I’m reading a book by Paul Polak, titled “Out of Poverty: what works when traditional approaches fail”. He says something at the beginning that really gets to the heart of servant leadership and entrepreneurship. He lays out twelve steps to effectively plan to empower through enterprise solutions. The interesting thing about this humble man is that he first apologizes for the simplicity of some of these steps. He then states that even though it seems simple it took years to find them. One of those simple steps was listen to the people you’re trying to help. Listen! Hello! This should be a given, but it’s not.
Within sixty seconds I thought through my business relationships with customers and employees and evaluated my performance based on this principle. Do I really know my customers? Do I really know my employees? I know we all think we do, but do we really? I had a mentor a few years back that I trusted more than I should have. He really never got to know me and really didn’t want to find out what it would take to help me. It would have challenged him and he was not secure enough to be open to me. This was a painful experience, but a great lesson and something I use to challenge myself to be open and learn from others.
When it comes to business and learning to empower those around us we must apply the simple principles. My goal is to be a small part of those around me reaching their full potential; hitting the mark, if you will. How can I help you? Do I think I know? If I know your situation with out really being persistent then I am in danger of failing before I start.
As an example Paul tells of a story where insufficient fertilizer was being applied on the farms. The experts were baffled by the ignorance of the farmers until they spoke to them. The farmers had a ten year flood and would not buy more than they could risk using. The farmers had more relevant information than the experts. The poor farmers were the key. What does this tell us? As leaders we need to respect the people we are serving enough to sit down and listen. After all, who could care more about their situation than them.
The farmer has much more to loose than the expert. When a leader directs you without all the facts then they have the potential to do great harm. As a leader it is important to remember those that follow you are either following you to their benefit or detriment. If you don’t have the facts you risk leading them to miss the mark of their potential.