In an earlier blog post, I had mentioned my visit to Container Store’s corporate office. Their founder and CEO, Kip Tindell, spoke on executive leadership and beautifully articulated the second core principle of the conscious capitalism movement; it’s Servant Leadership. Wikipedia’s definitions include the idea that servant leaders achieve results for their organizations by giving priority to the needs of their colleagues and those they serve. Servant leaders are often seen as humble stewards of their organization’s resources (human, financial, and physical).
The modern servant leadership movement was launched by Robert K. Greenleaf in his 1970 essay, “The Servant as Leader” in which he coined the term. More recent authors such as Ken Blanchard and Steven Covey speak to the effectivness of this style of leadership. My favorite book on the subject is “The World’s Most Powerful Leadership Principle” by James C. Hunter.
Kip is clearly a humble man who gives all the credit for his company’s success to his employees. Several of his key executives spoke at the session and there was authentic, warm interaction between Kip and his team. That emotional intensity was matched with a performance expectation that has clearly contributed to their financial success.
First and foremost, he reminded the audience how important it is to consider the wake you are leaving. He presented several examples – seemingly small instances of ethical behavior, humility, compassion, intensity and the ripple effect that those instances had on others. As a leader, he reaffirmed how important it is to ask yourself what wake you are leaving – whether personally or professionally – on others.
Secondly, he pointed out the need for authenticity. He said, “I truly don’t understand the idea that some people are different at work than they are at home or with friends.” In his view, which is one I share, integrity, congruency and your personal value system should be reflected no matter whether you are at home or work. My father, Don Freeman, is a great example of a servant leader and I’ve always been surprised when employees ask me, “What’s he like at home?” He’s like he is at work. He is who he is and that is what has fostered such trust and respect with his employees, customers and friends throughout the years.
Kip also pointed to the need for servant leaders to give their full attention determining (or emphasizing) the mission and values of an organization as well as setting standards for accountability. From there, the servant leader’s focus should be on giving employees everything they need to win – time, resources, inspiration, guidance, etc. By serving employees, you are able to engage their hearts and minds resulting in a team that strives for the greater good – and results.
In James Hunter’s book, he states, “Servant leadership does not imply being a slave to other people’s wants but rather requires identifying and meeting the legitimate needs of others and seeking their greatest good.” Who wouldn’t want to follow a leader who you believed truly cared about your success and whose actions, words and decisions were faithful to the mission and values of the company?
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