Tuesday, January 8, 2019

10 Servant Leadership lessons from "The Art of War" Book

Recently, I had a chance to read the book "Sun Tzu - The Art of War (Spirituality for Conflict)" by Thomas Huynh. Thomas Huynh has made an attempt to explain to the readers how "The Art of War" principles can be followed by ordinary individuals and corporates to effect a positive change in their life or company or community.  I learned a lot of Servant Leadership lessons from this book and I have captured some of them in this blog post.

Sun Tzu, who lived  several thousand years ago, was a military general and philosopher in China. He captured his wisdom for warfare in the book "The Art of War", which has been treasured for nearly 2500 years. Several notable personalities such as Colin Powell, Bruce Lee and Ronald Reagon were influenced by The Art of War.

1. Being practical and being compassionate are not mutually exclusive. Acting in a way that is both practical and compassionate has proved to be a secret weapon for success

2. Sun Tzu treated his soldiers like his own children, caring for their health and well-being. Even the captured enemy soldiers were not killed, but rather were treated well and incorporated into his own army

3. You don't have to be formally appointed to become a leader, you automatically become the defacto leader when you step-up and guide others out of a dilemma and into a better situation

4. Your leadership ability depends more on your actions, than on your official title, rank or status in life

5. Winning 100 times in 100 battles requires amazing skills and intelligence, but winning 100 times without fighting a single time demonstrates highest excellence. 

6. If you care about your supporters, you can discipline them and they in-turn will unite in purpose

7. Anger focuses your thoughts too much on yourself - your losses, your wants, your feelings and prevents you from dwelling compassionately on the needs and well being of others

8. Sun Tzu values leaders who can perform the basic, everyday tasks well over those who display flashy heroics in "isolated incidents"

9. The general who does not advance to seek glory or does not withdraw to avoid punishments, but cares for only the people's security and promotes the people's interests is the nation's treasure. 

10. The more you forget about yourself and shun glory, the more people will remember you and glorify you. 

Servant Leadership is a concept introduced by Robert Greenleaf in 1970. He says "The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead".  Sun Tzu talks about several leadership traits in his book "The Art of War", many of them resembling the Servant Leadership traits highlighted by Robert Greenleaf.  Today, several volunteering organizations and corporates practice the concept of Servent Leadership to maximise employee engagement, productivity and ownership. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Serving Leader by Ken Jennings and John Stahl-Wert

Today, Servant Leadership is taking a prominent place not only in volunteer driven organizations, but also in corporates. With the growing number of "matrix organizations" and teams embracing "Agile" for project delivery and led by a Scrum Master, Servant Leadership skills are the need of the hour.

I had a chance to read the book "The Serving Leader" from the Ken Blanchard Series, written by Ken Jennings and John Stahl-Wert. The authors have sandwiched the Servant Leadership lessons in a fictional story. This blog post summarizes some key lessons and learnings from the book.

 The following are the 5 powerful actions that the authors teach for you to transform your team, your business and your community:
  1. Run to Great Purpose 
    • To do the most impossible good, strive for the impossible
    • Sustain the greatest interest in pursuits beyond self-interest
  2. Upend the Pyramid
    • You qualify to be first by putting other people first
    • Your are in charge principally to charge up others
  3. Build on Strengths
    • To address your weaknesses, focus on your strengths
    • You can't become the best unless other do, too 
  4. Raise the Bar
    • To serve the many, you first serve the few
    • The best reach-down is a challenging reach-up
  5. Blaze the Trail
    • To protect your value, you must give it all away
    • Your biggest obstacle is the one that hinders someone else

Source: The Serving Leader, by Ken Jennings and John Stahl-Wert

Some traits of a servant leader and key messages worth noting from the book:

  1. He spent a lot of time in activity that looked more like "teaching" than "managing"
  2. He was known for setting high goals and standards.
  3. He encouraged risk taking, though he wasn't afraid to remove people for "persistent" underperformance
  4. He unleashes the strengths, talents and passions of those he or she serves
  5. When she points out a problem, she also offered several solutions and she always showed up when it was time to do the hard work of implementation
  6. She constantly gets her ego out of the way and builds up the confidence / self-esteem of others
  7. By putting others first, the Serving Leader is able to catalyze the creation of high performance teams
  8. He ensures that the right people join the team, those with the right skills and values, those who embrace the same shared purpose. He is tough on selecting people and setting standards
  9. In order to serve many people, the servant leader at first picks just a few other leaders to serve, people who can meet the Servant Leadership standards
  10. He ensures that "activity" is no substitute for "results". At first its about being selective in choosing the leaders you're going to work with. And second, it's about continually raising the expectations for performance
  11. When the performance of an individual doesn't improve after "heavy coaching", the Servant Leader helps him or her get a position somewhere else
  12. People by nature try to live up to what others expect of them. That's true for rich and poor, people who have an easy life or a hard one. Expect little, and we live up to the expectation. Expect a lot, and we stretch and grow to meet the expectation. What kind of service is it... when you deny a person the challenge to become really terrific
  13. Life is too short to waste on sentimental pursuits that don't actually improve anything
  14. Servant Leaders teach others the knowledge, skills and strategies they need to succeed. And the Servant Leaders work hard to get obstacles out of their team's way so that the team can make progress.
  15. Servant Leaders build teaching organizations to create excellence at every level. Leaders who teach become consistent in their own performance.
  16. Community happens when everyone rolls up their sleeves and gets to work
  17. You get better results by shifting attention away from your weaknesses and focusing on your strengths
  18. Serving leaders articulate a purpose so compelling that people are willing to run toward it. The leaders set the pace and this spirit gets transferred to the people they serve
  19. If the purpose isn't bigger than the people involved, great things wouldn't happen
  20. Mistakes aren't the issue, what you do with them is the issue. Ask to be forgiven for the past, and then seize your future with all you've got. 
If you want to learn more about Servant Leadership, visit the authors' website http://theservingleader.com/

(Also read: 10 Servant Leadership lessons from "The Art of War")

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

You call him as charismatic; you call him as argumentative; you call him as a visionary and you call him as brutal. You will be right. When I finished reading the last page of the book "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson, I get the feeling of having watched Baahubali 2. Jobs' tale is both instructive and cautionary. It is a tale of highs, lows, surprises, successes, failures, rivalries, emotions, love, hatred... and everything else that you would see in a movie like Baahubali.

Rob Siltanen's quote "The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do" won't fit anyone else better than Steve Jobs. Jobs aspired to live at the intersection of humanities and technology, and he just did that throughout his life. He always thought that he is special and he compared himself with the likes of Einstein and Gandhi. I am not sure if he is as good as Gandhi, but he definitely made an impact, as big as what Einstein made with the theory of relativity. Jobs' feeling of getting rejected at an early age... created the feeling to prove. He did prove to the world, that he is different.

Steve Jobs not only built great products, but also built great companies. All of the products that he built followed Leonarda Da Vinci's mantra "Simplicity is the ultimate Sophistication".

Both the book and the man, impacted me ... and made me to think. Here are some highlights from the book:

  1. Unlike other product developers, Jobs did not believe that customers are always right. He felt customers do not know what they want, until you show them. He didn't just motivate his teams to make mere product advances, but whole new devices and services that consumers did not know they needed. 
  2. He loved doing things right. He even cared about the look of parts that you couldn't see. During his childhood days, he learned from his dad about the importance of making even the back of the cabinets and fences properly, even though they were hidden. 
  3. He practiced strict vegetarianism (vegan diet) for the major part of his life. 
  4. Apple's marketing philosophy - empathy (intimate connection with the feelings of the customer), focus (eliminate whatever opportunities are unimportant), impute (presenting products in a creative, professional manner)
  5. Jobs ends up to be brutally honest, telling the truths that most of us sugarcoat or suppress. He usually didn't care an iota of what people actually think of him. According to him, people were either enlightened or assholes. Products were either amazing or shit. 
  6. Jobs thought "If you need slides, it shows, you don't know what you are talking about"
  7. Jobs was driven by his perfectionism and gets impatience with those who made compromises in order to get a product on time and on budget. People look at him as someone who has reality distortion, especially when he gets too passionate about a product.  
  8. Lessons Jobs learned from the Buddhism - material possessions often cluttered life rather than enriched it. So, he embraced "minimalism". He reflected that through the things that he accumulated at home and through the things that he wears everyday. He also applies this philosophy in designing / building products.
  9. Jobs wanted to have end to end control over the entire ecosystem, when building products. He believed that for a computer to be truly great, its hardware and software has to be tightly linked. He followed that right from the MAC to the iPhone to the iTunes. He was a believer of creating end to end solutions. 
  10. Jobs thought "You have to be ruthless if you want to build a team of A players. Its too easy as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and then attract a few more B players, and soon you'll even have some C players. A players like to work only with A players. Part of my responsibility, is to be a yardstick for quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected"
  11. Jobs is good at focusing on a few things and say no to many things.  He feels that "deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. That's true for companies and that's true for products"
  12. The mark of an innovative company is not only that it comes up with new ideas first, but also that it knows how to leapfrog when it finds itself behind. He believed in making hit products and promote them with terrific marketing

Friday, August 24, 2012

What Young India Wants

"What Young India Wants" ... the title caught my attention. I haven't read Chetan Bhagat's books in the past. However, I have heard from my friends that he is a great writer. Recently, I learned that the super hit movie "3 Idiots" is based on his fiction novel. That increased my curiosity to read his latest book "What Young India Wants".

Chetan has done a fantastic job of covering all the issues that plague our society. He says that the situation in India today isn't a result of bad politicians but due to bad citizens. We are the ones who select bad politicians. The engineer in him tries to give objective solutions to all the problems - while many of them are practical... some of them were completely out of the charts. For ex., his recommendations for moving government establishments and government guest houses to the city outskirts will create more problems than solving them. I love his idea of having institutions that develop politicians. I think that is definitely the need of the day.

He tries to play it very neutral. On one side, he criticizes one family running the country generation after generation. On the other hand, he is appreciative of what Sonia Gandhi & Rahul has done / trying to do to India. He equally criticizes the top 2 political parties in our nation.

For people who think "India cannot be changed... the situation will continue to be like this forever"... you should read this book once. There are chapters in the book that are very inspiring. I personally like the two short fiction stories at the end. Very entertaining and at the same time hard hitting. 

Great job Chetan Bhagat ! 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great

"Good to Great and the Social Sectors" claim that the "Good to Great" concepts are applicable to social sectors too, with little or no modification. Jim compares and contrasts the difference in challenges between business sector & social sector. The amount of research done to substantiate the material is less when compared to the original "Good to Great". However, the facts presented are convincing enough.

Reading "Good to Great" is a pre-requisite for this book. You would not be able to fully appreciate the material without reading "Good to Great". This book compares the challenges of Social sector and business sector, in great detail. I would recommend this book for leaders of non-profit organizations.

Author's website: http://www.jimcollins.com/

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

Are you interested to know how WalMart, IBM & HP became superior organizations? Jim & Jerry present their findings about these successful companies and many more. Some of the key take aways from this book are "Preserve the Core Ideology & Stimulate Progress", "Try a lot of stuff and keep that works", & "Companies built just for generating profits do not become superior".

Have you been postponing your entrepreneurial venture just because you couldn't find a 'niche'? The authors give a variety of examples where some of the great companies didn't start with just one particular idea or product. They tried a number of things before they found their 'magic formula' for success.

I still couldn't completely buy-in to the "Home Grown Management" concept. May be the authors didn't do a good job of convincing me enough.

The style and the tone of this book resembles "Good to Great". If I had to compare this book with "Good to Great", I'm honest that "Good to Great" was very valuable.

If you really wanted to know the strengths of the companies that are "Built to last", you should read this book.

Author's website: http://www.jimcollins.com/

Brag!: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It

Do you work hard but do not get the promotion that you deserve? Do you feel shy to talk about yourself? Are you unable to impress the interviewers when you look for job? Well, here is your magical guide.

Peggy Klaus explains how you should be prepared with 'bragologues' for different situations. The author gives you some techniques that you can start using right away.

The author gives several examples, most of them were involving (and for) women. I strongly believe the bragging problems that men have are different than what women have. I wish the author had some additional material to cover the 'bragging' problems & solutions that are specific to men.

Overall, this book was an interesting & quick read.

Author's website:  http://www.klausact.com/