The Leader

He may have seemed an unlikely leader, but he made his employees better.


He always joked that if you glanced into a room where he was meeting with his associates and were asked to guess which one was the department director, he'd be the last person you'd pick.

That was true. Although he didn't look the part, he was an extraordinary leader who operated with the rule that the followers should be consulted, developed, and praised. When the media came to cover accomplishments of his department—and there were many—he was seldom out in front. Others were permitted to take credit and stand before the cameras. Many of his top assistants later went on to head other departments. Each carried at least part of his philosophy.

He was not a pushover; in fact, I would rate him as one of the toughest leaders I've ever encountered. If he took action, it was meaningful action and not the sort designed to produce an alibi or the illusion of action. No one stood around afterwards trying to figure out how the boss felt. Those who couldn't perform were given guidance and a reasonable amount of time to shape up. If they didn't meet expectations, they were gone. He respected the other employees enough not to permit one person to drag down the team.

The team was always his focus. He spent time in the field listening to people, joking with them, and searching for ways to remove unnecessary obstacles so they could do the job. He studied his profession and, without taking himself too seriously, significantly improved it.

In short, he was a tough servant-leader. I find myself repeatedly returning to his maxims and guidance.

What would his followers say was his greatest accomplishment?

He made us better.

Michael Wade writes, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.