When running an organization, what’s more important: results or people?
It’s a trick question, because the answer is not one or the other. Great leaders — servant leaders — have a philosophy toward both. The development of people is of equal importance to getting results.
When I say great leaders are servant leaders, many people are confused. They conjure up thoughts of leaders who try to please everyone; leaders who believe morale is more important than results. These people don’t think you can lead and serve at the same time. From my experience, not only is it possible, but also in the long run, it is the only way to achieve great performance and satisfaction.
Here are two tests of an effective leader: First, does the leader get results? Second, does the leader have followers? If you don’t have followers — people who are inspired to achieve the agreed-upon goals — you’re going to have a tough time getting long-term results.
Getting results is the leadership part of servant leadership. Leadership is about going somewhere. If people don’t know where you want them to go, there’s very little chance they’ll get there. Therefore, all good performance starts with clear goals.
Once people understand what they are expected to accomplish, the servant aspect of servant leadership kicks in. Great leaders serve their people, and in the process they inspire them to accomplish the desired results.
To prove that great leaders can lead and serve, I’m always looking for good examples. One of the best is basketball coach John Calipari. “Cal” proves season after season that you can lead and serve at the same time by focusing on both results and people.
I met Calipari during his coaching days at the University of Massachusetts, where I was a faculty member. In the 35 years I’ve known him, he has had the same big-picture goal for his teams: Make it to the NCAA championship finals. This is something his teams have done consistently at Massachusetts, Memphis and now Kentucky, a team that won the national championship in 2012.
Cal knows that focusing on people does not mean leaders stop challenging them. In fact, having high expectations for people and demanding accountability communicates respect for them.
At the same time, caring about people is part of leadership as well. Listening to people’s concerns, investing time in them, praising their progress and tailoring your approach to the personality and temperament of each individual are basic servant leader behaviors.
Calipari consistently practices these behaviors because he understands the three aspects of servant leadership: the servant, the steward and the shepherd.
As a servant, Calipari realizes that leadership is not about him; it’s about the people he is serving. It’s not an accident that he published a book about his coaching philosophy called “Players First: Coaching From the Inside Out.” When asked how he felt about winning the NCAA championship in 2012, Cal was quick to say, “It’s not about me. This is about these 13 players.”
As a steward, Cal understands these kids are on loan to him to nurture, support and develop. He does whatever he can to help each player achieve his own highest level of performance.
As a shepherd, Cal thinks every one of his players is important. Every year, the majority of his players are former high school stars. Cal’s great gift is the ability to get players to subvert their egos and realize that “none of us is as smart as all of us.”
Commenting in USA Today about the 2012 NCAA championship game, Reid Cherner wrote, “John Calipari persuaded teenagers to put others first, play unselfishly and believe the whole is better than the sum of its parts. Every parent on the team has to be in slack-jawed awe of that.”
Does focusing on results and people — leading and serving others at the same time — work? You bet it does, and Calipari’s NCAA win proves it. The result is great performance along with great human satisfaction. Not a bad outcome for a servant leader.
Image of University of Massachusetts' basketball game courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.