I doubt if many of today’s Fortune 1000 company leaders are really in touch with the persons they have been called to serve. When someone has reached the pinnacle of business power and position it’s far too easy to forget where they started or to acknowledge that staying in touch with their roots might be a valuable leadership practice.
Instead, there is a kind of arrogance that seems to befall most of these leaders and they spend more time scheming how to hold on to their spot instead of figuring out how to share leadership with those around them. Is it any wonder so many corporate and political leaders are despised?
Perhaps the best thing that any leader could practice is leading on the margins. I learned this lesson well from my earliest business mentor, a self-made successful entrepreneur. This man grew up in a home without a father and did not have a college degree or wealthy pedigree. As he shaped and grew his business those experiences were never far from his memory.
If you followed him around on a typical day he might be found navigating a forklift, interviewing a prospective employee, chatting with customers, or on the phone placing an order. His office wasn’t some glass and wood monument to his achievements but more like a cluttered, cozy space for a candid conversation.
Nothing he said or did was designed to separate him from the employees. Instead, he spent most of his time interacting with and learning from the very persons he was serving. He had discovered that leading requires listening and so he practiced those skills on a daily basis. His employees spent many years in service to the company because they knew their leader wasn’t taking any of them for granted.
When leaders approach their work as some contest to win, or a piece of turf to protect, it won’t take long for employees to notice and feel marginalized. If those same leaders learn to value and respect the persons they serve, the employees will respond with a higher level of engagement.
As a leader, are you drawn to the finer trappings of the office or the opportunity to serve on the margins? When you fail to get that coveted promotion are you motivated to work even harder so you will be in a better position to win the next time? Or will you turn your attention back to your team and continue serving others because that is what you are called to do?