To Be a Great Leader, Follow First

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Want to be a better leader? Start by becoming a better follower. That’s the approach advocated by Matt Tenney, a social entrepreneur and author of the new book “Serve to Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom” (Wiley, May 2014). 

Tenney, a keynote speaker and business consultant with Perth Leadership Institute, believes that even the most effective leaders can achieve better results — in both their professional and personal lives — by making a simple shift in their approach to leadership.

The shift that Tenney outlines in his book involves seeing one’s self not as a manager, but as a servant. Though it might sound counterintuitive, Tenney argues that by learning how to obey and follow, today’s business leaders can hold greater sway over those they’re positioned to lead. 

“I’m not suggesting that we coddle the people on our teams or cater to their every whim,” Tenney told Business News Daily. “Clearly, we need to set clear expectations for excellence and let people know that they will be held accountable to those expectations.”

However, Tenney said, leaders who make serving and caring for the people they lead a higher priority than what they can get out of them typically end up getting better results than those who take the opposite approach.

In a recent exchange with Business News Daily, Tenney shared five ways adopting a “servant leadership” approach can improve any business’s bottom line. [What Leadership Looks Like (and Why It Matters)]

Increasing innovation

“When we create an atmosphere of safety, where people aren’t afraid to take risks and challenge the status quo, we create a culture that is highly conducive to innovation,” Tenney said. “This is why the most innovative companies like and SAS go to such lengths to care for employees and are also consistently rated as the best places to work.”

Improving customer service

“When we model empathy, compassion and helpfulness, we create a culture that is likely to deliver world-class service to our customers,” said Tenney. “This is why companies like and Southwest Airlines — known for delivering the best customer service — work so hard to develop servant leaders who treat employees with such high levels of care.”

Building a strong culture

“When we create a team culture where serving each other and the community around us is valued as more important than profit, we give the people we lead the gift of being part of an inspiring organization that people want to be a part of, and don’t want to leave,” Tenney said. “This is why a relatively unknown company like Next Jump is able to attract roughly 18,000 people to apply for 35 positions — a hire rate of 0.2 percent. It’s also why turnover at Next Jump is around 1 percent, versus the industry average in the tech space of 22 percent.”

Read more: To Be a Great Leader, Follow First

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