goal. These are the leaders that deflect praise and recognition when things go well and accept blame when things go wrong.
Someone I respect very much as a developing leader once said to me, “True leaders view performance either from a window or a mirror – if things are going well they look out the window and give their team the credit, but if things are going poorly, they look in the mirror and ask “how have I let my team down?”
But what does it take to really make a good leader? For the answer to that, you only have to look so far as the Bible and Jesus Christ. Undeniably he was the greatest leader who ever lived. While he came to save the world, he came as a servant leader. Some management experts will argue that Robert Greenleaf actually coined the term servant leadership in the 1970s, but the new testament of the King James version of the Holy Bible (written 2000+ years ago) talked of a servant leader named Jesus Christ.
The servant leader as defined by Robert Greenleaf and support by other noted leadership experts including Ken Blanchard, Steven Covey, Peter Senge, Max DePree, Margaret Wheatley and others, is someone who leads humbly, achieving results by attending to the needs of their colleagues and the teams they serve. Well, Jesus Christ embodied that definition. He was a humble steward of the resources of his time including human, financial and physical resources. Jesus could have used his positional power to separate himself from others, but instead he sought out those who were down and out, those who were lepers, and those who were sinners – the very people others, including the church leadership, shunned. In one of the most famous acts of servant leadership He lowered himself to wash his disciples’ feet. If you are a leader or aspire to become a leader ask yourself this: Would you lower yourself to serve your employees? Look around, the most successful leaders serve others.
Then there are those leaders that are so uninspiring that you wonder how on earth they ever got promoted to that level of a progressive, innovative, multinational organization; I mean do they have incriminating pictures of someone in high places or what??? The uninspiring leader exhibits poor leadership in a variety of ways including selfishness, arrogance, lack of integrity, dishonesty, undermining the team, micromanaging, deflecting blame, and the list goes on… And what about those leaders who seek only for others to serve them, well consider this example from a past life:
Several years ago I worked at a manufacturing facility looking to reinvent itself and take performance to an even higher level of success. About 6 months before I came on board they hired a “top talent” plant manager who was considered a high potential on the company’s succession plan. His goal was to turn the plant around and improve quality, productivity, financial perfromance and morale. This manager came into the plant full of arrogance and pride and boldly told the employees, some of which had worked there for almost as long as he had been alive, that he was in charge and he would be running that plant. He didn’t take time to build relationships or seek out the formal or informal leaders within the organization. He didn’t lower himself to learn about the history of the plant or what had made it so successful for 25+ years, and he didn’t seek to understand what the employees needed to achieve higher levels of success. He came in to make a name for himself and get the next promotion.
Well, I probably don’t have to tell you what happened; the employees he needed so badly to help him make that name and get that promotion did their jobs, but nothing else. There was no extra effort, no covering for his inexperience or lack of knowledge and no lending a helping hand. The employees did just what that leader told them to do – let him run things his way. Well within 6 months he failed so badly he was removed from the organization.
Thanks to those inspiring leaders in my life who have embodied the characteristics of a true servant leader including Mickey Hanner, Ryan Williams, Stephen Noble, Frank Hojnacki, Jim Kerian, Gene Corbett, Glenn Harris, David McDaniel, Philippe Mounier, Kathy Blanton, Linda Grajewski, Kayla Barrett and my husband Rob Beresh-Bryant. Without your guidance and occasional kick in the butt, I wouldn’t be where I am – thank you.
Tomorrow we celebrate the birth of our savior Jesus Christ – the original servant leader. Merry Christmas.