The Serving Leader

Kenneth R. Jennings is a best-selling author, speaker, and active consultant in organizational leadership, serving as Chairman of Third River Partners. John Stahl-Wert is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and expert in growing great leaders, serving as Director of the Center for Serving Leadership. Together they co-authored The Serving Leader – now revised and updated for the 10th Anniversary Edition and available on Amazon.

The following is excerpted from their book, The Serving Leader. In this excerpt, Mike, who has been called to help his dying father’s leadership project, goes to visit a company whose leadership style has been an influential part of his father’s project. His guide, Ali, is his father’s colleague.

Being in Charge

“Our first stop is at an amazing organization, run by an even more remarkable leader, Dorothy Hyde. From the outside, it looks like an ordinary factory. The organization is called Aslan Industries, and it’s an outrageously successful enterprise right in the heart of the inner city. Wait until you see what’s on the inside.

“Aslan started out as an after-school tutoring program. The leadership team there understood, though, that poor grades and delinquency were just symptoms of the problems in this part of the city. One of the root causes was a lack of career opportunities. Why prepare for a future if you aren’t going to have one? So they concluded that Aslan had to do something about job readiness for promising jobs. They had to build a job-training organization.

“However, they knew nothing about job training. Since they didn’t know enough to know what couldn’t be done, they did the impossible. They built one of the most effective job-training programs for machinists in the region, and while they’re doing this training, they’re also running a very productive machine shop right here in the neighborhood. Every year their excellent reputation in the shipyards wins them more business.

“I’d be willing to bet that you’ve rarely seen such an effective organization as Aslan,” Ali added. “And I’ll also bet that you’re unlikely to have met a leader like Dorothy Hyde.”

As we drove, I began to notice the neighborhoods change. At first boarded-up houses were rare. Then they became the norm. I even saw a few burned-out ones. How could a first-class training and manufacturing organization function here?

Suddenly, we drove into a block of beautifully refurbished industrial buildings. A sharply dressed and smiling guard waved us into a parking area right in front of a renovated factory building.

Dorothy Hyde met us at the door of her office. She stood about five feet nothing, a bundle of enthusiasm in a business suit. She greeted Ali with a grandmotherly embrace and then, to my great surprise, treated me to the same unpretentious ritual. Would milk and cookies follow? I wondered.

“Mike, it’s good to meet you,” Dorothy began. “Let’s take a little walk around the office. You’ll be seeing the manufacturing complex and classrooms later. Follow me!”

We fell in line behind Dorothy. As we walked, she introduced us to every person we met, each time relating a story about that person’s recent contributions to the training and job creation mission of Aslan. They all beamed as Dorothy spoke of them and would then add a word or two of information. Every encounter included an introduction, a story, some praise, and even some planning, all of it right before our eyes! By the time we reached her office, she had worked meaningfully with nearly a dozen people. I was in total awe! How many times have I followed an executive into a factory and watched as the workers glanced away or pretended to be too busy to notice? The difference here was stunning.

In the conference room, Dorothy told me the story of Aslan. “I guess you’re wondering how a housewife and grandmother like me winds up here.”

I nodded. I was wondering this.

“It goes back to some of this city’s darkest days,” Dorothy explained. “In our frustration and anger over our poverty and lack of opportunity, we were literally destroying our neighborhoods and ourselves. I couldn’t stand it any longer. I didn’t feel suited to the task, but I was convinced that we had to turn our situation around. So I got to work, and others joined me.”

“What we have here,” Dorothy was explaining, “is a people development engine. On the demand side, we did our homework with the businesses in this area. We discovered that Philadelphia was facing a critical shortage of skilled machinists. We went to shops all over the city and throughout the shipyards, hundreds of them, and asked them if they would be willing to take machinists of color if we trained them. A deal shaped up. If we could produce great machinists, both in terms of skill and reliability, these shops would have plenty of jobs available.

“I just knew,” Dorothy continued, her voice as full and emphatic as a preacher at full thunder, “that we could do it! No one could tell me that our trainees could not become the very best of the best. So I focused all my energy on our students’ success. Their success was my success!

“From a leadership standpoint. I had to redefine the concept of ‘being in charge.’ I’m not in charge so much as I’m committed to whatever causes my followers to get charged. Charged up, that is.”

I wrote it down.

You’re in charge principally to charge up others.


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