Another Perspective on Servant Leadership


This week’s post comes from Jake Ten Haken.

As I look back at the busy basketball season, I admit it was very difficult to have a meal at home with my family, which means I had more than my fair share of opportunities to eat at restaurants. However, when I was in most of those restaurants, not only was I enjoying the food, friends and atmosphere, I was also taking special note of the waiters and waitresses. This curiosity was spurred by a recent article from the Iowa School Board Association’s publication of Dan Rockwell’s leadership blog. I believe the thoughts shared in that blog can easily be related to our work at Interstates. It has me thinking about our roles as servant leaders a bit differently. Rockwell indicates that we should think of our job like a waiter or waitress by putting the interests of others ahead of our own.

1. Commit to create a great experience for others.
As leaders at Interstates, we are always looking for the best way to present a concept or idea.  Sometimes it is to an internal team member, and other times it’s with an external partner. Hopefully we do this in a manner that allows others to feel empowered as opposed to feeling railroaded down a specific track.

2. Watch over; never hover.

PMs, programming leads and engineers need to serve as quasi-parents many times. It can be tough to give our less-experienced teammates independence without hovering over them. We get overly concerned that they won’t do it just right. Or worse yet, they may not do it the same way we would have done it. It is extremely important that we give them every opportunity we can for them to learn on their own and yet protect them.

3. Inquire, understand, and connect.

I’m not sure I need to expound on this concept, because in my opinion, we have this captured with the first half of our vision statement: Understanding Needs.  There is no better way to begin that journey than by asking questions and listening.

4. Don’t intrude or dominate.

As a servant leader, we know “it’s not about us.” This isn’t always an easy task. We all have busy lives and many things on our plate. It is sometimes hard to always serve others, but as leaders at Interstates, we need to never dominate or think only about our needs.

5. Anticipate needs. Meet needs without being asked.

It always impresses me when a waiter or waitress shows up with a refill or tops off my water glass just before I need him to.  That is a great example of what we should be doing for our clients. We need to anticipate their needs and fix them before they become issues.  At a minimum, we need to bring them possible solutions, not simply remind them of their issues.

6. Clear. Get stuff out of the way without getting in the way.

This is about as clear as mud and it is extremely hard. There are always many things vying for the attention of our clients. Sometimes it’s the project, and sometimes it’s other items at their plants. The challenge is to clear away whatever the obstacle is that may interfere with our ability to deliver the project for them.

7. Express gratitude for the opportunity to serve.

We need to remember that there are lots of others that would love to serve our clients, and our clients have a choice every time they issue a purchase order or a contract. We need to show appreciation to them that they have trusted us enough to deliver a project for them.

As amusing as it sounds to have a waiter start to butter your bun or cut your steak, I must admit there are times when I pull a #4….I attempt to dominate meetings or intrude on others’ agendas. How about you? Take a minute to post a comment about one of the items you are struggling with or better yet, comment about someone you see excelling at modeling one of the behaviors listed above.

Continue Leading the Interstates Way!
Jake Ten Haken