We’re all familiar with the model of the traditional organization. The CEO sits atop the pyramid, followed by the vice presidents, managers, supervisors, and then the employees. At the bottom are the customers. It’s almost as if the customer is there to serve needs of organization.
But what if we invert this pyramid and put the customer on top? After all, isn’t it the customers who make paydays possible? If we invert the pyramid, the customers are on top – followed by the employees, supervisors, managers, vice presidents, and followed by the CEO at the bottom.
In the traditional pyramid, those on the bottom focus on meeting the needs of those on the next rung. Employees try to meet the needs of their supervisors. Supervisors try to meet the needs of their managers, etc., all the way to vice presidents trying to please the CEO. The customers somehow are lost in this process.
If you invert the pyramid and put the CEO at the bottom and the customer on top, you’ve inverted the relationship. The CEO must focus on meeting the needs of the vice presidents, the needs of the managers, etc. all the way through the employees on meeting the needs of the customers.
If you proposed this idea in your organization, you’re likely to hear the question – “Who came up with this crazy idea?”
The answer is Robert Greenleaf and the leadership model is Servant Leadership.
Greenleaf came up with the idea of Servant Leadership after reading Hermann Hesse’s book Journey to the East, the story of a mountainous expedition that fell apart when Leo, one of the servants to the group, disappeared. Greenleaf realized that although everyone thought of Leo as a servant, he was actually leading the expedition through his actions.
The core premise of Servant Leadership is that organizations function best when leaders focus not on having their needs met, but focus on meeting the legitimate needs of others. The CEO should not ask “what do I need done today?” But rather, “what can I do today to help others do their jobs” and ultimately serve the customer.
By focusing on the needs of others, a servant leader becomes a servant first. The servant leader does not rely on formal authority; the ability to dictate and command what others are to do. Rather, they lead through informal authority, creating a willingness on the part of others to follow voluntarily.
Leaders gain informal authority not through the organization chart, but through their actions; the willingness to focus on the legitimate needs of others and to do what must be done.
The servant leader then uses this informal authority to get others to work enthusiastically toward the goals of the organization. A servant example, not fiat.
About the Author
William S. Hettinger, Ph.D., is an author, educator and consultant to educational institutions and corporations both large and small.
Dr. Hettinger is an expert in making the complex simple. In his teaching and consulting, he excels at taking in both complex concepts and technical material and translating them into simple, understandable language. As an educator, Dr. Hettinger has trained numerous students in leadership, research, communications, business and entrepreneurship. His latest book is Online Classes That Work! Discovering the Secrets to Teaching Online (2014, Effective E-Learning)