July 23, 2011

Servant Leadership

NaviWorks leaders perform the song and dance number "Be Our Guest" for Dream-Makers during the last annual trip. After our performance we served food and drinks. Dream-Makers made sure we gave them excellent service!

Here’s a tale of two bosses I had when I worked at Yahoo!

The first boss (call him Andy) was a good guy.  He was likeable, funny and very smart and fiercely ambitious.  However, over time it became clear to the eight or so of us on his team that Andy was more interested in how we could help him climb higher in his career than how he could help us in our careers.  He was pleasant and friendly, but showed little interest in our career goals.  He helped us with our jobs, but “benign neglect” seemed to be his guiding principle regarding our careers.  He was all about driving results for his boss.  Fair enough.

My second boss (call him Bill) was different.

Bill was similarly smart, talented and ambitious as Andy.  But there was one BIG difference.

In our first one-to-one meeting together, Bill asked me about my career goals.  Then he said “Chris, I want to work on a plan with you to help you become a director in this company.”

And he meant it.  Whoa!

I was shocked.  Bill actually wanted to help me! And, later, he backed up his words with action.

Which boss do you think I worked harder for and was happier under?  That’s right, Bill.

I never forgot this lesson.

At VietnamWorks and Navigos Search, one of our top responsibilities as leaders is to give our Dream-Makers (or DMs, what we call employees) the skills and experience they need to advance their careers and achieve their own dreams.  All of our leaders understand that their job is to empower and support their people, then get out of the way.  We mean it, and we take action on it.

We call it “Servant Leadership.”  Leaders are servants of their people.  Check out a great definition of Servant Leadership by clicking here.

It feels good.  And it gets results.

Anh Trong serves Dream-Makers with a smile.

Viet Thanh, Van Anh and Hue Chi prepare to serve Dream-Makers.


  • Phuong le

    Hi Chris,

    This is the story that impressed me on TV show.

    I am very interesting in the term “dream maker”. I have been thinking a lot about it. As a young and ambitious person, I am stuck with big questions ” what do I want to do in my career? what can I do best? what does make me happy? What are my dreams?” Since I graduated from Universities, I have had opportunities to work in international working environments. I challenge myself with different works, event with things that I am not asked to do. Though my bosses keep telling me that I am good at what I do, I still cannot really see myself satisfied with it. Simply, I do think that there are things that I can do better but not knowing what they are. I admire people around me knowing what their dreams are and especially their endless efforts to make them come true.

    Chris, as a team leader, or in the other word, a dream maker, what advice would you give me?

    • Chris

      Hi Phuong,

      It’s ok if you don’t know what your dreams are. Sometimes it takes time for your dreams to reveal themselves in your life.

      Right now it’s important to discover your passions.

      Throughout my career I discovered I have lots of passions. Two are coaching and teaching. I discovered that one when I volunteered to teach English and American citizenship to immigrants. I also love making ideas into reality through action. And I like to guide organizations and projects through growth and development — I get enormous satisfaction from completing projects and seeing improvement.

      I can express all these passions in my current job as general manager. Because of that it’s a nearly perfect job for me. And one of my dreams is to create the most challenging, most rewarding and most fun working environment in Vietnam.

      You do have passions, even if you’re not aware of them. To reveal your own passions, think back to activities you’ve done, either at work or in school or anywhere. What did you enjoy doing, what activities gave you energy and made you feel good while you were doing them? Make a list of as many things as you can without trying to think too much. Then, review your list. I bet there will be patterns that jump out at you of things you really enjoy. Those are your passions. The next step is to find a job where you can express them!


  • Phuong le

    Thank you so much for your kind advice, Chris!
    Please know that I really appreciate it.

  • Hi Phuong,

    I reached this article from your facebook :) and i see this is very interesting, thanks Chris also! That’s the way I’m doing now with my team, grow them, we will have strong org. if we have strong people, strong team.

    Phuong, I just want to share you that, in my opinion, your dream, passion is not something like persisting over the time, but it will change in all your life. So don’t worry if something goes wrong, not like your expectation.

    It seems that you have your own dream already, and you are very aggressive on that. But the thing is you still not have your own plan, or you still have not a right coach to show you how to achieve that goal.

    Like you said you seek for works that you’re not asked to do but is that work in on your plan, or help you move on? Let’s start talking to your boss, what he expects from you, and ask him how you can achieve that goal. Let’s start by thinking of who would you want to be in next 5, 10 years, and work out the detail plan how you would achieve it as a small plan in 1 year, and review it by yourself end of year. It’s fair if your boss cannot give you a guidance let’s look for another opportunities.

    I studied a phrase: “What would make people successful?”
    1. You are talent, passion, and want to grow aggressively
    2. You have a coach, who can show you how, give you advises (Coach can be a boss in your company or someone else who can give you advise, who you admire of, and obviously he is successful person, and as good as if he is in the same industry with you)
    3. Finally: when opportunity comes and you have to catch it and make it happened

    I do hope this help

    • Hi Phu Ha,

      Thanks for your thoughts! Great to see other leaders posting on the site. Please come back and share often.


  • Phuong le

    Dear Chris and Phu!
    First off, I would like to say thank you both for your thoughtful comments. To be honest, when I read and commented on Chris’s blog with the wish to get my thoughts and feelings heard , I did not expect much of consideration and understanding .
    Chris, I find it is very interesting that we have things in common. When I was a student, besides going to Universities at a same time, I also did tutoring as a part time job but mostly it was volunteering activities. I taught people in different ages. There were some of high school and university students, a couple of government officers and some others from companies in Da Nang. I enjoyed it so much. What I love most about being a teacher is that you can inspire the people that you work with and at the same time you can be inspired by them. I loved bring people together to create a fun and exciting environment where people love to be in and be a part of , not have to or to be forced to be in. After several months, it is amazing to have a new family in a different city. I love to be in control that any ideas or open discussions are encouraged. Furthermore, I enjoy seeing differences I have made. I personally think that one of the best feelings is that seeing progress from people you have worked with. I did my job very well. One of the proofs for that is that I got promoted and given different challenges in a new position.
    Looking back things i have done, I prefer working with people, especially with in international environments. I consider myself as energetic person having good communicative skills but numbers and pay attention to details always drive me nuts.
    I absolutely agree with both of you that I do have passions. The thing is it is very annoying not knowing what they are. Currently I am being trained to be one of the key people in the company’s management. A part of me feels extremely lucky to have this opportunity as this is a big step for my career and it is an open door for me to go further. But the other part of me wonders if this is right for me because the nature of the job i am doing requires much of accuracy, carefulness and scrupulousness, and as I mentioned I am not good at that. Often times, I think whether i have not tried hard enough or it is not my passion.
    Phu, Thanks for your kind comments! You are right. I need to coach who can guide me into a right direction. I just do not want to make my boss feel responsible for me while he is always overloaded with his job. I will definitely have an open talk with him.
    I would like to take this chance to answer your question why I am willing to take part in things that I am not asked. It is not in any of my plans or attitudes of moving on. I find it is enormously exciting to do new things, challenge myself with different works. I do it as i want to understand about myself and what i am capable of. To me, it is always an adventure to get things done that way.
    Phu, I have different points of view on passion. I do not think that a true passion can be changed with time. I strongly believe that passion is like a main theme of a piece of arts, but simple is expressed and understood differently at different point of time. A man realizes his real passion will do his best to live and fight with it. As you can see, there are thousands of teachers earn barely enough money for their lives but never give up passing their love and knowledge to young generations. There are many more musicians work days and nights with their great passion for music. Of course, some of them get famous and wealthy but they can only do it with passion and their passions bring them succeed. I simply think that your passions are seen in different angles, but they goes with you throughout your life.
    Once again, thank you for letting me have an opportunity to share my thoughts!

    Wish you all a good week with lots of fun!


  • Brett

    “Leaders are servants of their people.” Resource, not source. Yes, yes, you are preaching to the choir! I am so glad you believe this and are actively promoting this idea. Well, no wonder why you were such a great guy to work with!

    • Chris

      Why btambtam, what an unexpected pleasure!

      Great to hear from you. I have fond memories of our time at the Y! back in the heady early days of the Internet. Your Goldberg Valentine’s Day card still makes me laugh. Classic btam!

      • Brett

        Hey Chris! I’m kinda sorta in your neck of the woods now — in Saipan. Dan and I have moved here for two years. You’re welcome to come visit once we get settled in. Funny you should mention the Vday card. While cleaning and prepping for our move (about a week ago), I found a huge stash of WWF Vday cards! Thought about sending a few to you, but I plain ran out of time packing and prepping. Sadly, those WWF guys (like in real life) ended up in the recycle bin…. I still miss the old days of Jimmy Superfly and Andre the Giant. :) Great to hear from you, and hope you’re doing well!

  • Dwayne

    Here is an interesting website that has a number of articles on servant leadership………