Wanted: servant leaders

The people who occupy the chairs of leadership on the Augusta Commission must remember that true leaders seek first to serve.

We’ve got some unorthodox advice for our Augusta commissioners.

Stop trying so hard.

Stop trying so hard to rule the city – and control each other – and start being more like servant leaders.

Not long ago commissioners discussed, in the words of our Chronicle news report, “seeking clarity on what an individual commissioner could demand of a department head or other employee who reports directly to the commission.”

Therein lies much of our problem. Therein lies the difference between leading and ruling. When you start off from the premise that your job is simply to demand things of your underlings, there’s no good place you can go from there, and your business or government enterprise will reflect that.

A few years ago, an Augusta commissioner got in trouble for demanding the computer hard drive of city Administrator Fred Russell – in an effort to try to catch him in impropriety. The commissioner’s action was rightly deemed inappropriate and he was censured – but more importantly his actions were just wrongheaded. It was treating the administrator like a subject – one who could not be trusted – rather than a colleague.

More recently, Commissioner Grady Smith has been criticized for directing the city’s legal counsel to draft an amendment to the conflict-of-interest policy, to allow commissioners and other city officials to do business with the city as subcontractors.

It later came to light that Smith and two other commissioners have done such business with the city, in apparent violation of the ethics code, and have rightly been censured by their colleagues.

Commissioners ought to feel free to ask legal counsel to draft whatever they wish. But Smith’s real mistake was in bypassing his commission colleagues and not asking their collective opinion on the matter first.

We would also respectfully suggest that the larger issue now being revisited – what, if anything, commissioners should be free to tell department heads to do – also is being looked at wrongly.

It’s our view that commissioners ought to go through administrator Russell for their needs, and should avoid micromanaging city departments. But when dealing with department heads or other city employees directly, it seems to us that the best approach for commissioners would be, rather than telling them what to do, to simply ask the employees what they need to do their jobs.

In other words, commissioners should set the big-picture policies and then ask how they can best help city employees get us there.

We don’t know what all they

 

throw at new county commissioners at county commission school. But if they don’t assign the new leaders books on servant leadership, they’re doing those public officials a great disservice – as well as the people they are elected to serve.

There’s especially no excuse in Augusta, Ga., for missing the leadership boat. Some of the best thinkers around in servant leadership have ties here, including retired Maj. Gen. Perry Smith; former Fort Gordon Commanding Gen. Jeff Foley; and international leadership guru Dr. Ken Blanchard, whose worldwide “Lead Like Jesus” nonprofit organization is headquartered in Augusta.

Dr. Blanchard’s fame is global and his wisdom universal. We encourage Augusta leaders to absorb it and apply it.

At the heart of it is this: A true leader seeks first to serve; empowering and encouraging others is not only the best way to get your enterprise where it needs to go, it truly is the only way.

That and other principles of effective leadership seem obvious when you’re confronted with them. But we have very successful and well-paid gurus of leadership around the world because so many leaders don’t follow the path of real success. One reason why: You have to check your ego at the door. As a character in Dr. Blanchard’s book The Secret notes, “A key question you must continuously ask yourself is, ‘Am I a serving leader or a self-serving leader?’”

Great leaders, as Dr. Blanchard suggests, also appear preoccupied with the future – in order to create sustainable visions for the enterprises they lead. They aren’t preoccupied with what somebody did to somebody else a few years ago, or who can say what to whom, or what whims of theirs their employees must be expected to fulfill.

We’ve previously stated that Augusta’s form of government is a monument to mistrust that almost invites dysfunction and paralysis: an even number of commissioners, almost certainly five black and five white; no mayoral vote without a tie (and abstentions prevent that); and a six-vote supermajority required to pass anything.

The truth is, great leaders could make even this clunker hum. We simply would ask our elected officials to aspire to that.

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