Every day in the news we see and hear about leaders – leaders in politics, in business, in the arts, in education. We see young leaders advocating for changes in gun laws. We see women leading our nation toward an end to abusive, predatory behavior by men in power. We see people in power leading with a variety of styles and approaches. With so many examples of leadership, it’s important to analyze what seems to resonate best with those around us. Leadership isn’t about a title; it’s about the way we approach each other, treat each other, get people behind our ideas and move forward.
Ken Blanchard has been studying, reflecting on, writing about and sharing his wisdom about leadership for more than 50 years. He has very clear and concrete ideas about what makes a good leader. In his latest book, Servant Leadership in Action, he shares essays and reflections on leadership from more than 40 educators, activists, authors and practitioners. All roads on the path to leadership seem to lead back to one basic premise: Great leaders understand intuitively that leading requires great humility, great compassion, great selflessness and great love. I recently had a chance to speak with Ken about how servant leaders set the right tone and create successful environments.
Jay Sullivan: The essays you’ve collected in your book provide a wide spectrum of examples and stories about people who have led by serving others, led by sacrifice rather than self-aggrandizement. In the first section, you explain how someone can lead and serve at the same time.
Ken Blanchard: Exactly. There are two parts to servant leadership. Determining the vision and crafting the strategy are the leadership elements. Implementing that strategy is where the servant aspect comes into play. Our job as servant leaders is to direct and support those around us.
Sullivan: The first two sections of the book deal with the Fundamentals and the Elements of servant leadership, respectively. The word listen comes up frequently.
Blanchard: Listening is an essential element of servant leadership. You have to understand your people – their hopes, their dreams, their fears and aspirations. It’s why emotional intelligence, a combination of self-awareness and empathy, is essential for servant leaders. Without it, you can’t create the level of trust that’s necessary for leaders to be effective.
Sullivan: Your subtitle to the book is How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results. You list relationships first. Why? We’re all in business to achieve results, not to feel good about each other.
Blanchard: None of us achieves anything on our own. If we put the people we lead first on our list of priorities, they will take care of achieving the results we’re targeting. Profit is the applause you get for creating a motivating environment for your people.
Sullivan: Another word that frequently appears in the book is humility.
Blanchard: Humility is essential, and yet frequently misunderstood. The Exemplars of Servant Leadership section of the book includes an essay by Tony Baron profiling Dr. Dallas Willard, a theology professor who wrote extensively on philosophy and spirituality. Tony notes, “Arrogant teachers may provide knowledge to their students, but rarely wisdom.” It’s so true. When you come into a conversation or a relationship from the perspective of arrogance, you’re exerting power to push an agenda. Pushing, by definition, isn’t leading. Servant leaders earn the support of their followers.
Sullivan: Humility sometimes has a negative implication, as if someone doesn’t appreciate their own value.
Blanchard: Being humble doesn’t mean conveying insecurity. It means putting others first.
Sullivan: I have always thought that humility is just pride with perspective. You should appreciate that you have a lot to offer and that there are a lot of other people out there with just as much to bring to the table.
Blanchard: Exactly. Humble people don’t think less of themselves; they just think of themselves less.
Sullivan: One section of the book, Putting Servant Leadership to Work, profiles key business leaders who have brought servant leadership to life in their companies and who share the results they have accomplished. Colleen Barrett, the former president of Southwest Airlines, shares some interesting comments about where a company should focus.
Blanchard: Yes. Colleen, like many servant leaders, believes you have to focus on the people in your organization if you want to have a high performing team. She says the way to improve the financial bottom line is to be “the employer of choice, the provider of choice, the investment of choice, and the citizen of choice.” At Southwest, they’re concerned not only with their own people and customers, but also with giving back to the community. Colleen and the other people profiled in that section share some great examples. But the examples aren’t about what they themselves do, or how they act. They are about lessons learned from others and how they put those lessons into action at their companies.
Sullivan: All of those stories seemed to boil down to a sense of caring for others, of leading from a place of genuine concern. Is that the essence of servant leadership?
Blanchard: The essence of servant leadership is the power of love, over the love of power.
Sullivan: Well put. Thanks.
Originally published on Forbes.com.