“If you can’t serve, you can’t lead.”
I was blessed very early in my work life to have been mentored by some incredible people. Several amazing people took me under their wings and taught me some of most important lessons I have ever learned in my life. One of those folks introduced me to the concept and philosophy of Servant Leadership. This resonated deeply with me and learning how to become a better servant leader has been my lifelong quest.
Col. Greg Camp was that mentor and is a person to whom I owe so very much. Greg had retired from the Army a year or two before I met him after an exceptional career. He was working at Columbus Bank & Trust when I joined the company back in 1997. Greg was one of those people who was an exceptional teacher and had a knack for pulling out a persons hidden talents and gifts. From day one I knew he was different because he told me that “his job was to ensure that I had everything that I needed to be successful and that when I was successful, that we as a team, division and company would be successful. That in no uncertain terms he worked for me.” (Reflecting back on what I learned from Greg I realize that I could write countess posts about his leadership influence and impact. Maybe I’ll do that one day in other relevant messages.)
One of the practices that Greg introduced to me was the idea of having a “leadership book club” at work so that we could learn and grow from each other. We would become much better leaders by having heard what others think about particular topics. This practice is something I still use today for the very same reason.
I vividly remember our first “book club” meeting even though it was well over 20 years ago now. Those meetings were held once a week before work, at “0-dark-thirty,” or to be more precise, at 6:30 AM on Friday mornings. I was very excited to be part of the leadership team and to learn from some truly amazing and very seasoned team members. The book we started with that morning was Leadership By The Book (which is still a personal favorite) and it opened my eyes to the philosophy of leading others by first serving them.
Servant Leadership requires inverting the traditional hierarchal leadership pyramid and understanding that in order to create success one must first serve those you work with and ensure that they have the things that they need to be successful. It requires a willingness to really lean in and understand your team and ensure that you are giving them the vision, direction, skills, talents, resources, accountability, etc that they need to excel at their jobs. It requires that you are continually focused on having the right people on the team and in the right seats on the bus (to borrow from Jim Collins). The team must know that you serve them in their success AND that they OWN the results of their efforts. A very wise person once told me that “servant leadership is like being a great parent, it comes from your servant heart and you have to know when to praise and know when to spank, and your team has to know that you serve them by doing both.”
I can’t possibly begin to explain all the nuances and impacts of servant leadership. Many great books have already done this but the bottom line for me is this. Over twenty years ago I was given one of my greatest gifts of my life when I learned that “leadership is not about self, but it is instead about those whom you serve.”