Insight in to my management style and philosophy – what works for me.


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“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you.”

Max dePree wrote that in his “Leadership is an Art” book over fifteen years ago. I once based a management training class based on the contents of that book, and it is still one of the definitive pieces of leadership literature in my mind and library.

Leadership and management have been an integral part of my career from the beginning. I remember the first management training class I led as a brand new Training Manager in a huge company. There I was, a kid in his early twenties, trying to tell battle hardened frontline managers how to get the most out of their receiving dock workers. It was extremely intimidating and would have been much worse had my new boss not sat me down and told me that “as a Training Manager, you have to be the ideal. You of all of the managers here MUST walk the talk, or you will have no credibility.” Then he handed me a copy of Robert Greenleaf’s “Servant as Leader” paper and said that “This works for me. Give it a read.”

So I did.

“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. He or she is sharply different from the person who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions. For such it will be a later choice to serve after leadership is established. The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.

“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer , is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, will they not be further deprived?”

If you’re a manager by title, does that fit with how you work? On being a manager of people, I have some simple pretexts that I can share that work for me.

First, leaders need to develop the perspective in those they lead that the work is a means to an end. I know, it’s great to love what you do, but c’mon, get real. You wouldn’t work for free (me neither,) and frankly, unless you are in the medical field, for the majority of us (and as my wife likes to remind me) “are not saving lives here…”

I’m not saying that you have to be lax and not drive for results in your day to day job and the people or projects that you manage, but you must respect and drive your people to have a life. It’s an amazing thing – when people realize that you actually care as much or more about their reality as you do about their work – something magical happens. If you’re sincere and walk the talk. The manager that works seventy hours a week and is always replying to your emails at 11pm on a Saturday night while telling you to take care of your family is sending mixed, if not hypocritical messages. Life comes first, work gets done. In my experience by having, living and promoting this perspective, when that crunch project needs to thrown through the fiery hoop just before the buzzer yesterday, your folks will get it done. They will exceed your expectations every time.

Second, once you establish the relative importance of work in life, people have needs and expectations of you as their manager. Every person is different. If you manage every person the same, you will fail as a manager. Strong statement? Naah, just a truth of my experience. When I come to a new team or get a new employee, we sit down and visit expectations, theirs first. What do you expect of this job, of me as your manager? Tell me what you need to be successful. It’s my job to do my best to provide that for you. I won’t always be able to, but I need to know.

Then I’ll tell you what I expect. That’s easy. Do your job. Be honest – if you are near or at your limit, tell me. It’s my job to make your workload manageable. I will continue to give you projects until you’re at the bottom of the pool gasping with all of them piled on your chest if you don’t speak up. Speak up, and the team and I will jump in to the pool with you. If you want to learn or do something new and it’s in my power to grant or approve it, I will. Things that don’t grow are dead. Oh, and if you screw up, that’s ok, too, as long as I hear it from you first. Don’t let one of your peers or their manager get to me before you do. We’ll learn from it and mitigate the results together. If your screw up is illegal or immoral, then you’re on your own, because we’re not like that – our team is not, and we will not tolerate behavior that is. Everyone knows that up front.

The purpose of this post is really so you can get some insight in to me as a worker, manager and training guy. Hopefully it makes sense and reading it isn’t like losing your grip on the cheese grater when you’re making Mom’s secret enchilada recipe.

Since I have been a training guy all of my career and we training folks love quotes, I’ll leave you with one of my long time favorite quotes – appropriately and by design from Betsy Sanders “Fabled Service” book:

“If we can focus our efforts on setting up an environment in which our employees can succeed, they will drive even our loftiest visions far beyond our highest expectations.”
-Betsy Sanders

Gus Strand
Service Matters
I'm a lifelong service practitioner and customer evangelist. I've spent the last 20 years in a career in corporate L&D and credit my service focus to a grandfather that had an "old school" small town hardware store. You know the type - worn wood floors, china and Osterizers in the front window, a pipe threader out back and everything - including hot coffee - in between. I've a DNA-level service and learning focus with experience in companies that defined service in ways that other companies strive for: Wal-Mart in Sam's day, Coldwater Creek, Harry & David, Dell and more.


  1. Thank you for sharing your management style and philosophy. I believe as you do. Love the last quote too.


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