I felt profoundly moved when Mark Davies at Honda described his job as a leader:
You know that look in a person's eye when they are on a mission? It's my job to spot that and make the space around them so they can go for it.
This is servant leadership.
Service is more than just making sure that your customers are happy: that their calls are answered in three rings or less, or that they are always greeted with a smile. Service applies to all your stakeholders. In fact, in terms of your personal impact on the business, the service you offer to your staff and suppliers is at least as important as that which you offer to your customers.
Service means being present and active on behalf of another for their sake and not for your own. It means putting aside your own ego and personal gain so that someone else can succeed. Yet it is a glorious paradox - when you offer real servant leadership, you get back more than you put in because your business benefits from your team's success. But you have to give honestly. If you concentrate on the benefits you expect to get, the receiver will know and the impact is reduced.
Zen teachers speak of giving up attachment to the outcome. In Western terms this means putting the other person first. To quote John Crabtree at Wragge & Co: ‘Cast your bread upon the water and it will come back a ham sandwich' (see the ‘case study' at the end of Chapter 2). You must offer service to others in the belief that what you need will come back from somewhere, somehow. If you act only when you can see a direct result, you lose out.
Great companies approach their people with a sense of service. Bob Henry stopping at any time to talk to a person who needs help, is serving. Viv at Kent Messenger Group sitting down with an underperformer to understand how to help - this is service. As is the sundown rule at Asda where every request or concern from a shop is dealt with on the day it is received. The thrust is always to provide the best environment for each person to thrive. This is where the sparkle comes from, and is why each time I visit a company I feel inspired and excited. Everyone, including me, feels well cared for - well served.