Work Better Wednesday: Servant Leadership

Work Better Wednesday: Servant Leadership

Derrick Mashore of Space Matters interviewed our own Steve Polo last month as part of his Wednesday Wisdom series. Steve explained servant leadership and the creative use of technologies to promote culture (Slack, anyone? Spolier alert — we’re huge fans!).

Space Matters will be hosting the entire interview later this fall, but we just couldn’t wait to post the teaser here. Be sure to check out the transcript below!


Derrick: So Steve, Tell us more about the growth of yourself, as a leader and how it’s impacted OPX.

Steve: I try to model what is known in the industry, but not particularly well known, something called Servant Leadership. Max De Pree from Herman Miller was one of the early adopters of that, although Lao Tzu was probably in the 5th century BC — a little before Max De Pree. And Max Depree said something interesting, he said: “The first job of a leader is to paint reality. The last job is to say thank you, and everything in between is a servant.” — which is a really interesting thing and I don’t believe I grew up thinking that was the definition of a leader but now I’m convinced it is. So if you’re trying to help people do something you actually need to help them, right? And if you want them to, you have to not only inspire them with the vision you have, you have to help them do what they need to do otherwise, how could they possibly learn how to do that? So that’s really, at every level, every leader’s job and that’s something I learned over a long period of time — I wish I’d learned it 25 years ago.

Derrick: Does your evolution as a professional, personally have an impact on the organization at large?

Steve: I have a lot of interests, and I think the reason I end up having a lot of interests is because I’m intensely curious about life and about people. And I actually am passionate about learning and I think that when people are around me, they hear me like that and I think it does have some effect on folks. It probably has some effect on folks here. The way I gauge that is, you know, we have a lot of communication tools here. One of the things we have is something called Slack, and it’s an IM kind of thing and so every day on slack someone posts some interesting fact about people or tools or place and it goes through the organization and people have conversations about this sort of stuff. And I read these posts and I’m joyous about that, because you can’t ever learn too much, it’s just impossible. And the challenges we see in the world and we see in our clients’ worlds — those are our challenges, and so the more we know about them, the more we can bring to bear, at least thinking about it and as designers we’re imagining what the next thing could be. We’re imagining — how could this be something else? Or how could this be transformed? — in our case, to something “better”. So the more we know, the better equipped we are… and if we can marry that with empathy, we’re golden.

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