Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Discovering Servant Leadership

Joel Spolsky's articles in INC magazine are providing a consistently strong accompaniment to Norm Brodsky's monthly missives. Joel's article this month was on servant leadership. He provides a particularly impactful personal example of witnessing and his own recent example of practicing servant leadership. It is an often overlooked opportunity in small business that can have deep and long-lasting impacts on your organization.

Corporate America provides fewer (or at least different) opportunities for servant leadership. Consider the opportunities that abound in small business: picking up the mail, making coffee, cleaning the bathroom, taking out the trash, running to Target for Folgers/toilet paper/a box of pens, addressing Christmas cards (maybe try that one today!), replacing light bulbs, .... Those are all provided for you in Corporate America. Warning for those of you in Corporate America, if you are the type of person that leaves the coffee pot empty, then you might struggle with the list above.

The point of the list above is not to say that you as the budding entrepreneuer needs to take care of all of those all the time, but a good rule of thumb I've been told is "don't ask someone to do what you will not do yourself." If your teammates see you delegating or ignoring all of those things, then you are sending clear signals about your priorities. Believe me, toilet paper is important to people!

If you have a list of objections for me at this point, I can assume what they likely are. "I'm busy with running the business.... I don't have time for these details.... I will hire someone to do all of that...." For one, your business might not be able to afford the cost of delegating all of these. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, the time required to make this commitment and the return you can see on that investment would make it worth your while to carve out the time to address them yourself.

By displaying servant leadership, your people will respond by giving more of themselves in return and picking up other small things around them because they see you doing that. All ships will be lifted with the tide and the business will see the impact. In return, your objections above will be addressed by the team's overall performance and responsiveness to your leadership. So, pick one or two off the list and make them part of your routine. Servant leadership is simply part of being an entrepreneur and a small business leader.

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