Getting ahead by serving others

Too many want to climb to the top by stepping over people versus being pushed to the top by a group of friends.

I wrote that statement awhile back to explain my philosophy on leadership, particularly in business.  Sadly, the world of business has become too much about greed.  Too many CEOs and other business “leaders” look out for only one person, themselves.  It would seem that amassing ever larger fortunes are more important than looking out for those who are supposedly in their care.

A lot of this is because leaders these days have forgotten what it means to serve.  A leadership role does not command respect by default.  Though, many in CxO level positions seem to think that.  Heck, I’ve seen that mentality manifested down to the very first level of management.  Respect, at all levels of the workplace, is something that must be earned.  Many think that intimidation or bureaucratic process will help them achieve this respect, but that just backfires.  They may feel they have respect, but don’t realize that people laugh and talk smack about them behind their backs.

I worked for four person operations all the way up to some of the biggest corporations in the 15 years I’ve been in the workforce.  In all that time, there were few managers that I admired.  One that I remember clearly though is Joy Nakamura.  She was never technically my manager.  I was an outside consultant that was building an app for her department.  She was a good manager though.  She would bring in food to feed her department, homemade food, nothing store bought.  She did this on her own time and dime.  She wasn’t high up the management chain, so it wasn’t like she was making a ton of extra money.  I asked her why she did it.  Her answer was matter of fact, yet profound.  “I do it because it makes them happy.”  It wasn’t “Because it earns their trust” or some other similar reason.  She did it because it made them happy.  She realized that part of her job was to make sure her employees were happy.

I once saw Dave Neeleman, former CEO of JetBlue, give a presentation on business.  He spoke about service, saying it was the only way to be happy.  Money, in any amount, would not bring happiness.  He said everyone should do 4 to 6 hours of service a week.  He didn’t clarify if that meant in the workplace or not, but I don’t think he needed to.  Another thing he talked about was how when he flew on a JetBlue flight, he’d walk the aisles, handing out snacks and asking for feedback.  He wasn’t “above” doing any job that someone else in the company did, especially ones that allowed him to directly serve his customers.

In my conference business, John and I wear many hats (actually, we wear every hat LOL).  The one thing that I think most conference planners get away from the fastest is the registration line.  I’m sure many others have “more important” things to do: checking on the keynote speaker, double checking the catering menu for lunch, powdering their nose, I dunno.  All I know is that I’ve yet to go to any conference where the planner/host is manning the registration desk (except the early Mashup Camps).  That’s sad and wrong.  John and I (with help sometimes from our wives and friends) man the reg desk.  In fact, we never leave the desk throughout the show except when we’re on stage for the keynote.   Nothing is more important to our business than our customers.  We do months of planning for a show and we only see our customers for 4 days.  You better believe that nothing is more important than shaking their hands and welcoming them or being there to answer any question or concern they have.  It helps them realize that we care for them, not only as our customers but also as friends.

One thing that I do enjoy about the conference business is the potential to serve.  Whether it be running to deliver water bottles to speakers, running out to get food for attendees, helping a sponsor hang a sign, etc, there is a ton of opportunities to serve.  One of my proudest moments of serving was in Seattle.  I was at the reg desk, checking up to insure our “Welcome Baskets” were going to be delivered on time.  Next to me was a young father attempting to check in.  The front desk was asking him for a credit card for incidentals.  He said, “The room’s already paid for.  Why do you need a card?”  The answer was, “We just need it for incidentals.  It won’t be charged unless you have incidentals.”  He assured, “Well, I don’t have a credit card and I won’t be accruing any charges.”  The hotel wasn’t having it.  I saw the poor young father go back to his wife, who was trying to calm their crying baby.  The wife was very upset.  Soon, the hotel was calling his employer, as they were the ones that paid for the hotel room.  I asked myself, “Really?  How many businesses are open on Sunday?”  Of course, no one answered, so the hotel asked him to call his manager at home.  By this time, I had enough.  I told the employee helping me, “Can I just cover his incidentals until tomorrow?  Then he can call his manager during business hours and work this out?”  She agreed to do so and soon the family was on their way.  Hotels have rules, I understand.  However, it’s sad how many employees, in the hospitality space even, aren’t aware of how they can serve.  They saw that the family was there for 3 nights.  They saw and heard the same crying baby.  They saw the same tired faces on the parents, i.e. their customers.  Yet, they only thought of their rules versus an opportunity to serve. Come Monday morning, the young father called his office, got the info and was “settled” shortly after business hours started.

If I’m lucky enough to ever have employees, I will try my hardest to serve them just as much as I serve the customers.  If you’re there everyday, spending time with your employees, working side-by-side with them, serving them in as much capacity as you can, the business will be stronger.  If the people at the top set the example of service, it’s only obvious that everyone in the company will follow suit.

What do you think?

If you want my spirtitual take on the matter, you can find that post here.

6 thoughts on “Getting ahead by serving others

  1. I think you’ve pointed out one of the things that most managers tend to forget very quickly. If it wouldn’t be for their employees, they wouldn’t be in management to begin with.

    One of my most influential managers I’ve ever had the pleasure working with was my manager at the Intel corporation. Her golden rules of management (which she told us about often) were:
    1. Protect her team from the company, and protect the company from her team. This was the “fall on the sword” rule.
    2. Make her team’s jobs as enjoyable as the can be. This was the “fun” rule.

    I worked for her for 8 years, and loved her interaction with her employees and other staffers. She was also one who trusted me to have employees of my own, and helped me learn how to be an effective manager. My style became very close to hers and to this day I still strive to be as effective as her.

    Many of the managers I have worked for since then either have become jaded or just don’t understand the feelings of others. The last company I worked for, I had to leave because my management was so poor. The guy I worked for grew up with a silver spoon, and loved to manage his team like the frat that he used to be president of. If you weren’t his drinking buddy, or something of the like, then you had no chance of being considered to move up, or even being rewarded for a good job done.

    1. Yeah, the “If we’re not buddies, you’re worthless to me” rule is lame. You can be friends that’s fine. However, don’t let that cloud your judgment.

      Plus, a lot of managers have confidence issues. Despite everyone saying, “Hire people smarter than you to succeed.” Many are still too frightened of being found worthless, so they don’t. It seems like the Intel Manager wasn’t like that though. I bet she’d higher someone smarter in a heartbeat AND make sure they were as successful as they could be (as demo’d by how she treated you).

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