In the words of Bob Dylan “Ya Gotta Serve Somebody”. Extraordinary leaders in all walks of life embrace this principle. They understand their role is to thoughtfully serve the needs (not wants) of others versus a self-centered agenda based on their own individual rights.
Bill Ford understood the underlying elegance of this train of thought when he commented at the 2006 Detroit Auto Show that one of the secrets to turning Ford around will be to build cars people want – really want. In fact that is exactly what Ford is accomplishing and their revitalization (without a government bail out) has been remarkable.
Customers (whether they be tax payers, students, patients, consumers etc.) given the choice are simply not willing to have their needs ignored and given the opportunity will quickly switch their loyalty to an organization who can truly satisfy their real needs. For proof I would offer examples as diverse as Apple Computer’s evangelical customer base or in reverse taxpayers who are no longer willing to tolerate high taxes in return for expensive uninspired service.
So as a Leader, what do I need to do? One of the responsibilities of leadership is to uncover reality and to connect the team with it. Uncovering reality however can be difficult as it is cloaked by false information, entrenched positions and your own paradigms. But if as a Leader you can succeed in stripping away these preconceptions, and illuminate the dysfunction of the current reality, then an effectively led team will undertake what is required. This principle has been demonstrated to me over and over again both as a General Manager and within my consulting practice.
So as a Leader, how do I get started? Leaders need to start by ensuring the team is awake to the reality of their current circumstances. Who is it they are employed to serve? What is it these Stakeholders need from the team? How well is the team performing at satisfying these needs? What is the reality of the current business environment (financials, equipment, technology, competition etc)? The leader must have the insight (and skills) to assist their team through this process of discovery and the mindset (and skills) to encourage individual team members to do what is necessary to successfully serve their stakeholders. They need to work with the members of the team to ensure they understand the value of their contributions and the specific required behaviours to be successful. In this context - this is not about serving personal agendas but rather about inspiring and enabling people to be of service.
Seeing leadership from this perspective will fundamentally redefine the operating dynamic of your group. You will no longer be seen as someone to be obeyed - or worse tolerated - but rather as a Leader who is there to ensure that the needs of stakeholders are being honoured and satisfied. This perspective creates a new operating model for everyone involved with the organization. It releases energy by infusing work with a sense of meaning.
Finally, this article ends as it began - an effective leader is someone who understands that “Ya Gotta Serve Somebody” and possesses the courage and conviction to enlist the minds and spirits of others in creating a better future based on satisfying the true needs of Stakeholders.
(by John Hebden)