Wearing Two Hats: Master and Servant

I was honored to spend 30 minutes recently talking with Howdy Holmes, the former Indy 500 racer and current CEO of Jiffy Mix. During the conversation he said something that really struck me as a core disconnect in many organizations- "ownership does not equal leadership." He was speaking in reference to family businesses, Jiffy Mix is one, but I realized it had applications well beyond family businesses. It's a problem most owner led businesses have. Most owners believe that the fact that they own the business means they are de-facto leaders. But leadership and ownership are two distinct roles, two hats often worn by the same individuals. This creates the opportunity for all kinds of confusion.

This is something I continually struggle with, balancing these two roles, wearing these two hats. As I see it, my job as CEO of SmallBox is to serve the company but as an owner I expect the company to serve me- creating meaning, wealth and opportunities for me and my family. So in the first instance I am a servant and in the former I am a master. 

I think most business owners don't see a separation of roles. They see the company as something serves them. They have a master mentality at all times. This manifests in the choices they make as a leader. 

The easiest way to observe this is in how owner-leaders use their time. An owner-leader that has a servant mentality looks to align their time with the needs of the organization and conversely one with a master mentality looks to have the organization align around their needs. Either behavior sends powerful signals across an organization. The primary byproduct of the behavior is that employees begin to mimic it. 

Consider this- which behavior do you want employees to mimic? I think most owner-leaders want their employees to mimic the servant mentality- serving the needs of the organization, putting the organization, and its customers, first. They want employees to have a "we" over a "me" mentality. But when owner-leaders exhibit "me first" thinking they create the unintended by-product of employees who mimic that thinking and behavior. The result is a company where everyone is looking out for themselves, collaboration and innovation languish and overall results disappoint. An ironic outcome.