John Wooden, former coach of the UCLA Bruins, told leaders to “make each day your masterpiece.” I love that! We as leaders need to take that same approach. As you know from some of my previous articles, I’m a firm believer in servant leadership. I believe John Wooden was one of the great servant leaders of our time. I was once a power leader. But, I’ve been transformed through my experiences. The people around me helped me see the light of leading in a better way, putting others above myself. Today, I’d like to talk with you about putting your organization above yourself. One of the questions I ask myself every day is, “How can I best serve my organization today to inspire and equip them to get great results and ensure a bright future?”
As a senior leader in your organization, you probably spend your time in three distinct areas:
- Strategic or long-term initiatives that provide for stability and future growth
- Tactical or short-term initiatives that provide for meeting your annual goals
- Working with and developing leaders
I love strategic discussions that focus on vision, mission and purpose; how we want to get there and where we need to invest to ensure a bright future. I prefer not to spend a lot of time in the tactical area of the business though as CEO, I’m responsible for the short and long-term performance of the company. I can be tactical when needed but I find our leaders feel that I am micromanaging when I do. I really love working with and developing leaders.
Servant leaders are passionate about serving people to help them grow to their fullest potential. We should also be willing to take the same approach with our entire organization; being passionate about helping it grow to its fullest potential. At what point do you start asking yourself, “Am I the best leader for my organization today?” I can’t think of anything more strategic for an organization and its leaders.
My son and I attended a conference about six years ago that focused on managing private companies. One of the younger leaders in the room asked others for ideas on how to go about convincing his father, who happened to be the CEO, it was time him to retire and let others in the family lead the company. I believe public companies face similar issues with their CEOs. This young leader changed my own beliefs about succession planning.
When is the right time for you and I to step aside and let someone else take the leadership role in our organizations? Today, my senior team consists of three leaders who run the company. That’s the way I want it. I don’t have a succession plan. If I serve them properly, any one of my senior leaders could take my job as CEO. My passion is for my team and the organization to find significance through their successes. When I put them first, I ask myself, “Is today the day I turn the company over to a new CEO?” When you have the courage to ask yourself this question, consider the following:
- Has my passion for my role in the company changed?
- Do I have other leaders who could do a better job leading the company?
- Have I passed on all my knowledge about the company to the senior team around me?
- Are they ready to take the company to new heights in serving others?
When you’re able to answer those questions honestly, you’ll know when it is time for you to step aside and let a new leader take the company into the future. Our company has gone through some ups and downs over the years. When times were tough, I really challenged myself for an honest answer to those questions. My hope is I’ll never become the type of leader who hangs on too long.
Where is your passion today in leading your organization? What is the best way for you to serve your organization strategically, tactically and in developing future leaders? Make today your masterpiece in leading your organization through serving. Be a great servant leader and make a difference in this world. You and those around you will be changed for good.
Art Barter is CEO and cultural architect of Datron World Communications Inc., an organization he transformed from a $10 million company to a $200 million company in just six years by putting into practice the behaviors of servant leadership.
He also is CEO and founder of the Servant Leadership Institute (SLI), an organization that helps people and organizations put servant leadership into practice, through hands-on training, coaching, events, publications and other programs. His latest book is The Servant Leadership Journal: An 18 Week Journey To Transform You and Your Organization.