TERRE HAUTE —
A servant leader’s character and personal influence inspires others to follow, through respect, appreciation and honesty, said nationally acclaimed author James C. Hunter.
“How many of you have ever worked for a bad boss?” Hunter asked about 200 people Wednesday attending the third annual Servant Leadership Seminar at Indiana State University, hosted by ISU’s Alliance for Servant Leadership.
Most in the room raised their hands.
“If you have a bad boss, you have a bad job,” said the author of two internationally bestselling books — “The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership” and “The World’s Most Powerful Leadership Principle: How to Become a Servant Leader.”
Hunter has worked with companies such as American Express, Best Buy, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald’s, Nestle and also for the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, coaching the development of servant leadership skills.
About 70 percent of young people who leave companies say they like the company, but who quit and move on because of the boss, Hunter said. That fact is forcing companies to develop new leaders.
“If nobody is following, you are not leading. Leadership is a learned skill. …” he said.
Leadership, Hunter said, is not equated with being a good manager. “Nobody every accused Winston Churchhill or Ronald Reagan of being good managers … but they knew how to inspire people,” he said.
“I am not here to instruct you, just remind you. There was a book years ago, ‘everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten.’ You know, be nice, share, tell the truth. ...” he said.
“All servant leadership is identifying the legitimate needs of the people who are entrusted to your care,” he said. Not the wants of people, but the needs, such as respect, appreciation and honesty, he said.
“Treat me like an important person, like you treat the CEO every time he walks into the building,” Hunter said of respect. “Mother Teresa said people crave appreciation more than they crave bread,” he added.
For honesty, Hunter said, hold others accountable for excellence in business. “Do you hold the people accountable to excellence that you work with or do you allow mediocracy to reign? … Servant leaders tell the truth. I tell people if you don’t hold people accountable for excellence in business, you are a thief and a liar,” he said.
Hunter said leadership is the skill of influencing others to enthusiastically work toward goals identified as being for the common good, with character that inspires confidence and excellence.
Strong servant leaders give big hugs or big spankings, Hunter said.
A good leader is first to give a hug, congratulating for good work and effort. “It is all about people. People are relational,” he said. And when it is time to give a spank, a leader will do so. “Hey, Bobby, here is our standard, and here is your performance. We’ve got a gap here. If we don’t close this, you are not going to get to work here,” Hunter said as an example.
Still, the leader can work to improve the employee, meeting daily to go over what is working or not, to help bring the worker up to standards.
Leadership is always evolving with a continuous goal for improvement. “If you do not change your direction, you will end up exactly where you are headed,” he said quoting a Chinese saying. “The goal is not arrival, the goal is continuous improvement. The goal is: Are you moving that ball up the field?” Hunter said.
He referred to Southwest Airlines, which started with the concept of making employees first. Those employees then take ownership of their work and take care of customers, who will then make the company successful. Southwest Airlines is now in its 42nd consecutive years of profitability, he said.
“Did you know Southwest Airlines has its own no-fly list? You don’t get to fly our airline any longer … nobody treats our flight attendants that way,” Hunter said as an example of its focus on employees.
Hunter said good companies hire very slowly and terminate very quickly. Southwest Airlines, Hunter said, takes six weeks before making an employee full-time to get to know the employee’s character. He said the company “hires for character, trains for skill.”
Fittingly, Hunter quoted John Wooden, a former men’s basketball coach at Indiana State University, to show the importance of leadership.
Wooden said a leader “has a most powerful influence on those they lead. … I consider it a sacred trust.”
Wooden was ISU men’s basketball coach from 1946-48.
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or firstname.lastname@example.org.