Harvey Mackay: Self-serving leaders vs. servant leaders
September 23, 2012
Ken Blanchard believes that corporate America is in desperate need of a different leadership role model. And I couldn’t agree more.
Ken is a walking management encyclopedia: He’s written 50 books with more than 90 contributing authors. His blockbuster book, “The One Minute Manager,” has sold 13 million copies around the world. He has a practical, no-nonsense style that I love.
Ken has been a good friend for years. In fact, I owe a lot of my book-writing success to Ken because he’s the one who asked me to write a book with him before I decided to author “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive” back in 1988.
While most leaders think that leadership is in your head, Ken thinks effective leadership starts in the heart. Your heart controls your motivation, your intent and your leadership character.
I invited Ken to speak to my roundtable group of 30 CEOs. His memorable message was that the No. 1 leadership style around the world today is “seagull management.” He explained, “Managers might set goals and then disappear until you screw up. Then they fly in, make a lot of noise, dump on everybody and fly out. They think that’s great leadership.”
He compared what he calls self-serving leaders to servant leaders and mentioned three main differences.
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The first difference is feedback. If you’ve ever tried to give negative feedback up the hierarchy of a self-serving leadership team, you know the difference. You get destroyed.
Self-serving leaders thrive in critical environments, whereas servant leaders prefer supportive environments.
Ken said, “I travel around the world, and I’ll say to people, ‘How do you know whether you’re doing a good job?’ The No. 1 response I still get is, ‘Nobody’s yelled at me lately.'”
He went on to say that if he could only teach one thing it would be to develop great relationships. He advised that to develop great organizations, you have to wander around and catch people doing the right things and then praise them in front of everyone.
The second major difference is that self-serving leaders don’t want anyone else to look really good, while servant leaders really want to build leadership in their group. They have no problem with someone rising up. They don’t mind sharing leadership.
My philosophy is, you’d be amazed at how much you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit. I also believe that three opinions are better than two and five are better than four.
The third difference is ego.
“Self-serving leaders are caught in the trap that they think their self-worth is a function of their performance plus the opinion of others,” Ken said. “They have this scorekeeping system. The only way they can keep going is they’ve got to get more. Their scorekeeping centers around three things: accumulation of wealth, recognition/power and status.”
Ken advises that there is nothing wrong with accumulating money, getting recognized or having some power and status.
“What’s wrong is if that’s who you think you are, because then your self-worth is tied up there, and you’re going to have to keep on performing,” he said. “That’s why people have to keep on accumulating more and more and take huge bonuses when that money could be spent in other ways.”
Servant leaders define their self-worth differently. They are comfortable in their skin. Ken cautions that this doesn’t mean that they don’t have some weaknesses. They know that their position is not a given. Everything from their job and possessions are on loan and can be taken away at a moment’s notice.
Our egos can interfere in two ways, Ken cautions. One is false pride – when you think more of yourself than you should and your main job is to promote yourself. The other is self-doubt or fear – when you think less of yourself than you should.
The antidote for fear and self-doubt is self-pride and self-esteem, whereas the antidote for false pride is humility, which Ken believes is another important characteristic of a leader.
“A lot of people have this image that people who are humble are weak,” Ken said. “People with humility don’t think less of themselves. They just think about themselves less. That’s really a powerful thing.”
Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman and author. He also spends about six weeks a year in Aspen.
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