I recently interviewed Mike Barnes, Mn/DOT Division Director for Engineering Services. We talked about the sixth book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, The world’s most powerful leadership principle : how to become a servant leader by James C. Hunter.
Tang: Why did you pick this book?
Barnes: After I heard a talk by Commissioner Sorel on servant leadership, I read the first book by James Hunter titled “The Servant” and really liked it. It puts servant leadership into more of a story. I also liked Hunter’s writing style. So I picked his second book to learn the practical side of servant leadership principles.
Tang: What did you like about the book?
Barnes: The book is practical and helpful in both format and contents.
The first half of the book is about WHAT good leadership looks like, what servant leadership is, what the principles are. The second half of the book is about HOW to implement what you learned, the steps necessary to becoming an effective servant leader. It’s easy to read and understand.
The principles taught in the book relate to our everyday life and are applicable to everyone whether you are someone in a leadership role, or a parent, teacher, coach, etc.
Tang: What are the principles of leadership that Hunter talks about in the book?
Barnes: Hunter talks about the following eight principles of leadership: patience, kindness, humility, respect, selflessness, forgiveness, honest and commitment. He also does a great job comparing leadership and the action part of love.
Tang: What are some ideas or concepts from the book that stood out for you?
Barnes: Leadership is not management. You do not manage people. You manage things, and you lead people.
Leadership, love, and character are all about doing the right thing.
Leadership is influence. The foundation of leadership is not power, but authority and influence. They are built upon relationships, love, service and sacrifice.
One cannot love people without serving and sacrificing for them. When we serve and sacrifice for others, we build authority (influence), and when we build authority with people, when we can influence and inspire people to action, we become leaders.
The whole book and the idea of servant leadership can be boiled down to this: To lead is to serve.
Tang: What new things did you learn from reading this book?
Barnes: I have read many different leadership books. What I found refreshing and interesting is that Hunter compares love and leadership, character and leadership and brings them all together. They are about the same thing – doing the right thing for others and for the common good.
Love is not just a feeling, more importantly, love is an action word. Love is a state not of the feelings, but of the will. It is the will, the choice, the willingness of a person to be attentive to the legitimate needs, best interests, and welfare of another regardless of how he happens to feel. That’s what love is really about. I hadn’t thought of love in this way as Hunter talks about in the book.
Tang: The idea of servant leadership has its origin in Christianity. In this book, Hunter references to Bible and Jesus as the great leader a few times. What would you say to people who have a different faith or are atheists and therefore might be put off by the religious tone in the book.
Barnes: I have read other books on servant leadership that have a much stronger religious overtone than this book. Yes, this book refers to Bible and Jesus a few times when it talks about love and serving others. But the book is about leadership and is targeted for the secular readership. The ideas and principles in the book are fundamental laws that are universal and unchanging. They apply to everyone regardless of your backgrounds and ideology. Everyone can benefit from the book.
Tang: The author talks about examples of great leaders who are well known around the world, such as Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King. Do you know someone in your own life who is a true leader?
Barnes: I think my grandmother exemplified the servant leadership principles. She loved our big family, church and community by serving and sacrificing. She has influenced and inspired me with her character and authority.
Also Dan Dorgan, Mn/DOT’s bridge engineer for many years and recently retired, is an excellent example of servant leader and set the example to follow.
Tang: Motivation is an important component of leadership. To influence and inspire people to action and greatness, you need to know how to motivate them. What can you as a leader do or what can Mn/DOT do to truly motivate employees?
Barnes: As Hunter says, true motivation is about lighting a fire within people, and moving them to action because they want to act. We need to understand the deeper needs that human beings all share – the need to be appreciated, recognized, and respected. We should take time to say thanks more often and find more ways to say thanks. People appreciate personal thanks, written thanks, public praise and promotion for good performance. That’s what we should do better.
Tang: Often times people go to leadership training, learn some great ideas, feel energized by the new knowledge. But afterwards, not much changes. As Hunter says, nobody becomes a better leader by reading a book or attending a class. We become leaders by applying our learning, knowledge, feedback and experience to our everyday lives. To become a better leader, one must be willing and motivated to change and grow. How do you plan to take what you learned to the next level?
Barnes: I totally agree, head knowledge without application isn’t worth much. We can’t change overnight, but we can take small steps one at a time and make incremental change. I have sat down and created an action plan for myself. I need to work on myself every day. Building up character is a work in progress. We can never stop learning, change and grow if we want to be leaders.
Tang: Please share some quotes from the book that are very meaningful for you.
Barnes: “Leadership development and character development are one.” (p.23)
“Managers do things right while leaders do the right thing.” (p. 31)
”Management is what we do. Leadership is who we are.” (p. 32)
“To lead is to serve.” (p. 73)
Tang: Tell us a little bit about your reading habits.
Barnes: I read a lot while in military and in college. Basically I read two types of books. One is the technical and professional type of books. The other type is management/leadership and personal development related.
I have been reading more books since Commissioner Sorel came to Mn/DOT to try to stay ahead.
In terms of favorite books and authors, I don’t really have any. But I would say, Home Depot’s Home Improvement Series are my favorite how-to-do books as I enjoy working on fixing things around the house.