On servant leadership

  • Small businesses use it, much to their advantage. Large businesses cannot adapt to it, much to their disadvantage.
  • ‘The old way has worked for years, why change just for the sake of change?’
  • ‘Never mind what I do. Just do as I say, not as I do!’


Servant leadership has been around for eons. Proponents of the practice trace it back to the time of Christ where he would actually wash the feet of his followers as their servant. I can’t imagine any of our country’s leaders or the movers/shakers doing such a thing. Wait! Wait a minute! Yes, I can imagine Warren Buffett doing such a thing if only because everyone else was not doing it. That, combined with his age, allows him to get away with just about anything. Could you honestly see Trump doing something like that?

I had touched on variations of the servant-style of leadership owning my own business for 40 years, keeping things that worked and tossing out what didn’t. My dad wanted me to use his autocratic style where you’re the boss and everyone should be beholding to you for their employment, but that style just wouldn’t jive with me. But my style served me well when I partnered with a parish in Chicago mentoring kids from their neighborhood. Gang life and drugs were staring these young men in the face on a daily basis. Not only was I asked to teach them a trade, but I would act as a ‘father’ figure in addition to mentoring. And boy, did we have a good time. I think that the fact that I had had my own run-ins with the law when I was younger helped cement the relationship I had with these guys. You can’t bullshit a bullshitter. But every one of them did try and when they figured out that wasn’t going to work, they tended to take care of business.

When the program started, there had to be 300 businesses on board. They would come in with money and talent and their own ‘brand’ of rules and, one by one, they would all fall on their face. They were all used to the autocratic way of doing business and these kids [16, 18, 20 years of age] wouldn’t play that way. Most of them didn’t trust those with authority and they certainly were not going to be part of any ‘categorical imperative’ work program. A year and a half into the project, the 300 had been whittled down to 10. The kids had to be heart-broken when they saw how many people gave up on them; so much for giving back to the community. I didn’t have the benefit of a business-school education, but I can so of figure out what works, what doesn’t and why. Like Geo. Bush used to say: you don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to figure that one out.

Now, they give it a fancy name, Servant Leadership, but back when my grandparents had their own business it was just good old-fashioned business sense: someone had a problem, you listened. If you could figure out a solution together, you had loyalty for life; persuade rather than dictate; use empathy rather than sympathy; instill in your workers your foresight combined with their concept and then turn ‘em loose. Those little tid-bits will separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s up to them to follow you and if they do then they will become like their leader and the cycle will continue which in the end will be a plus for your business, big or small. The same old same old doesn’t work anymore. And don’t ever be afraid of doing the sh·· work, it’s good for business. At least, that’s the way I see it. MLProko (2011) more at www.mikeproko.com

Published in: on October 24, 2011 at 6:30 pm  Comments (3)  
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