Servant Leadership – The Men’s Warehouse, ACT, Org Silence

Servant Leadership

The Men’s Warehouse – Stanford Graduate School of Business

Of all the things I identified as “what I wanted to be when I grew up”, a salesman was not one of them.  Don’t get me wrong, America is a capitalist country and sales people are necessary.  Certainly they get a bad rap because of the slimy practices of many.  But there are good sales people out there; that truly care about making the customer happy and not just lining their own pockets.  Of course they’re there to make money, but that doesn’t have to be their only motivation. 

I learned young (while selling greeting cards and candy for school activities) that selling is a gruelling, painful, rejection ridden nightmare if you’re not built to sell.  So while I don’t necessarily care for selling, I can see the art inherent in being a good honest sales person.  Apparently, so can the Men’s Warehouse.  Not only do they recognize the trait, they’ve learned to foster, train, and build people up to master their sales techniques.  You might think this post is about selling, but……’s not.  It’s actually about servant leadership and how to treat employees.  I bring up all the sales stuff because Men’s Warehouse appears so appealing based on the article, that even I, the worst of salesmen wouldn’t mind working there and selling suits. 

George Zimmer the founder of Men’s Warehouse described servant leadership as “just an extension of left-wing student politics”.  While I couldn’t possibly disagree more with his definition, his leadership prowess and success are indisputable.  Forgoing the political overtones, I want to highlight some of the things I love about the management philosophy at Men’s Warehouse in bullet style.

  • The employee comes first and our customer comes second.  I can’t say enough about this ideology.  We all know how important customers are to our success.  It goes without saying.  The problem most companies have is their failure to recognize the importance of their employees.  It’s one thing to “value your employees”, many companies give lip service to this very attitude.  But to place them ahead of your customers is not only revolutionary, it is pure genius.  A valued employee will take ownership of their piece of the business and will serve your customers like they’re his customers.   Brilliant!!
  • Being a good role model and servant leader were taken very seriously by the company.  How many times do you hear the term “role model” at work?  I never hear it where I work, but I wish I did.  It means you’re coaching, teaching, and paying attention to your actions to the point that your employees emulate you.  How many of us actually have management that we want to emulate?  How many of us take the time to teach our employees how to have the kind of success that we’ve had?  This goes back to caring about your employees.  It’s all part of the same ideology, one that places a premium on people far above that which is placed on inventory.  Instead of maximizing profits, you can maximize your company and its place in the world.  Will you be remembered more for the extra .27% earnings or the impact you had in people’s lives?  I know, profits are why we’re in business, but who says we can’t be about more than the bottom line?  We all want to “do well” in business, but who says we can’t also “do good”?
  • Maximize the individual’s self-esteem.  Men’s Warehouse actually has policy in place with directives dictating how to increase the self-esteem of their workers.  Wow.  I’m not even sure my Mom had a plan for doing that.  It goes to the idea that a confident worker will take more / better risks and treat customers better.  Men’s warehouse believes in two methods for improving the self-esteem of their work force.  The first being to “catch them in the act of doing something right”.  This doesn’t happen on accident.  It requires a purposeful observance of employee activities to emphasize what each is doing well.  Don’t confuse this with micromanagement.  It’s all about looking for the good and pointing it out.  The other method was constructive criticism.  Constructive criticism is invaluable.  Realize this is different from pure criticism.  The point is not to be mean-spirited but to take an active role in improving the employee.  When done right an employee will thank you for constructive criticism.  Are your employees thanking you for the correction you’re giving them?  If not, you’re doing it wrong.

Although the post revolves around Men’s Warehouse and their management style, this is a great example of servant leadership, which I intend to write about in my next post.  I love the concept and keep finding more articles and blogs regarding the practice.  It’s something I hope to explore more fully next time.

ACT – Changing Others Through Changing Ourselves

This article was long and kind of boring.  The main thrust was quite good however.  The main idea was that the existing change philosophies have to be augmented by one major factor.  Instead  of managers looking only at the employees as people who need to change, they must look at themselves first.  People are going to change only when they have the proper motivation, but if managers expect that they can force change on everyone but exclude themselves it will never work. 

Organizational Silence

The idea with this article was that employees as much as management tend to see the deficiencies in an organization but they tend not to make an effort to change them for fear of the negative repercussions of speaking out.  This article went on to show just how bad it is when employees at large are not involved in decision-making and are not included in change plans.  Management also makes the mistake of misinterpreting the silence of their employees.  Instead of realizing that fear and lack of faith in the management team are the reasons, they assume that employees don’t care about the organization and are self-interested and unmotivated.  This is yet another time when management needs to look at themselves and the system that they’ve built instead of assuming that employees are lazy or stupid.  They work in the environment that management builds and are constrained by the rules (written or observed) that management creates.  If there is a behavioral issue, instead of assuming the employee is to blame, re-evaluate the system.


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