The Journey To Competitive Advantage Through Servant Leadership
Sharing Chapter Twelve Of My Book
I know I have really confused you with this title. Even my wife said I must have lost it, since I’m getting to the end of writing my book. In trying to sum up who a servant leader is, what he or she stands for, and how a servant leader thinks, I developed what I call the “Ten-P Formula.” I know, it sounds kind of silly. But for me, it’s a way for everyone to understand and remember what servant leaders are all about: what drives them, how they lead, and what can happen when they are allowed to bring their strengths, skills, and traits to a business and it’s people. All the words that I chose to describe the servant leader begin with P, thus the reason or the name the Ten-P Formula.
When I refer to purpose in my book, it is describing what God intended for each of our lives: a plan that God purposed for every single individual he has created. One of my favorite scriptures explains it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:15–16 (NIV)
God is and has been involved in every aspect of our lives, before we were created and still today. He created us because he loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. A relationship where he pours out that love in our lives, and we then share that love with the people he places in our lives. He poured out his love, grace, and mercy when he sent his son, Jesus Christ, to show us what real love was all about. He then showed us an even greater example of love when Jesus went to the cross to die for our sins. Because of this sacrifice, those who accept Christ as the Savior and repent of their sins can have eternal life with God. Because of Jesus’s sacrifice of love and mercy, we are called to impact the lives of people during our life’s journey.
God created each of us with the skills, abilities, talents, and personality to find the purpose he ordained for us and to support that purpose and journey, as we put into practice our purpose and faith. We are all perfectly made to fulfill the purpose God has called us accomplish.
Our journey is one where we discover, develop, and become the person God created us to be. Many of us will struggle with finding our purpose as we travel life’s journey, and sadly, some will never find it. As I wrote earlier, I didn’t start discovering my own purpose until I was in my thirties, and even though I found it, I still struggle with staying on course each and every day. Staying on track is a constant battle for most of us because of our selfish tendencies and the pull the world has on us. Our greed, hunger for power, selfishness, and our goals are all desired based on our timetable. We start thinking we know what’s best for our lives versus what God, the creator, has planned. We become like teenagers going through puberty, thinking we have all the answers.
I believe God is constantly trying to get our attention by showing us how the world’s lure can tear apart our lives and isn’t the answer for true happiness and success. All we have to do is read the newspaper or watch TV daily to see the many so-called successful businesspeople, athletes, politicians, actors, musicians, and yes, even some religious leaders, who have fallen. They seemed to have it all: money, fortune, fame, beautiful homes, cars, beautiful spouses, and great careers. Yet, it could not satisfy them, as they wanted more and more of everything. What they thought was success actually changed their lives and plans, and in some cases, ruined their lives and those of their family and many others. They thought they had found their purpose and passion, but it was all false and blew away like paper in a windstorm. When God is not at the center of our lives, and we are not seeking his will and purpose for our lives, we will try and fill that void with the many things that look so great but can destroy us and bring us many of the struggles we face in our lives.
Finding our purpose requires us to trust, grow in our faith, overcome our fears, and build a discipline that keeps us grounded. Why? Because, when God comes knocking on our door with opportunities and new paths for us to travel, we will have to conquer our fears and follow him. If not, we will fall further behind in our search for our purpose, and we will travel many paths that God did not intend for us. Or God will have to, as my pastor recently said, put us in a timeout for our own good and protection.
I have shared the many times God moved us as a family during my career. At the time, I thought it was about the new jobs and all about God blessing me. It was God really building my faith and trust in him, my growth as a servant leader, and the people that God put in my life. I shudder sometimes to think where I might be if we had said no to God when he was stirring in our hearts during those times. With that said, I know there have been times when I said no to God and turned toward the world and all I thought it had to offer. The purpose-filled life—while filled with potholes, struggles, and mistakes—brings a joy that only God can bring by our loving and serving him and taking that love and caring and sharing it with the people he puts into our lives. Learn to enjoy the journey.
2. PassionOnce you have discovered your purpose, you will spend time trying to find where and how to fulfill God’s purpose in your life. Since our purpose is driven by our relationship with God, it means you are called to impact the lives of people we meet during our life’s journey. Then, our passion will be about serving people in some way. It can happen in just about any career or volunteer position we might choose in life. Remember, your purpose is to show Christ to those we meet by building relationships based on caring for people and impacting their lives in a positive way. Your passion will take you down the avenue you choose to carry out your purpose.
For purposes of my book, I’m talking about servant leaders, whose purpose is to care for and impact the lives of people in a positive way. Their passion is to accomplish that purpose in their role as leaders in a business environment. To help people be all they can be based on God’s wisdom and truth. Servant leaders are passionate about the success of their people and the company for which they work. They realize that if they can build a caring environment, where people can thrive and reach their potential, the business will be successful in creating security for the people and the company, creating a shared partnership of mutual respect, trust, and success.
Other people who have discovered their purpose may find their passion teaching in schools, as a nurse, doctor, secretary, housewife, coach, serving in ministry as a career or volunteer, a parent, and many other roles in life that can impact others’ lives in a supportive and caring way. The list is endless.
3. PeoplePeople are at the heart of every servant leader’s purpose and passion. They realize that to God, people really are the most important asset, and we are called into a partnership with God to accomplish his mission of caring for and impacting the lives of the people he puts in our path.
As a servant leader, it means seeing people as the most important asset in a company. I have often thought of the time and money we spend in business on preventive maintenance on our machines and the upkeep of our buildings, trucks, IT equipment, and many other assets. Yet, we find it hard to spend even five to ten minutes with our people a day or two a week. I’m talking about “real time,” where we are talking with them person to person, understanding their needs and goals, and learning how we can help them reach their potential. It’s about getting past the surface and getting to know the person and his or her heart.
Many leaders hesitate to talk with their people this way, not because they are bad leaders, but because they have never been trained in how to or the importance of building that kind of relationship. Has anyone ever discussed the expectation for them as a leader? Do companies really see it as important for their leaders to build those kinds of relationships with their people? In many cases during my career, I have known leaders who felt it would make them seem weak as a leader if they built relationships. Or, they might become too close to their people, making it hard for them to lead or make tough decisions.
I think we have to get rid of that kind of thinking if we really want to create a caring environment and harness the talent, skills, and innovation of our people to achieve great things. I do not believe work is something that we should separate from life, relationships, and caring for people. As I discussed earlier, it’s where we spend most of the time we are awake. So, why shouldn’t we make it an exciting, caring, relationship-building part of our life? I know I’m just a country boy from Virginia, but I know one thing: people who are trained and led by caring, results-oriented leaders will be happier and will always produce better results than people working in an uncaring workplace, where leaders give them very little training or help. It’s that simple.
4. PrinciplesEvery servant leader I have ever met is led by certain principles in their life. These principles stay with them no matter where they go or what career path they might choose. While these principles may change as they grow older and mature in wisdom, they usually help the leader to become even more caring and people focused.
These principles begin forming in our early years and start to take hold as we begin making our own decisions. The people in your life during your early years will also have an impact on your principles, which can be good and bad. When I look at my own journey, I was very blessed to have parents who had a very positive impact on my life and truly modeled the way servant leaders should lead and live life. They modeled the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” While I have to admit that I didn’t always follow their wise advice and counsel, it is and has always been part of my internal compass. I shudder to think what might have been if I had not had this great beginning in my life. Even with that great start, I was very selfish, and life was all about me during my younger years. Without that great start from my parents, I believe my life could have easily gone in a different direction and one that would have sent me down a path that would have brought me great disappointment and discontent.
As a servant leader, your principals are guided by the following main elements:
- You have a caring heart for people.
- You desire to impact positively the lives of the people who God sends into your life.
- You understand the principle of stewardship, which simply put, means whatever God has entrusted and blessed you with—family, job, and the people you are leading, a business where you serve as a leader, money, and possessions are all managed with great care.
- You see the positives and potential in people.
- You build your relationships with people around encouragement, caring, motivation, and the discipline for doing what is right for the right reasons.
- Your foundation for your principles is built around your faith and relationships with God and his son, Jesus Christ.
- You realize you are not perfect and don’t have all the answers to life and people.
Principles are what help people and businesses succeed. If your principles are not strong, you will be blown around like a tree in a strong storm, moving from side to side. Let your guiding principles be based on God’s truth of:
· Having a discipline in life for doing the right things for the right reasons
· Accountability for the actions we take
· Being a good steward for that which has been entrusted to us
· Caring for people
· Knowing love is the greatest commandment.
Servant leaders get excited about the potential they see in people. It’s one of the differences in servant leaders versus other types of leaders. Servant leaders talk about the potential of their people, while other leaders talk more about their people’s weaknesses. Servant leaders start looking for the potential in their people the minute they first meet someone they will be leading. They also don’t judge people based on their looks, background, and education. The people they lead start with a clean sheet of paper and lots of opportunities.
During my first day as president at the last company where I held that position, I had a very unusual situation happen with one of the salespeople. I had scheduled meetings with all the salespeople, senior managers, supervisors, and key people at the headquarters plant. This was to give them a chance to meet with me one on one and time to express their thoughts on the state of the company and the issues and challenges they were facing in their departments. When I met with one of the salespeople, the first thing out of his mouth was if several things did or did not happen, he was going to quit. No hello or how are you. Well, as you can imagine, this was a first for me as a leader. But I guess growing up in the mountains of Virginia gave me the ability to not be too surprised at life, so I softly said, “Nice to meet you. Why don’t you sit down for a few minutes, and let’s talk before you quit.”
Well, two hours later after some very honest conversation, he left my office still employed. What I had seen was a person with lots of spirit, a passion for succeeding, and a fire in his belly to prove he could do the job. What he needed was a leader who could give him some guidance, support, and a dose of reality and honesty. We built a great relationship during the coming months, and about a year later, I promoted him to sales manager for one of our product lines. He did a great job and grew the product line from around $500,000 in annual sales to over $6 million in a little over two years. What I saw was someone with lots of passion and potential, while leaders before me saw a troublemaker, who kept trying to get them to listen to his ideas and suggestions. I would agree that his tact at times wasn’t the best, but what leaders do is train and teach others how to improve and make adjustments in how they work and deal with people. The prior leaders just didn’t know how or didn’t want to spend the time and effort needed to harness his energy. The key for this success was the building of our relationship, which opened the door for us to trust, understand, and talk openly about any subject.
There are lots of people like this in the business world: people with passion, heart, and energy, who just need someone to come alongside of them and say, “Hey, I know you have some great ideas. How can I help you succeed?” Do all situations like this work out as well as this one did? No. But it could work out a lot better if leaders would drop their big-title attitudes and build relationships with their people, find out what makes them tick, their goals, what gets them excited, and how they can help them.
There is so much potential passing though the doors of every company every day that is going untapped. People who want to accomplish great things for their families are just looking for some leader to give them a hand, to show some attention, ask for their ideas and suggestions, and then give them the tools to succeed. What are we waiting on?
In business and life, planning is one of the most important tools and exercises anyone can go through. Good planning starts with a destination in mind. Without that, you don’t know what to plan for. If I came home and said to my wife, “We are going on vacation in two weeks. Be ready,” I would get that look that says; “You’ve got to be kidding me, right?” She would want to know:
- Where are we going?
- How much is it going to cost?
- What’s the weather like this time of year?
- What type of clothes should we take?
- When are we leaving and then coming home?
- Are we flying or driving?
- Where are we staying?
- Are we going by ourselves or with another couple?
- Is it all fun or mixed with business?
On and on the questions would fly rapid fire, all legitimate and that need to be answered.
Something like this happens in businesses every day, when a president walks into a conference room filled with leaders and says, “We are going to grow our business and profits by 20 percent this year.” Setting goals is the easy part. Meeting those goals and planning how we will achieve them is the hard part.
In business, we are eager to set goals, because that’s what leaders do. It makes us feel good to lay out strategy. But in my humble opinion, the most important part of the process is the planning of the people side of strategy: what people resources are needed, the qualifications and skill levels needed, how many people will be needed, and where and when. This is usually skipped over or just touched on, because it is the hardest part. Can you imagine the army setting a strategy to go to war and leaving out the people resource needs and what tools they will need to be successful? It wouldn’t happen, because the military leaders know victory is achieved with people. Business is not any different. Lesson Learned: Success is driven by having the right people, in the right positions, at the right time and accomplishing the right things.
Discussing the people side of planning and strategy requires us to face our people issues and failures as leaders. In many cases, we have done a poor job in training and developing our people, causing the shortfall in meeting our goals and strategies, and a shortfall in the talent needed to take our strategy forward. That’s when the famous, “Our people are no good or lazy,” speeches are heard in conference rooms. Lesson Learned: When people fail in their jobs, it is almost always a failure of leadership. We need to stop looking for a place to lay the blame other than on ourselves.
Servant leaders are constantly planning, but the most important part of their planning has to deal with people. They are trying to determine:
- What daily dose of actions is needed for their people to meet their goals, and what people skills are needed to make it happen?
- What are the gaps in people skills and abilities needed to meet their goals?
- What training needs to be established, how often, and who needs to participate to improve and develop the skills needed?
- Are there any gaps in their people needs? If so, add people with those skill sets.
- What training processes are needed for the future that will help develop their people and get them ready for the future?
Ihave tried to make sure that as you read my book, (I’m sure you got that hint by now) that success in business starts and ends with people: those who do the work. Planning is no exception. Always be thinking about the people side of planning at the beginning of the strategic planning process, not at the end. At the end, it’s too late!
The setting of priorities is probably one of the most important skills leaders can develop for themselves and their people. They know that leadership is really a balancing act between how leaders spend their time with people, doing tasks, planning, actions, and in what order. Servant leaders see the setting of priorities as key to not only leading their people effectively but also in managing their own personal lives to ensure they stay grounded in their principles. They know that it is easy to let life get away from you and start setting your priorities based on your wants versus setting your priorities based on the purpose God established for you.
A servant leader’s number-one priority when it comes to leading his or her people in business is caring for and impacting the people’s lives God puts in his or her path, so the people and the company can maximize their potential and results. To accomplish and meet this priority requires servant leaders:
- To develop relationships with the people they lead
- To understand their people’s needs, skills, goals, and potential
- To focus on and spend real time with their people; one-on-one listening, giving and receiving feedback, and acting on what they learned about their people
- To develop an improvement plan for their people’s training and skill improvement
- To develop a written plan with priorities for their people that is shared so they understand where they are headed and there is a plan for their improvement
- To ensure people understand the goals and strategies of the company and how they each can and will impact the results by their actions
- To establish accountability for the result with their people and themselves
Priority setting is also how servant leaders keep their personal lives moving in the right direction. It’s how they stay away from the lure of the world’s definition of success. The drivers of their personal priorities are:
- Caring for the people God put in their path
- Continually learning, reading, and improving themselves
Favoritesare something at which we must continually work. There are many distractions in our lives, both at work and outside of work, which can easily get us off track. Stay grounded in you purpose, passion, God, family, and other people’s needs, and you will be able to fight the good fight and keep life’s distractions under control.
Most servant leaders are very good at persuading people to follow them, not because they are just good with words, but because they are real and build trust with their people one moment and action at time. People want to be led by honest, caring, knowledgeable, leaders who help them accomplish things they never thought possible; leaders who spend time with them, listening to their complaints, goals, hopes, and dreams.
Too often, leaders fail not because they are not capable of being a good leader but because they don’t spend time with their people and their people don’t get to know them. These types of leaders have been trained to always have their game face on and never let people see the real person who also has dreams, goals, and fears—just like the people they lead. Lesson Learned: True servant leadership is about sharing life with the people you lead. It’s not done successfully stranger to stranger.If you want to have influence with your people as a leader, you must first:
- Care for your people and let them see and feel it.
- Let them see the real you—warts and all.
- Let them know you don’t have all the answers, and you need their help.
- Communicate, communicate, and communicate. There is never too much.
- Ask for their opinion.
- Tell them you appreciate them, and more important, show that appreciation.
- Train and teach them.
- Set expectations and then help them reach them.
- Don’t be a stranger; be seen and heard in person
- The icing on the cake is really getting to know them.
Persuasion, the kind that moves people and companies to new directions and develops sustainable success, comes from positive actions that impact people’s lives. Lesson Learned: It does not come from carrying a big stick or with a title.9. Partners
Servant leaders have learned during their life’s journey that people were meant to share and do life together. Life without relationships and people is lonely. Servant leaders also understand that relationships in business and between leaders and the people they lead are no different. If a company wants to build a sustainable competitive advantage, it will take people working together with shared values, goals, and purpose to make it happen. It will also require leaders who understand the principle of relationships and doing life together, and leading to make it come alive.
Somehow, we have told ourselves in business that if people are talking, they are not working, that the workplace should be a place where people keep their heads down, only speak if spoken to by their leader, and look up only when the whistle blows or it’s time to go home. The successful companies of today, like Apple, Google, Amazon, and many others who are leading the world in innovation and change, understand how to get people to work together. They know for innovation and success to take place, it requires their people and leadership to work together in new ways to tap the collective ability and potential of their people. They turn people loose to try new things, be creative, and ask lots of questions of themselves, their coworkers, and their leaders.
We should turn away from using the old terms, like “coworkers,” “labor,” and “hourly workers,” and begin using the term “partners or associates.” Start using a word that brings dignity and helps to remind us of the relationships that are needed to create the competitive advantage needed to survive.
If a business can create this kind of partnership, its problems with turnover and recruiting new people would almost disappear. People would be lined up in the parking lot, trying to get hired. Customers would be lined up to purchase its products and services, because they would be more innovative, cost effective, and offer better quality than your competitors. You would have a true competitive advantage created by everyone in your company. Now that is a true partnership!
Without perseverance, many servant leaders would have given up on their journey early in life. Most servant leaders have a story to tell. First, servant leaders are not and have never been perfect. Many of them a have gone down paths in their life they probably wished they had not traveled: paths that created scars and hurts, but also paths that taught them some valuable lessons about themselves, people, and life. These are paths that God allows us to travel to teach us valuable lessons about life and to help us find our purpose and passion in life.
In my own life, I can point to paths I traveled that gave me a new perspective about life and showed me that I was wandering away from what God intended for me and my life. These paths were leading me to selfishness, and as I described earlier, that “it’s all about me syndrome.” Luckily the lessons my parents had taught me in my early years, along with pastors who impacted me, kept me from wandering too far off the path. But like that two-year-old who keeps testing parents, I kept testing God. But he was faithful, gave me mercy and grace when I didn’t deserve any, and sent people into my life that got me back on track.
Perseverance is a funny thing. Lesson Learned: I think you sometimes have to be on the brink of giving up before finding and making perseverance your friend. That is the moment when you have tried everything, nothing is working, people aren’t listening to you as a leader, you wonder if it is all worth it, and you are just about ready to give up and quit. Then, that special something kicks in that doesn’t let you give up. It gives you a new energy, new thoughts, and eyes to see the possibilities. You remember the people who count on you and need you to help them reach their potential.
Perseverance is also needed by servant leaders, because their journey is not always an easy one. People will question your ideas and ways of leading. At times, people will think you are soft and not tough enough to lead. Leading to make a difference and build a sustainable competitive advantage is about long-term thinking, and many companies are always in their short-term thinking mode because of their financial shape and needs. Your leadership principles and strategies will put you at odds with this style of company. But you must persevere, because these companies that get into their short-term thinking mode have not solved the problems and issues they deal with every day, year after year. They never take the time to build the foundation that can create the sustainable success and results they need and want.
Perseverance says, “I trust God and there is a reason I am at this company or going through this tough season in my life. Then when—and if—it is time for me to go in another direction, he will open the doors wide and give me the ride of my life.” Enjoy the journey and the people he places in your life, for God will use them to impact your life and bring you great joy and contentment.