A sign in the office of a general I worked for in the Pentagon read “Feed Your Troops First.” The sign wasn’t behind the General’s desk or on a side wall where everyone could see it. Instead, he had placed it on a support pillar facing his desk where he could see it throughout the day as a constant reminder of what was obviously important to his leadership philosophy-taking care of his troops’ needs before he took care of his.
Servant leadership is certainly not a new concept. Great leaders have always known that the best way to inspire devotion in their followers is to genuinely care for them and see to their needs. All too often, however, managers get hung up on viewing people as resources and not as people. In the early stages of our leadership development classes it is common to hear students talking about their problem employees:
“So-and-so isn’t <motivated, responsible, accountable, committed, respectful…pick one>.”
“My folks don’t want to do a good job; they just want to do the minimum…”
Sound familiar? It always warms my heart when I hear our students transform from “They don’t…” to “How can I help them to…” It means they’ve taken that all important step towards being accountable leaders.
Managers tend to ask, “What do I need my people to do for me today?” Leaders ask, “What can I do for my people today?” and then find that they have people who want to do their very best for them. Managers say “I need more people who can do this.” Leaders say, “What have I done to ensure my people can do this?”
Take a moment to remember what it was like as the worker-bee in this relationship. Wasn’t it better to have a boss who worked to eliminate barriers to getting the job done, who ensured you had opportunities to develop, who took the time to know you on a personal level? Of course it was.
My favorite holiday movie is White Christmas starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. There’s a great line in the movie when Bob Wallace (Crosby) is explaining why the former members of the 151st Division should rally to support their former commanding officer, Major General Waverly. “We ate, then he ate; we slept, then he slept…” It’s a heartwarming film, with some great leadership lessons if you look for them. I wonder if that General in the Pentagon thought so too.
Always feed your troops first.
Until next time, be great.