Leadership, we know, is among the most important topics in the world of business. But what are the characteristics which make up a good leader?
Over the years I have written extensively on this topic citing quotes from history and using famous world leaders as examples for us to follow, but this month I didn’t have to go far to find 12 excellent examples of leadership right here in Miami — all of which share what I consider to be among the most important characteristics of leadership: service.
The late French novelist and statesman, André Malraux, once said, “To command is to serve, nothing more and nothing less.” Never have I seen better proof of this than at the 22nd annual Twelve Good Men luncheon to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities of South Florida at Jungle Island, held March 12. The mission of Ronald McDonald House Charities is to create, find and support programs that directly improve the health and well-being of children in South Florida — primarily by offering housing and support to out-of-town families with children undergoing treatments in South Florida. The purpose of this annual luncheon is to honor leading men with a history of outstanding community involvement; civic service; and involvement in one or more of South Florida’s charity organizations.
This year’s 12 honorees personify the spirit of service that makes their leadership within their organizations, and in our community, effective: Aleksander Alembert, president and CEO of Alembert Global Enterprise; Marty Davis, president of Legal Solutions Group; Robert Gordon, senior financial advisor at Investor Solutions; Miguel Inda-Romero of the Law Offices of Miguel Inda-Romero; David Martin, president of Terra Group; Alfredo Mesa, vice president and executive director of the Marlins Foundation; James Murphy, president of James W. Murphy Interiors; Jay Pelham, executive vice president and managing director of private banking at Gibraltor Private Bank; Fernando Perez-Hickman, chairman of Sabadell United Bank; Roy Ripak, marketing vice president of Walgreens; Eugenio Sevilla-Sacasa, vice president of Ryder International; and Jorge Villacampa, area president at Wells Fargo.
People want to follow these outstanding men because they are servants first and leaders second. This “servant-first” concept was coined by Robert Greenleaf, a retired AT&T executive who in 1970 wrote a groundbreaking paper titled “The Servant as Leader,” which has since launched a movement worldwide known as servant leadership. “The servant-leader is servant first,” Greenleaf wrote. “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” Greenleaf later writes, “The best test, and difficult to administer is: do those served grow as persons: do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?”
The men honored in this year’s Ronald McDonald House luncheon would pass Greenleaf’s test for servant-leadership with flying colors. How well would you do? How would your employees and colleagues grade you as a servant-leader at work? I invite you to consider some of the character traits of a servant-leader listed below and test yourself:
▪ Acceptance and empathy: Servant-leaders focus on understanding their team members and accepting them for the unique qualities they bring to the team. Even when having to reject negative performance or behavior, the servant-leader does so with empathy and respect for the individual.
▪ Foresight: In his paper, Greenleaf refers to foresight at first in an almost prophetic way, but then he brings it back to a fully rational process. “Foresight means regarding the events of the instant moment and constantly comparing them with a series of projections made in the past and at the same time projecting future events…” Servant-leaders help others learn from the lessons of the past and present, and apply those lessons to influence the future of their organizations.
▪ Awareness and perception: Servant-leaders have a greater awareness of those around them and their surroundings. “When one is aware,” Greenleaf writes, “there is more than the usual alertness” — and that makes for more effective leadership.
▪ Conceptualization: According to Greenleaf, this is “the prime leadership talent.” Conceptualization is the servant-leader’s ability to dream big beyond the problems and current state of affairs of their organizations without sacrificing the day-to-day realities.
For additional information on servant-leadership, I invite you to research the many books, resources and even university courses that are readily available. And let’s all learn from the example of this year’s Ronald McDonald House Twelve Good Men and incorporate the characteristics of a servant-leader in our own lives and profession.