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Many people believe great leaders are charismatic, have a commanding presence, are visionary and educated at elite schools. Almost all of the leaders of the high-performing companies had none of those traits.Instead, they are what I call servant leaders.I discovered them while researching well-run organizations such as Chick-fil-A and the Home Depot, and the U.S. Marine Corps, headquartered in Arlington. I found them again and again in research I did on high-performance organizations such as Best Buy, UPS, Ritz Carlton, Room & Board, Whole Foods, Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, Levy Restaurants, the San Antonio Spurs .Those leaders tended to share common characteristics.
Leading by example
These leaders were servants in the best sense of the word. They were people-centric, valued service to others and believed they had a duty of stewardship. Nearly all were humble and passionate operators who were deeply involved in details ,Most had long tenures in their organizations.
They believed that every person should be treated with respect and have the opportunity to do meaningful work. They led by example, lived the “Golden Rule,” and understood that good intentions are not enough — behaviors count. They are servant leaders.
A leadership myth
Many people think that you cannot be people-centric and maintain high standards, because because people will take advantage. That’s another leadership myth.
Most people seek a leadership position because they want more pay, more prestige, more perks and more power. They seek and fall for the intoxicating powers of leadership.Servant leaders side step that failing. They are paid more, but very few ever make the highest-paid CEOs list. Instead, they fight elitism in themselves and their organizations. Many of these organizations eschew corporate jets, executive dining rooms, big decorated executive offices and other trappings of elitism. Some of these leaders had small windowless offices. Some shared administrative staff with other executives.
How servant leaders behave is a key to their successful leadership. Behaviors are means of communicating. For example, treating people with dignity, being in the moment and not multitasking, not interrupting others, listening intensely, smiling, saying please and thank you, acknowledging the contributions of others, admitting mistakes, apologizing, not having to be the smartest person in the room all the time and spending time on the front lines with employees and customers.
Servant leaders do not abuse, humiliate or devalue people. They understand that behaviors either build trust or destroy it, and without trust one cannot generally achieve consistent high employee engagement and high performance.
Like behaviors, a servant leader’s attitudes and beliefs underpin successful leadership.