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Friday, February 17, 2023

Lean Quote: Three Roles Every Leader Must Fulfill

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

"The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.  —  Max DePree

This quote, from Max DePree is among my favorite servant leadership quotes. This frames 3 roles every leader must fulfill: the roles of Realist, Praiser and Servant.


Every leader should be a realist. Yes, to lead effectively, optimism is needed at times and you need to have Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAGs). You will also need to display vision. However, if a leader is not realistic, the followers may lose faith in them, their goals will become unobtainable and ultimately, that leader could set the organization up for failure. Instead, by being a realist, one can still display great vision, foresee opportunity and even set those BHAGs.


A leader must thank their constituents. Anyone that supports a leader and their mission needs affirmation of that fact. This is especially true during difficult times and turnaround situations where fiscal means of recognition and awards are less common. While people may not do the work simply because they want to be praised, individuals working hard enough, long enough, without such praise, will soon work elsewhere.


I do love this quote, but if I were to make any modification to it, it would be to simply say, “Throughout, the leader is a servant” rather than in between. This may be splitting hairs. However, this would emphasize that a leader is, at all times, a servant to their stakeholders. I believe this was Max’s intention as well. A leader serves the constituents by being a realist, praising their efforts and by helping them and their community achieve more. A real leader is one who wants to serve others and realizes that the best way for them to be of service is through their leadership.

The next time someone asks you what roles a leader must play, keep this mind.

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