I’ve been in various executive level positions both at divisional and corporate levels most of my career. The different cultures I’ve experienced over the years range from power-based to ones that focus on serving. My favorite culture is one based on serving. I’ve dedicated the balance of my life to sharing with other leaders about the value of a culture based on servant leadership.
I’ve presented servant leadership 101 to corporate level leaders, middle managers, supervisors, and in some instances, to entire companies. The one question I am asked more than any other is: “If my CEO is not on board with servant leadership, what should I do?”
Sometimes they ask the question differently, for example: “Some of our leaders talk about servant leadership but they don’t support their talk with their behavior. What should we do?”
My response to them is start with yourself. Change how you behave and act towards others, treat everyone with dignity and respect. You don’t need permission from your CEO or any other leader in your company to treat other people with dignity or respect. When I make this challenge to groups, the room often goes quiet. People realize we don’t need permission from anyone to be a servant leader.
Why do we feel we need permission to live and treat others the way we would like to be treated? In your personal life and your work life, live the values you believe in, day in and day out. I wonder why leaders have created such a culture of fear that people feel they need permission to act appropriately. Here are some of my observations on how we have created this culture of fear that causes people to feel they need permission to do what’s right.
- People have been treated badly when they don’t act just like their leaders. Power leaders have a difficult time understanding why everyone doesn’t want to get ahead at the expense of others.
- We’ve experience “fake leaders”; ones that say and believe they are good leaders but in reality, just don’t treat others with respect.
- We’ve experienced “bully leaders” that believe their job is to convince everyone in the organization their way of doing things is the only way to do it right.
- We’ve experienced leaders who believe they are the smartest ones in the organization. They make sure you know they are the most knowledgeable.
- We’ve experienced leaders that don’t trust anyone.
- We’ve experienced leaders with the wrong motives.
- We’ve experienced leaders who don’t extend grace or forgive us when we make a mistake.
I could go on and on but let’s stop there. I’d like to leave you with this thought.
Your behavior and how you treat others is up to you and no one else. You don’t need permission from anyone to behave and treat others with dignity and respect. When you take this approach to the way you behave, I believe you can have good relationships and great discussions even with those who disagree with you.
Start with yourself today, live the values that are so close to you. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated. You’ll be better off and the person you see in the mirror each morning will become your friend. Those you care about most will notice and begin to change.
Soon you’ll catch on to what servant leadership is all about and you’ll start influencing people in your organization. You’ll start a very quiet movement towards a culture of treating each other with dignity and respect. It will be a revolution that leads from your heart and not through power. When we start letting others see the power of love, the love of power will begin to diminish.
Let’s show the world we don’t need permission to create a culture the cares for others. If we don’t start today, when will we?