Episode 8 – On servant leadership
Fresh insights on Servant Leadership & Growing People. Very practical wisdom and personal stories on practicing Leadership at Home, Community, and Workplace. The hosts leave you with a very powerful question – what happened to the people you have led?
Rajesh: And this is Rajesh Setty. I am a serial entrepreneur.
Ravi: So, Rajesh, what was the topic we just picked, before we hit the record button today?
Rajesh: It’s one of our favorite topics. It’s going to be leadership.
Ravi: Leadership. So, what does leadership mean to you?
Rajesh: For me, it’s about creating possibilities for the people that you lead, in alignment with taking them on a journey to where the organization is wanting to go.
Ravi: So, creating possibilities for that, yeah. The word leadership really means, to me, is the person who takes action that creates positive results for the organization, for the team. Sometimes, it’s ironic that a leader is actually a follower.
Ravi: A leader is actually a servant.
Ravi: Leader is not a doer. Sometimes you have to follow your team, and make sure they have all the performance, tools and the resources available that they could do a very good job. And, leadership almost seems to be like a servant leadership.
Rajesh: Yeah. So, if I have to use the word, which is my favorite word, is, leader is like a choreographer. He may be behind the scenes but he is making the magic happen, while making the people feel that they are actually making that magic happen but they have been choreographed and people are growing, while magic is happening, so that the end of a project or a journey or a milestone or anything, people think, “Oh my god, this was an amazing experience. We had so much fun and I grew so much”. And, leader almost is invisible because he is like a… in Hindi or Kannada, this is sutradhari, that means, they are the person who is pulling the strings but he might not even be in the limelight.
Ravi: It’s a good… leading to a thought that I had. Our former President of India, who is sort of the Chief Mentor of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam, told this story once. When India was working on this space program, he was the person in charge of putting the first satellite into space, and of course, he had a boss, who was Head of Defense. And, the first space rocket fell in the ocean. Dr. Kalam was the person, who was supposed to address the press and say, “Oh my god, this was a big failure”. He just took the first step to address the press, that was arranged, the press meet that was arranged, and his boss, his manager, his leader tapped on his shoulder, and said, “Wait”, and he went up and said, “I take full responsibility for my team failing in this very, very expensive mission”. He did not allow Dr. Kalam to speak. Now, eight months later, when the team really went back to the drawing board, redesigned the whole thing and they did the second launch, which was a super success, and then, they had a press meet. Dr. Kalam was just waiting cuz he thought that the leader will get up and talk. He looked at him and said, “You take the press meet”, and Dr. Kalam went and talked. The lesson that Dr. Kalam, which as the former President of India, one of the few presidents who has a PHD… He said, “A true leader takes responsibility when things don’t go well, and a true leader gives the credit to the team when things go very well”.
Rajesh: What an inspiring story, Ravi! I am already getting goosebumps, just hearing the story.
Ravi: I just love the guy. He talks about leadership, and he is an embodiment of leadership. He’s responsibility is leadership.
Rajesh: This is amazing. No wonder, he was very successful as the President and I’m sure people who were working with him when he was the leader, they all cherished those moments because I can only imagine how powerful he was, what kind of an impact he made in their lives.
Ravi: Absolutely. The other thing that Dr. Kalam… again, talking about him and his leadership lessons… he says, “Any person who takes an action is a leader”.
Rajesh: Very interesting.
Ravi: Because result can be achieved only by taking action. So anytime, everybody has to take action.
Rajesh: Yeah, correct. Basically, what he is telling, if I am interpreting it right, is that everyone has the opportunity to become a leader, whether they’ll take it up or they can just sit quietly and wait for somebody else to make a mistake and say that “This leader does not know anything”, it’s their choice.
Ravi: Correct. In fact, one of my other favorite authors, again… I just thought about this book, “The Leader Who Had No Title”, by Robin Sharma. Oh my God, that’s another guy I want to meet one day in my life. In his examples of the true leaders, he talks about this woman who cleans hotel rooms and sets up the bed and everything. He talks about the people who actually do things out of passion. Because, she is not thinking that she is a hotel room cleaner. She is thinking, “My job is to give the guests a super experience when they come into the room”. So, the way you look at your job makes you a good leader or a bad leader. If you look at your job saying, “I’m just doing this”, then it becomes a job. But if you think about the impact of the job on other people and you’re thinking, “My job is when they come in, they should find the room so beautiful, nice smell and all the beds are done nicely. It’s that experience that gives me joy of what I am doing”.
Rajesh: Yeah, beautifully said. Now, I don’t remember the exact names of this companies but I heard a story that was so inspiring. This was somewhere in the Midwest. There’s a company that is in the cleaning services. Their employees clean toilets and all those things. Now, there is a huge turnover. Because, who wants to say, “I am there and my job is to go and clean toilets”? So, this turnover problem was really, really big and it messes up everything, because then it gives a service that is dependable. So, then the leader who took over the company, he just wanted to find out, “What is the reason anybody does anything?” There’s a ‘why’ for them. Somebody wants to come and take up a cleaning job, they still have a ‘why’. “I want to do this so that I can become that.” This happens to be a means to an end, but it so happens that toilet cleaning is not means to any end. But, he found out that most of this people were college dropouts because they didn’t have money to go to the college. So, he instituted a program. On his own money, based on whatever calculations he did, he started funding their education, on the site. Now the ‘why’ is very, very strong, and then people can grow and they can expand into other cleaning services, not just toilet cleaning but something else. Suddenly, the attrition rate dropped to the rock bottom because people said, “I am here. This is my job, but I am becoming a better person”. And [crosstalk]…
Ravi: So what’s the example of leadership that comes to you? What did this person do, that made him a great leader?
Rajesh: He went to the core of the person who is working for them, and what is their true aspiration. There is a reason why somebody is doing a job but their reason is, “I don’t have money to go to college, what can I do?”
Ravi: “So, I’ll do something.”
Ravi: So, what made him a good leader is, he didn’t look at his people as doers. He looked at why they are doing it, and if you can somehow make that why more meaningful…
Ravi: … and drawing value from the job that they are doing, then they will naturally come and do it, right?
Ravi: So, I think that’s very, very excellent quality of a leader…
Ravi: … is that, you look at the people, not as doers, as machines, but people with some needs. They have needs, they have children, they have families, they have aspirations. A true leader looks at the big picture, a whole… it’s a holistic person, not just a job.
Rajesh: Exactly. You might have heard of John Maxwell. He wrote this [crosstalk] novel.
Ravi: Of course! He is another favorite I want to meet one day.
Rajesh: Yeah, he is very amazing. He is a definition of leader. He is very, very simple. “A leader is a lid lifter”, that’s what he says. Everybody has an invisible lid on top of their head, thinking, “I am stuck here. I can’t grow anywhere”. Leader comes and lifts the lid, and suddenly, they grow old, two inches taller, two feet taller, and he lifts the lid again because then, everybody thinks, “I am stuck. There is a glass ceiling” kind of thing. There’s a lid there.
Ravi: I think, to our listeners, it is, as a leader in your home, to begin with, and in your community, in the company you work for, look around and focus on what you could do to remove the lids of other people…
Ravi: … so when they grow, they look at you as, “It happened because of that person”.
Rajesh: Totally agree. In fact, if I can think of… how do you know if somebody was a good leader or not? If somebody has to make a self-assessment, or they want to make an assessment of their brother, or their colleague, whether they are a good leader, it’s not what they do, but what happened to the people, that they led, what are they doing now. It’s like the resumes of the people, that they led, are a good indicator of how good a leader this person was.
Ravi: The word “inspiration” comes to me. A good leader is a very inspiring person, right?
Ravi: He or she, makes the other people become better at what they do.
Rajesh: Yeah. They make them grow.
Ravi: They make them grow, and then, they don’t know what they do. In fact, I have met some amazing people. They seems so humble, they rarely speak more than 10 words, still they speak more than what I am doing right now. But, for some reason, magical reason, people rally around them.
Ravi: I always wondered, there is a sense of aura and the inspiration that people would naturally want to follow.
Rajesh: I just remember, you’re familiar with Gururaj Deshpande.
Ravi: Of course! The founder of Sycamore Network…
Rajesh: Cascade Networks.
Ravi: … many other billion dollar companies.
Rajesh: Yeah. He is just so inspiring. I have an opportunity to work with him, and I always… I’m just so inspired by his work. And now that I am working with him, every conversation he has, there is something to learn from, every conversation. It is a random conversation, just checking in on something, I think I will feel good about myself at the end of the… Now, forget about him because he is always super inspirational, but I feel, “Oh my God, I grow a little bit one millimeter taller, one inch taller, and then, he is so clear in where he is going that you almost feel like, “This is the path. The journey will be amazing”, and I will feel, “Oh my God, I will also be growing like crazy”. So, that’s why, if you see his model, the people that help him in Cascade Networks, they followed him to Sycamore Networks. So, almost like [crosstalk] his pride.
Ravi: This group goes with him because they have been inspired by him, they have learnt a lot, they will become better because of that. So, I think leadership is not about getting a lot of things done. You call them efficient managers, right?
Ravi: Leadership is not being excellent event manager. Leadership is about rallying people around you, and making those people do more than what they individually felt they could.
Ravi: Their own capacity to deliver results is more because of this person.
Rajesh: Beautifully said, Ravi. I love it. Basically, their lids get lifted. That means, in their belief systems, they think, “Oh my god, I can do a lot more”. And, we all know that we use only a small percentage of the capacity that we have.
Rajesh: Once that limiting beliefs are gone, they will just be amazing, in terms of what they can do and what they can achieve. And, with a good leader, who can choreograph things for them, like you mentioned, acts like a servant leader rather than a boss, they will blossom to be somebody really awesome.
Ravi: Exactly. I think, we talked about inspiration, we talked about helping other people grow… and the other thing, I think, leadership is also having that compassion. You have to, when you look at other people and what they stand for, why they are working for you, you have to have that compassion because compassionate leadership will take you places.
Ravi: Just feeling that the other person is also human being…
Ravi: … that there are needs, there are constraints, there are things that they are getting dragged down or pulled up, having a sense of that. Stephen Covey, in highly recommended book, “7 habits”, starts off with that compassion, which we didn’t have, and he saw these kids running around in the train. He was getting mad with these kids, they were saying… and tells their dad, “Hey, these kids are making so much noise in the train. Can you ask them to be silent?” And the dad says, “Yeah, I’m really thinking about how to say that because they just lost their mom”. And, that opened up Stephen Covey’s eyes and he talks about compassion. I think, leadership… very key element is to have compassion.
Rajesh: Yeah. I think, we are getting close to the end. So, my thinking is that… we have to have some closing comment… So, my closing comment is that, are we masters of having amazing conversations? Cuz ultimately, it’s a conversation that they are having with the people, and they should know how to have a conversation with somebody, who is even smarter than them. People say, “You know, you have to hire people smarter than you”. And, leaders should not say, “Oh, I have to compete with my own people”. Rather than that, I have to be an enabler and then I will see he is already better than me, how much more can he grow because of the conversations that I am having with him?”
Ravi: Absolutely. I think that’s an excellent comment. In closing, I think, leaders are chosen. I don’t announce myself saying, “I am a leader, starting tomorrow” Right? It doesn’t happen that way. Leadership is something that naturally grows on you. It’s like the excellence that you build overtime. Other people should not question, “Why is this guy promoted?”, “Why is this guy a leader?” People should say, “Of course! This person deserves it”. So, leadership also has to be earned.
Rajesh: Beautifully said. Now, I have to say one more comment. John Maxwell himself said that if you are going somewhere and nobody is following you, you are not leading. You are just taking a walk.
Rajesh: So, like you said, automatically, if you have a leadership capability, and you have an inspiring journey that you want to undertake, there will be some people that will start following you, making you the leader by default.
Ravi: Exactly. Now, since you mentioned one comment, I have one more comment. I was reminded of… when you said that about walking… Gandhi, who all of us know, the entire world knows, when he walked on the salt march as the protest, he walked alone. People said, “You are crazy. Why are you going against this big British Empire?” He walked alone for a few miles, and people thought, “He’s not gonna do, he’s gonna come back”, and then, 10 people followed, 1,000 people followed, 10,000, 100,000. So, leadership, also, is having guts. You got to have guts to get started on something that people are scared not to follow.
Rajesh: Yeah, beautifully said. So, should we close this?
Ravi: Let’s close this. Again, this is a very important topic. We all have to be good leaders at home, in the communities, in companies. I think, we talked about compassion, the servant leadership, helping other people. I think, all of these are important elements that I would like our audience to remember, from this spontaneous conversation. And, you can learn more about Ravi at mentorcloud.com.
Rajesh: And this is Rajesh, signing off. And, you can learn more about me at rajeshsetty.com/blog.
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