Thursday, October 11, 2012

Walk the Talk: Four Tips to be an Extraordinary Leader

Guest post by Thomas J. Walter:

It’s common knowledge that there are two kinds of leaders, those who speak and those who do. Those who speak are referred to as “vocal leaders,” and those who do are referred to as “servant leaders,” though the title of the latter is frequently off-putting to business leaders of self-proclaimed high stature.

While leaders with excellent communication and motivational skills are often praised for these skills, they’re not the only component to being an effective leader. It’s the servant leadership that I’m most frequently hard-pressed to find.

Rising to a certain level of leadership in an organization often comes with a self-righteous attitude that beats to the tune of, “I’ve got people who can take care of that for me now.” In many cases, that is a legitimate response—certain job titles and responsibilities can’t afford to take care of tasks that once occupied their time. However, over-delegation is a disease that starts at the top and spreads through any collection of people working toward a common goal. It pollutes the leader’s image in the minds of his or her employees, as well as sets precedence for that type of behavior at all levels of the organization.

What’s so often missing in a dynamic leadership setting is a leader who does extraordinary things. Leaders who do extraordinary things lead by example, or “walk the talk,” as we businesspeople love to say. Those leaders believe in servant leadership and practice it daily, and they are the ones to whom their employees look up to…not out of fear or intimidation, but with respect and admiration. They are the leaders that people want to follow. They are the ones who take their organizations beyond engagement to a state of entanglement, where employees are so connected to the success of their organization that its goals become synonymous with their own.

Saying all of this wouldn’t mean much if I didn’t give a set of steps that leaders could take to improve their servant leadership. Here are some ways to work on developing the servant leadership component of your leadership skills:

They eat, then you eat. They sleep, then you sleep.
This is a somewhat ignored thought process in the business world, which often values a hierarchal pecking order. Leaders should put employees’ needs before their own. Part of being a servant leader is sacrifice. The team comes first, not your ego.

Do the dirty work.
Take care of the things that get in the way of your employees’ ability to give 100 percent. For example, money is often a leading cause of anxiety. Our company, Tasty Catering, developed an employee assistance fund to make it easier and faster for employees in need to borrow money. By removing the distraction caused by monetary hardship, employees can better remain focused on work. They can spend their discretionary thinking on their organization and job performance as opposed to the troubles that await them when they get home.

Show me you love me.
Show (not tell) that you care for everyone in the organization and that everyone plays a vital role in how the organization will function. You didn’t climb your way to the top just so you could tell others to get you coffee in the morning. Sometimes you should be the one that visits with coffee.

My way or the highway is overrated.
Listen to suggestions from others, no matter their “rank” in the organization. Several years ago, when the economy was beginning to drop, businesses stopped catering and planning events to save money. Tasty Catering was experiencing a significant reduction in business. It appeared to the leadership team that we would have to let a handful of employees go in order to survive financially. After speaking with the kitchen staff about the upcoming changes, Maricarmen, our kitchen supervisor, came back to the leadership team with a new idea. The culinary team decided to reduce their weekly hours to incorporate the monetary savings Tasty needed to survive without having to lose five of their co-workers. Maricarmen had also explained that this action would save the company more than they were looking for, the reduction in hours was savings equivalent to seven positions. It was a beautifully endearing—and successful—idea, and today we still have those employees.

Author Bio: Thomas J. Walter, CEO of Chicago-based Tasty Catering, is a serial entrepreneur and nationally recognized speaker on entrepreneurship, leadership and business culture. He is also the co-author of It’s My Company Too! How Entangled Companies Move Beyond Employee Engagement For Remarkable Results. For more information, please visit, or follow him on twitter @ItsMyCompanyToo.


Sean Heritage said...

Great article! I am a Naval Officer and watching so many failing to walk the talk is rather tiresome. I especially like your point about demonstrating love for those with whom we serve. Too many are afraid to say that word in such a context, let alone demonstrate such authenticity...

James Lawther said...

Sadly there are very few "servant leaders"

The world has far to many "do as I say, not as I do" managers.

Werner Erhard once wrote about the "ontological model of leadership":

1. Show integrity
2. Be authentic
3. Commit to something bigger than yourself

Maybe that is what "servant leaders" do? Certainly at least the first 2.


Richard Scudder said...

My way or the highway screams the leader should be a sole proprietorship with no employees. Great leadership remains a scarce resource.

Unknown said...

The commenter above made me think of a quote I read by Peter Block: "What’s caught me lately is the notion that the future is caused by imagination. An imagination of the life causes a leading of the life, rather than the leading of the life causes my way of thinking. And I just know it’s powerful, I never quite know how to get at it. I like the language of possibility. ‘Cause it’s hard. It’s the possibility I’m living into...A lot of this stuff I got from Werner Erhard’s stuff with … EST, you probably recognize it... But the idea that if I hold a possibility, or a future, of the way I want the world to be, then I bring that into the room with me every time I show up. I don’t have to work on it… it works on me. Now that to me is beautiful."

From "Servant-Leadership: Creating an Alternative Future", A Keynote Address by Peter Block, 2005 International Servant- Leadership Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana