If you tell people the world is complicated, you’re not doing your job….They already know it’s complicated. Your job is to distill it, simplify it, and give them a sense of what is the single [cause], or what are a couple of powerful causes that explain this powerful phenomenon. –Samuel P. Huntington to his student, Fareed Zakaria
Amid the all the changes underway in leadership in all fields, it’s easy to get disoriented amid complexity.
This is entirely understandable. The rules are changing faster and faster, it seems. If you’re an incumbent, if you’re part of an establishment, your position is uncertain, in flux. The things that got you where you are won’t keep you where you are. They certainly won’t take you to the next level.
And yet, there are underlying, unifying forces at work. They’re so large, so omnipresent, that it’s easy to lose sight of them.
The biggest change is that service and leadership are becoming synonymous. This is not merely theoretical. It’s happening before our eyes every day.
Serve to Lead identifies a series of factors in play. They range from instantaneous communication, to ubiquitous information, to radical, involuntary transparency.
People everywhere are increasingly recognizing that 21st-century leadership is distinct from its 20th-century antecedents.
Interestingly, pre-20th-century notions are being rediscovered. For example, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s notions of service and individualism often appeared distant, if not quaint, in the Industrial Age. Now, in a our era of small and independent entrepreneurial activity, Emerson has a renewed relevance.
Complex Issues Can Be Understood Through Focus on Service
Several recent leadership failures in “C” suites have received significant public attention:
—A recent Wall Street Journal article is aptly entitled “Chutzpah in the C-Suite: Watching Out for No. 1.” It recounts controversies swirling around three high-profile corporate executives: Andrea Jung of Avon, Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy, and Shuichi Takayama of Olympus.
—The New York Times compiled a list of “The Worst CEOs of 2011.”
There is a golden thread: Each one of these cases is readily recognized as stemming from self-serving actions by executives.
That’s to say: They forgot–or overlooked–those whom they were intended to serve.
To be sure, each case is unique, reflecting individuals and circumstances. Insiders would surely add details, identify nuances. Excuses can take an infinity of forms.
Nonetheless, one question could have answered itself for each of these high-position executives: Who Are You Serving?
Just one thing–their focus on self over service at a moment of truth–was variously damaging if not fatal to their leadership.
Steve Jobs Speaks of his Service Ethic
My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products….[T]he products, not the profits, were the motivation. [Successor CEO John] Sculley flipped these priorities to where the goal was to make money. It’s a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything. [emphasis added]
Jobs’ laser focus on products is, quite simply, a laser focus on those Apple ultimately serves: consumers. It is that alignment with consumer value that enabled Jobs to make many decisions that would otherwise be dismissed as micro-management (e.g. the placement of a symbol or scratches on the glass from foreseeable use, carried in pants pockets). Sculley, in this view, was focused on profits, putting the interests of shareholders in a position of exclusive primacy, at least in the short-term.
It’s a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything.
21st Century Leadership is about Service
Every “leader”–yes, even Hitler and Mao–claims their work is about service. Even the most benighted CEOs routinely declare the same. Hearing such statements can be akin to hearing fingernails claw across a chalkboard.
No matter what a would-be leader’s intent, today there is no question that leadership and service are becoming unified as never before. That alignment marks the spot where individual and organizational integrity are created. It’s where intention can be aligned with results.
Who are you serving?
Whom Are You Serving?
adapted from Serve to Lead.