Dee Hock – An example of a Servant Leader

Dee Hock, founding CEO of VISA International was the driving force behind the creation of one of the most dynamic, complex organisations of our time. Despite being pragmatic in its pursuit for profit, VISA is also a highly values based organisation. Dee Hock was a Servant Leader and his approach is an example to us all.

Dee Hock is one of the most influential people of our time, yet few people are aware of his extra-ordinary influence on creating sustainable organisations through an approach known as Servant Leadership.

Dee Hock was the founder and CEO Emeritus of VISA International, an organisation that to this day is regarded as the most profitable business on earth. Yet most people know very little about VISA such as where it is head-quartered, what its history is, who created it, why it was created and who works for it. To many people’s surprise when they do commence their research on this amazing organisation they discover that it was founded upon an interesting paradox. First, VISA International is an organisation grounded in solid values, second it is an organisation that has a pragmatic pursuit of profit. How can two seemingly opposite pursuits co-exist?

One of the ways that these two opposite pursuits can co-exist is through the concept of Servant Leadership. Robert K Greenleaf first penned this concept in 1970 in an essay titled The Servant as Leader. In many ways the deep concept of Servant Leadership is captured by the test that Robert described in his essay. The test is as follows:

“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 not be further deprived?”

Many leaders practice the opposite of Servant Leadership. They see the people who report to them as being truly ‘sub-ordinate’ (the origin of this word means, “Sub – order”) and they believe that their direct reports exist to ‘serve’ the leader. In contrast Servant Leaders consider that the people who report to them are people who should be served. But service in this context is not about ‘doing their job for them’. Rather, it is about creating an environment that enables a leader’s direct reports to be the best they can be in their service of the organisation.

Servant Leadership also extends to serving the people to whom you report, serving your key stakeholders, your customers (or clients) and the broader community. So this means that while the formal leader is serving their direct reports, their direct reports are also serving them. Another interesting paradox! In addition Servant Leadership does not have to be limited to people who are in formal leadership roles. Servant Leadership can be practised by anyone, at any time, in any role.

Dee Hock published a book titled The Birth of The Chaordic Age in 1999. In 2005 it was re-published under the title One From Many. The book is exactly the same and both versions are currently available through Amazon and other good book-stores. It is well worth adding this book to your personal library.

For many people the concept of Servant Leadership seems natural yet they are not sure how to practice it. Please share your experiences and/or ask questions to enable us all to extend our understanding of Servant Leadership.

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