“. . .their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Mark 10:42-43
The last few years of my corporate career I was privileged to have been on what I considered the “Super Bowl team of our industry”, the exact words I in fact wrote in a letter to my superiors announcing my intention to depart the company and the industry in the coming months. Reflecting on that over these past thirteen years since I wrote that letter it has become more and more clear to me that much of the credit for our being tops in the industry at that time was the result of strong leadership, in particular our group leader Terry Atkinson, probably the most effective leader I ever served under.
To converse with Terry was more akin to speaking with a colleague than a boss. Always interested in the opinions, ideas, and concerns of those who reported to him, he listened intently and often took copious notes. In turn he would share his thoughts to ensure everyone was clear about the bigger mission. Terry endeavored to hire and retain the best people in their respective fields and to provide whatever support and resources they needed to perform at their best. Otherwise, he did not micro-manage but rather left it to his leaders and their teams to do their jobs. Don’t misunderstand that he was easy to work for; indeed his expectations were high, but so were his support and encouragement.
In his newly published book Team of Teams General Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army, Retired) likened Terry’s style of leadership to that of a gardener. “The gardener cannot actually ‘grow’ tomatoes, squash, or beans – she can only foster an environment in which the plants do so.” The General explains, “If the garden is well organized and adequately maintained, and the vegetables are promptly harvested when ripe, the product is pretty impressive. The gardener creates an environment in which the plants can flourish.”
Reading General McChrystal’s book I could not help but think of my old boss Terry Atkinson. What set him apart as a great leader was this: “. . .their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Thus he created an environment where all could flourish.