Flourishing Teams By RightNow Media@Work
Servant Leaders Shepherd Flourishing Teams
A young cashier looked up from his register and noticed a group of older gentlemen emerging from a car outside the fast-food restaurant. Curiously, instead of walking together toward the door, they scattered around the parking lot. He couldn’t see what they were doing until they regrouped and approached the double doors leading into the lobby. Each one deposited a handful of litter into the trash can at the door.
Unusual, he thought. I’ve never seen a whole carload of customers do that. And then he recognized one of the men: he was the CEO of the whole company, his photo gracing the wall next to the register.
He was picking up trash?
Donnie Smith, former CEO of Tyson Chicken, tells a variation of this story in his series Peach Tree Leadership. That’s servant leadership, he says, a style of leading that originates from a heart of humility and confidence. A leader like that ascribes not to the usual top-down pyramid model but to what Donnie calls a peach tree model of leadership.
What is the Peach Tree Model of Leadership?
In a peach tree work environment, the employees are the peaches. They are the focus of the tree’s energy and activity—the point of the organization. All the other elements exist to resource them. The leaders—instead of lording over the workers—act as the root structure, feeding and nourishing the workers and everyone else supporting them. Leadership provides everything those peaches need to become the best they can.
Peach tree leaders are motivated by the biblical principle of humility rather than power. When Jesus was asked by James and John to allow them to rule at his side in his kingdom, he responded:
“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10: 42–45, ESV).
Peach tree leaders serve rather than rule. They aren’t motivated by fear of failure or of being passed over. They express confidence in their employees and do everything they can to help them flourish.
What does the Peach Tree Model Look Like?
How can you behave like a peach tree leader rather than the typical top-of-the-pyramid boss? Consider these three principles:
(1) You need a plan. Donnie recommends a “Don’t Do” list in addition to the regular “To-do” list. Know your priorities and don’t allow other tasks to take over your time. You’ve hired capable employees who can handle those other responsibilities—so let them. Focus on what your team needs from you.
(2) Prioritize your integrity.Take steps to help you stay accountable to your values. Your position comes with great responsibility and your integrity is crucial to your effectiveness as a leader. Who has permission to confront you for behavior that runs counter to your stated principles? Maybe you have a group of friends or peers that regularly meet for this purpose. Donnie mentioned his secretary, who had full access to every conversation in his office. Do what it takes to stay true to your values.
(3) Get out of your office. Donnie’s phrase “shepherds smell like their sheep” is a powerful image of a leader mixing and mingling with employees. Let them know you care about them. To do that, you have to find ways to spend time with them: have lunch with a group in the cafeteria, send a birthday card, inquire about their families. This shows them that you don’t consider yourself better than them merely because you are the boss. In doing so, you are reflecting the truth that we all are equal in God’s sight, that Jesus died for all of us.
And while you are out of the office, pick up trash. Fix a lightbulb. Replace the printer ink cartridge. Be the kind of leader who won’t ask anyone to do something you aren’t willing to do also. And watch your peach tree thrive.
Click here to get free access to Donnie’s teaching.
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