Business Matters: To Lead, You Must First Become a Servant

Conversations can be such a great breeding ground for life lessons. Those life lessons can be used in our businesses, because our business should be an extension of ourselves.

One of the best lessons I ever learned came through a conversation with Howard Behar, former (Jewish) president of Starbucks Coffee. He taught me about servant leadership.

It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Servant leadership. Can we truly be servants to our employees, clothing ourselves in humility and still be leaders? In fact, it is the only true way for us to lead our business, especially if we are focused on growing that business with a soulfulness that makes it an extension of who we are, where our passions are aligned and whom we build our relationships with.

What is a servant leader? First, let’s look at what it is not. Everyone has seen the old example of a leader versus a boss. Imagine a photo of three employees trying to move a desk. On one side, the boss is sitting on the desk, watching his people do their work. On the other, the leader is out in front of the employees helping them to accomplish their goal. In order to be a servant-leader, we must be the leader, not the boss. That is servant leadership.

According to Behar, “Leaders are not here to be served, but leaders, rather, are to serve. We serve our people, our organizations in a way that helps our people accomplish the goals they have for their lives in the journey of accomplishing the goals for the organization.”

He takes this concept even further by stating, “It’s not soft and gentle. It has high expectations, but what matters most is what we do for our people first. It makes such a difference in life because it says to our people that they come first in our organizations.”

Behar likes to use a simple equation to prove his philosophy. This equation helps grow his people, which, in turn, grows the organization, then ultimately grows the business. But the focus, at the beginning and continuing throughout, should always be your people.

“There is only one role that any of us have in life. Only one. That’s to be a server of other human beings,” Behar says.

Products and bottom lines, as well as copy and promotions are all secondary to the people we are serving. The customers we’re servicing to be sure, but more so, those under our employ. When our focus shifts from a product-centered mindset of a boss to a people-focused mindset of a leader, growth occurs.

It boils down to this: What drives our business? Sure, we can say that profits drive our business — and they can. But, dream for a bit. What if our business made profit, but to a greater extent, made a difference?

By servant-leading your people, your goal is to serve people; then watch the profits roll in. People will buy in, you will be fulfilled and the soul of your business will be satisfied because your business matters. And, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Read the article on The Detroit Jewish News Website

Listen to Jon’s interview with Howard Behar, former President of Starbucks

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