Lead with Your Feet!
I have spent the last two weeks preparing this blog along with two non-profit speeches and a presentation. I have dozens of thoughts, experiences, and practical applications to share, but I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around a central theme. For those of you that write, speak, and/or teach, you know your presentation has to have a central theme, or it doesn’t work. So I spent some time yesterday dancing around topics and, still, nothing stuck. Then, credit to my father-in-law’s sermon this morning, it struck… we should ALL be leading with FEET in mind! Bare with me, but know this, there is nothing that disgusts me more than feet…. my feet, your feet, or my childrens’ feet.
“So what does ‘feet’ have to do with leadership?”, you ask. Well I am glad you asked that question and I will share with you some practical applications I employ at work, and some of the lessons I learned this past week. To set the context, you should understand that I have freedoms within my position that allow for unique leadership as long as I do so with integrity and honesty (core value of “do the right thing”). Disclaimer: this blog does not represent the view of my company, it is solely my view 🙂 I have tried often and failed often, and frequently hung my head when failures occurred. What do you see when you hang your head? Yeeeeah that’s right, FEET!
To further set the context, I want to share a quick story with you. The story begins at the end of January and involved my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, a counselor and teacher respectively. For the past year they have gone through the motions to adopt. On a Tuesday night in January we were BAU as a family, celebrating my father-in-law’s birthday, and then on Wednesday morning they got the “drop everything you are doing and get to City X” call, they had been chosen. This was no ordinary adoption, as the baby would have to spend weeks, if not months in the NICU due to some choices made by the mother. Fast forward to yesterday… my family journeyed to Springfield to welcome the baby home. In between late January and yesterday morning, one could see the powerful display of leadership from my brother-in-law and sister-in-law.
Initially you may ask, “how does adoption have anything to do with leadership and feet”? Again, glad you asked! In my mind’s eye, to be a once-in-a-generation leader, you must have the unique ability to deny thyself. “What the hell does that mean”? Glad you asked! When that call came in, chaos could have erupted, but it didn’t. They rallied the troops… friends, family colleagues, etc. They made a plan with urgency and precision, not losing focus on the most critical element, the baby in the NICU. Over the next several weeks they tirelessly took shifts, traveled to and from work, rested and repeated. Of more than 700 texts on a family text string, I never saw a complaint, a blame, indecision, or self-pity. Day-in and day-out they executed the game plan, asked for hands, and pushed medical staff as needed. They slept. They repeated. I am convinced that had they not mastered their “feet”, servant leadership, early on in this crucial experience, the baby would still be in the NICU, surrounded by worn out frazzled parents, with no end in sight. Congrats to them for adopting a baby girl, but doing so in on of the most efficient displays of servant leadership I have ever seen.
Good story but no relation to the Business World, right? Wrong friend, it has everything to do with the Business World. One need not be a person of faith, or be in a leadership role, to apply the principles of servant leadership. Servant leadership, the “deny thyself” mentality does two things: 1) Do the right thing for your company, and 2) do the right thing for your team as a whole. (Take a guess at who benefits when YOU do this). Here are some applicable strategies that have worked for me that have been molded in the servant leadership kiln.
First, I want to pause to explain the “feet” comments earlier. Feet, as mentioned, are disgusting, God bless pedicurists! Feet are the lowliest part of our body. They are dirty, sweat, and stink. It is easy for us to maintenance our hair, teeth, and hands, but feet! No thanks! You may wash a friends car, but would you ever wash his feet? You would if you were willing to fully execute servant leadership. Are you willing to do the hardest tasks to make your team more engaged, efficient, happy? If yes, welcome to servant leadership!
1) Bury the need to be the smartest person in the room, but be the best listener- listen friend, my directs would tell you I am not the smartest in the room, so would my wife, my children, and if I had a dog, my dog. To that I say, “YES”! That tells me I “hired-up”, “married-up”, and the kids got my wife’s genes 🙂 My job at work is to take away as many barriers for my team to execute the operation. I give them support, resources, and a clear strategy for what needs to be done and how to get there. I drive ahead of them like a snow plow, not a drunken pace car.
2) Accountability- if I am wrong I own it, but I also come armed with a solution. For example, quality of work is important in most jobs. One of my quality bench marks is 5% and I had a policy in place that was driving a rate of 15%. I had the wrong strategy, given the environment, which put undue pressure on my team. I owned that poor decision, worked with my team to put a better plan in place, and 5 weeks later we are at 4%. Lay down thy ego and pick up a mop I say. When we, leaders, own the problem and drive solution, we show our teams that openness drives solution.
3) Be accessible- my schedule, like many of yours, is double and triple booked all day long. Many on our employees would describe us as “about 7ft, light brown/glass, with a knob, and a nameplate”. I desire to show my appr citation of those that work for me. I study my org chart, take notes of my encounters with everyone, and remember them by name. I thank them by name and follow up on something they told me. Grant it, this is getting harder now that my team exceeds 100 FTE, but our interactions must be human and humble. Show them that you care not only about the work they do, but who they are.
Friends, I hope you take something meaningful from my blog. Please share if you do. Most importantly, find ways to be a servant leader and I promise you, your teams will accomplish things you never thought possible!