The topic of servant leadership is near and dear to my heart. It is a leadership method, choice, dedication, and I would dare say an art form. Drew subtly hints at servant leadership throughout his book, The Military Leader, which does it great justice as it is not a style that is boastful or will aggressively thrust itself into any situation. It is the type of leadership you have certainly encountered but may not have thought to label. When I have had conversations about it with fellow military members, the majority have nodded and said “Oh I do that.” I will agree that they do pieces of it but they most likely do not fully lead in this style the way my high school track coach did. Coach is a former star college athlete, war veteran, and, for 35 years, the coach of the track program at my small, Episcopal high school in New Orleans. He was offered the promotion to athletic director and turned it down because he didn’t “want board meetings, benefit dinners, budget planning, or anything else to take me away from the kids and the dirt.” He was quick with a laugh, hug, or off-beat encouraging quote from someone who was never famous that he probably made up anyway. He remembers everyone’s dreams and struggles was sure to ask how both are coming along. He believed that I, at not quite 5 feet 4 inches tall, could be a truly great pole-vaulter and because of him I believed it too.
A servant leader is more than a leader who takes an active interest in developing their people and caring about all aspects of their lives. It is a person who humbly puts the aspirations of those in their charge first and foremost, ahead of production numbers, profits, personal accolades, and promotion. Traditionally hierarchical organizations with their competitive, promotion driven systems require that members focus at least some of their energies to their continued success and upward mobility. A fully dedicated servant leader, like my coach, would have difficulty in such organizations but some of what he excels at can be brought into these worlds. Drew masterfully weaves aspects of servant leadership into his command approach and into his book. Here are the threads I found that I encourage you to take notice of as you read The Military Leader:
* “They care about their people and think of them first” pg 18. Not the black in the ledger, time cards, training exercise schedules, or any other schedulable event but truly the people. “You can’t care about yourself more than you care about developing those you lead” pg 19. A lot of what we do in our jobs, whatever they are, can feel choreographed or planned. So much so that it is easy to be lulled into routine detachment and forget to grow your people. Not just noticing the people and their lives beyond the desk but really guiding them on their path to their success.
* “Make the effort to build the type of leader you want to work for” pg 36. Emphasis added to for because it is the key to this quote. Got a crappy boss? Maybe even a string of them? Or see a culture trend toward micromanaging “leaders” in your organization? Organically grow a leader who embodies the values you feel should be held by your organization’s leadership so that they could go on to be a strong, force for change and an involved leader of your organization or others.
* “They share knowledge, align efforts, and support others, even at the expense of their own advantage” pg 51. Say what?! You have all come across that person in your career who believes in keeping their cards close to their vest and refuses to be a team player because of their fierce self-promotion, mild paranoia, and idea that if they share they will lose the promotion “competition.” Servant leaders give, give, and give more even if it mean someone else has a leg up. You can bring this to your hierarchical environment without detriment in the form of mentoring, seeking collateral duties that focus on the advancement of others (ex. educational advisor, family liaison, training officer/coordinator). These positions are a win-win because you are able to focus attention on advancing others while also putting a selfless light on your eval. “People who devote time to improving those around them cannot help but be noticed in a positive way” pg 51.
* “Too often, immediately behind the curtain of a ‘successful’ leader is an egocentric environment of micromanagement and mistrust that overworks its members and fails to personally and professionally develop them” pg 205. Truth. We have been conditioned to think that a successful person is a selfish person so we emulate that thinking we’ll rise to the top. This is a house of cards which eventually succumbs to the slightest wind just watch the news these days.
* “True leadership does not rely on rank” pg 226. Boom. Don’t wait on a promotion that will put you in a “leadership” position to lead those around you. Lead today! from wherever you are – the reception desk, junior officer ranks, kitchen cleaner, teacher…
That concludes my focus on Drew’s book. I would love to hear your thoughts on the topics here and in the whole book so please comment below, email me, or reach out on social media. The next post will be presented by my other half on March 15th. He’s been working on something in the woodshop and he can’t wait to show it off. We’ll pick up books again on March 29th with Silent Sacrifice on the Homefront from the delightful Michelle Still Metha so pick up a copy and join in.