The toughest job for any CEO is to ensure they and their teams are asking the right questions. The best CEOs rely on a gender-balanced, diverse team to both formulate those questions and get the right answers. The same can be said of managers today. As a turnaround specialist, I’ve worked across industries and in companies of all sizes to ensure the CEO is also asking what I believe is the single most important question I know.
I learned about this question from the game-changing book Servant Leadership – A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power. In it author Robert Greenleaf shares the inspiration for his ground-breaking work and the foundation for the question.
“The idea of the servant as leader came out of reading Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East. In this story we see a band of men on a mythical journey. The central figure in the story is Leo, who accompanies the party as the servant with his spirit and his song. All goes well until Leo disappears. Then the group falls into disarray and the journey is abandoned. They cannot make it without the servant Leo.”
Greenleaf goes on to posit “that the great leader is seen as the leader first, and that simple fact is the key to his greatness. Leo was actually the leader all of the time, but he was servant first because that was what he was, deep down inside. Leadership was bestowed upon a person who was by nature a servant.”
Do you know where Leo is in your company? Where is that person who may or may not have a significant position or title but who is lifting your organization in ways you can’t measure? And who has the potential to have a detrimental impact on, or reduce the “spirit” in, your organization if they left? How many Leos do you have today? How can you help more people in your company bring out their inner Leo? And are you sure you are being the best version of your own Leo?
Research by Sigal Barade has shown that anyone can influence everyone else in a work environment. And research by Gallup sets the cost to business worldwide of not enabling Leos across all organizations at $7T. Senior managers at all companies can take steps to enable increased power at lower levels with the right top-down approach on issues like communication and compensation.
But leading companies are also showing others the way by embracing a strategy of decentralization along with a parallel path and a “side-to-side” expectation that acknowledges the impact peers at all levels have on each other. They are focused on enabling Leos everywhere.