The Business Transition Blog

Service to Others

Take a bucket and fill it with water,

Put your hand in it up to the wrist,

Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining

Is a measure of how you’ll be missed.

                                    S.W. Kessinger

The Indispensable Man (we could add Woman to this title) is a poem often cited for cautioning leaders to be humble as they exit.

But I think there is another message here for leaders – a successful transition should look like exactly like this…barely a ripple when it’s time to move on.  How we start is important; how we finish is the true measure of success.  Preparing all our stakeholders to move forward without us is a priority.

While we most often think about what’s in it for us as business owners, seeking ways to maximize our rewards after years of hard work, it’s worth considering succession planning from the perspective of service to others.

In 1970, Robert Greenleaf published an essay outlining the concept of servant leadership. Since then multiple authors have added to this theory that leadership must be about more than the acquisition and hoarding of power.

At its core is the basic principle that servant leaders recognize their responsibilities to a broad base of stakeholders – their employees, clients and customers, as well as the community in which they do business. They accomplish their goals by serving others. The Greenleaf Foundation’s research suggests servant leader institutions have improved retention and higher profits. Always good markers when you are transitioning your business.

As you prepare for succession, consider ways to serve others:

  • Share power rather than hoarding it.
  • Push responsibility and accountability further down the organizational chain.
  • Help individuals develop the necessary skills and ability to carry on without you.
  • Build capacity in the processes and structures of the organization as well as in the people.
  • Then, track and evaluate your progress in these strategies.

The world looks different when you are other-focused rather than self-focused. Sharing power, looking after the needs of stakeholders, and lifting individuals to their highest level of performance are key ways to serve others.  When you do, everyone wins. And you might be missed more than you would have otherwise.