A Relationship Story
Leadership Part II – The Servant a Team Deserves

I want to thank you all for an extraordinary response to my recent story entitled “Shining the Hot Lights on a Leadership Lesson”. I received 200 responses from you with great feedback and strong feelings about leadership. If you missed this story, it’s pasted in below so you may review it if you wish.

That story discussed an intentionally limited view of what makes a great leader – the gift of trust and creating a “community” in the team. Many of your observations addressed other tools that make a great leader, and those thoughts are absolutely correct:

(1) Be strategically visionary
(2) Choose the right people
(3) Ensure ideal business processes
(4) Set appropriate goals
(5) Measure accountability
(6) Drive execution

Of course, a great leader has to ensure all of these things happen.

Now here I go again with my deviant approach. I believe a leader can be effective with all 6 of these tools and still fail to build a great business. These 6 tools themselves cannot serve to build loyalty and passion in people; they do not create the synergy among passionate people that makes a business great. I learned this lesson (a bit painfully) during my own experience leading businesses.

For 10 years, I led Hughes/Raytheon Services businesses of up to 1000 employees and $130M in annual revenue. These 6 leadership tools were required in the business, and we employed them well. However, 360 reviews showed there was a lack of passion and commitment among the team, and this was hard for me to understand or to control.

Also during these years, I noticed how extraordinarily well people related to my friend, mentor, and senior staff advisor, retired Navy Captain Ed Whelan. There was a natural comfort level everyone felt in working with Ed; he seemed to bring the best out in everyone. As a mentor Ed tried to help me see the way my leadership behaviors affected the feelings and commitment of the people on the team. I didn’t get it.

As my leadership career developed and expanded, I took on new challenges and solved big problems, but I didn’t find the key to earning the heartfelt passion of the teams I led. There was something missing.

Fast forward to early 2005; I was beginning my 3rd year with McDermott & Bull after having decided to leave my corporate life behind. I was feeling increasingly comfortable and effective as a search consultant and had built a strong practice. About this time, I was loaned a book called The Servant by James Hunter. The book described what I believe is the essence of true leadership – selfless, authentic, genuine, and passionate commitment to serving those you lead.

Up to this 2-year point I believed the difference between my old and new lives was that consulting matched my strengths so much better. While this is true, The Servant showed me the real biggest factor was that I had not sufficiently understood the keys to successful Servant Leadership. This was a big hole in my leadership skill set. While I could use the 6 tools above intellectually, Servant Leadership just isn’t intellectual.

Looking back, I now understand what was so special about my friend and mentor Ed. He naturally understood the role of Servant to others – the essence of true leadership. He would have the right answer for these key questions: Do those you serve grow as individuals? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous and more likely themselves to become servants?

I think people deserve a leader who is a true servant, and for the business, there is no replacement for the passion, loyalty, and commitment this can build inside those who we lead.

Thank you for sharing time with me. I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Book Recommendation: The Servant by James Hunter


Jeff Black
Principal Consultant, McDermott & Bull Executive Search
Cell: (714) 356-1949 Office: (949) 753-1700 ext. 310
2 Venture, Suite 100 Irvine, CA 92618
black@mbsearch.net www.mbsearch.net http://www.jeffblackmcdermottbull.blogspot.com/