Leadership must extend to service

Great leaders inspire greatness, and this is especially true when it comes to credit-union member service. Leadership in the board room and corner offices sets the tone for the level of service that exists within any organization.

Consider the long-term impact when a leader or leaders consistently take intentional action to create value for ALL the people around them. It’s awesome! Beginning at the top, a shared value of service flows down through all levels to the front lines. A culture focused on creating value for someone else (internally and externally) inspires, improves performance, creates greater member-value, and becomes a competitive advantage.

Actions speak louder than words

George Washington has always been one of my heroes and is an excellent example of servant leadership. His life is filled with examples of how he demonstrated his commitment to the people around him. Washington was a man of few words, and his actions always appeared to benefit the national cause of independence. He spent countless hours focused on the care of his subordinates, overcoming significant obstacles to feed, clothe, arm, and train his soldiers during a very long conflict.

One day during the war, General Washington rode up to a group of soldiers trying to raise a beam to a high position. The corporal charged with overseeing the work shouted words of encouragement, but they couldn’t manage to get it done. After watching their unsuccessful efforts, Washington asked the corporal why he didn’t join in and help. The corporal replied quickly, “Do you realize that I am the corporal?” Washington very politely replied, “I beg your pardon, Mr. Corporal, I did.” Washington dismounted his horse and went to work with the soldiers until the beam was put into place. Wiping the perspiration from his face, he said, “If you should need help again, call on Washington, your commander-in-chief, and I will come.”

Washington’s continuous commitment to service inspired courage and action. In 1778, at the battle of Monmouth, the Continental Army attacked the British Army. The Continentals were floundering and General Charles Lee had to retreat the field after an unsuccessful attack due to a lack of planning and preparation for the upcoming battle. The generals under Lee’s command didn’t know their orders, and neither did any of the soldiers.

But General Washington’s timely arrival on the battlefield provided an opportunity to rally the retreating troops and turn the tide of the conflict. Washington charged from the back of the field and engaged with his men, leading the attack on the British forces pursuing his retreating troops. Washington’s ability to inspire and lead his men did not begin that day, it began earlier through example and commitment to serving his men in time of need. They knew they could depend upon him.

What do your actions say?

If you are unsure, or think you might have room for improvement, find opportunities to serve and set an example. Get out of your office and find ways to make the work experience better for the people who work for you. Here are a few ideas of where you might begin:

  • Spend time observing and coaching their work. Nothing says “I care” more than spending time with the people you count on to take great care of your members.
  • Make sure your people have all the tools they need to do what is expected of them. You can tell people they are your greatest asset, but your message is lost when they are working in a chair that has broken. Fix the chair or anything else that is not working properly.
  • Provide resources to develop skills. This is more than sending someone to a workshop or conference. Invest your time in them and find projects that will help to strengthen or develop skills that elevate the strength of your team and the individual.
  • Become more aware of what obstacles your people are facing and assist in removing those obstacles. Show them you are committed to their success, just as Washington did by helping lift that beam. Roll up your sleeves and show them you care and what you expect others to do when faced with a challenge.

Servant leadership isn’t easy, but it does create a culture that allows the focus to shift from selfish purposes to selfless purposes. Servant leaders begat servant leaders who adopt higher team purposes and gain the most precious commodities: trust and loyalty. The people they serve become willing to be led, and they, like the Colonial soldiers at Monmouth, will rally around leaders they trust, respect and love – giving their all. These are the leaders who built great companies and, most importantly, people.

When leaders consistently deliver the level of service they expect, great things happen.