Leaders Serve

“If you don’t understand that you work for your mislabeled ‘subordinates,’ then you know nothing of leadership. You know only tyranny.”

— Dee Hock | Founder and CEO Emeritus | VISA International

I feel that in today’s world too many people have a sense of entitlement in leadership.  Entitlement here is that sense of “this is owed to me” or “I’m in charge, that means people serve me.”  Of course, this applies to many aspects in life and is probably true across the board (for me as well), but I believe the sense of entitlement is overly prevalent in leadership.

I used to work in admissions at a university, and I would talk on the phone all day with prospective students who wanted to get their degrees in business.  It was part of my job to determine why a particular person felt that a business degree was right for them, so I almost always asked, “Why business?”  I recall one time in particular where one person divulged that they would really like to stop working their sixty or seventy hour weeks because, in their mind, they thought that those in higher management didn’t work long or hard hours like the “underlings” and sit around in overstuffed armchairs behind their fancy desks.

There is a misconception about the purpose of leadership.  A leader’s sole purpose is to serve those who work to further the mission and accomplish the vision.  When we understand that leaders are supposed to serve their people rather than “subject them to long hours” as that prospective student mistakenly believed, we begin to realize that a leader’s job is not within the confines of a 40-hour work week in a comfortable corner office.  A good leader or manager is involved with a person’s life beyond work, especially since that person is dedicating a large chunk of their time to fulfill a vision that may not be their own.  In other words, a leader’s job is to get in the mud.  Without being inappropriate, the leader is responsible for the needs of their employees (or volunteers), specifically by providing them with the resources they need in order to complete a task.

In my short life, I have served under too many self-serving leaders.  Number crunchers, micromanagers, controllers, you name it and I’ve worked for them.  The main issue with these people were not that they were number crunchers, micromanagers, or controllers, the main issue was that these people were more concerned with their appearances than they were in my success (which would consequently grant them success by association).  It was not a team effort and there was no support, which is why I emphasized “for”; I did not work with these people.

Leaders need to serve their subordinates in order for everyone to succeed.  Otherwise, the organization loses good people at the hands of bad leaders.

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