Some years back, the CEO of Jewel Tea Company referred to himself in a Harvard Business Review article as The First Assistant to his direct reports. By that, he meant that he saw himself as the person to whom his department heads could turn for support in accomplishing difficult or unusual projects and that he could stand in for them when they were ill or on vacation. Do you operate in this manner? Should you? While sounding supportive this approach also contains inherent risks.
When running my advertising agencies, I initially thought this was a good approach. It would allow me to keep a good eye on the business and to develop close relationships with my colleagues; they would feel supported and appreciated. However, as I look back on that style now, I also see the risk of becoming more operational than a CEO should; it can distract from his responsibility as the visionary and strategic leader. It can also risk undercutting company department heads in the eyes of their staffs or, in our case, clients. And, it forgoes the opportunity of providing leadership responsibility and experience to their own number ones when they are ill or on holiday.
Philosophically and on the surface, the idea of the “Servant Boss” has much appeal. But the risks also need cosideration before adoption of the style!
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