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Servant Leadership

May 22nd, 2008 by Seth Kenvin

I spent yesterday at the Stanford business school for an entrepreneurial assembly and seminar day. The 9AM opening keynote was by Ann Rhoades, described in the event program as “a dynamic and visionary human resources executive with over 25 years experience in a variety of service-based industries.” Upon reading this, I thought about whether there was something else I could do at 9AM, and whether I should revise my plans to arrive at Stanford for the second session. But as my morning logistics unfolded I arrived by 9, and took my spot in the skydeck (Stanford business vernacular for the back row).

ann-rhoades.jpgShortly into her speech, Ann proclaimed her surprise at her own career winding up in HR given that she “hates” HR as it’s generally practiced. This got me to straighten up and pay attention as I don’t understand why nearly every company’s HR practices are mere organizational baggage whereas it seems to me it could be a source of strength. Ann confirmed that suspicion with numerous citations of her great experiences working with iconic leaders like Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines and Howard Schultz of Starbuck’s.

For me, the essence of Ann’s presentation was that great organizational cultures eminate from the top. She spoke of Kelleher, Schultz and others being “servant leaders” who hold themselves accountable for personifying values that they expect throughout their organizations. An example is a hotel executive who helps fold sheets immediately upon arriving at any one of his company’s establishments. Ann also pointed out the boldness of Schultz’ shutting down every Starbuck’s for three hours a few months ago for company-wide retraining to enhance both the product and the service. There’ s a Starbuck’s downstairs in our office building and I have noticed the improvement.

Ann’s speech was the surprising highlight of my day yesterday. Market7 has had good hiring success lately and we’ll be about eight people by the end of this quarter. So far, I rate us highly on our maintaining worthy values and on a culture supportive of individual and collaborative achievement. I feel challenged to maintain such elements as we continue growing. I endeavor to be a servant-leader towards this end.

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