Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others

“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 De Pree

Gone with the industrial age is the concept of traditional leadership where people at the top of pyramid exercise the power in a hierarchy. In a creative and connected economy, a leader’s first and foremost job is to serve to the needs of people they lead. To create an ecosystem where creative people thrive. To create trust by trusting others. To build a learning organization. To deliver meaningful results.

That is what Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes® Lousiana Kitchen, Inc says in her brand new book “Dare to Serve – How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others”.

Why dare? What kind of a leader is Cheryl Bachelder talking about?

“This is a different kind of leader with a rare combination of traits, courageous enough to take the people to a daring destination, yet humble enough to selflessly serve others on the journey. The dynamic tension between daring and serving creates conditions for a superior performance.”

I could see the same contrast/creative tension between “dare” and “serve” that Jim Collins described as “Fierce Resolve” and “Humility” as a trait of Level 5 Leader.

What I like about this book is that it is a first hand account of a CEO who turned the business around. In 2007, Cheryl Bachelder was hired to turn around the business situation that reeled with poor customer service, dwindling sales and troubled relationships with franchise owners. In the first part, Cheryl describes the journey of transformation, challenges, setbacks and ultimately the triumphs. In the second part, she puts forward anecdotes and specific examples of how leaders can become stewards of people and organization’s mission. The book makes you think through game-changing questions that Cheryl calls as “Dare to Serve Reflections”. Exercises and quotes makes the book all the more interesting and learning oriented.

The concepts of servant leadership or the paradoxes of leadership are not new. But Cheryl Bachelder does a great job at bringing these concepts to the fore using her own transformation experience. And for that, this book is valuable.

Here are some of the other gems from the book:

Helping people who want to find meaning and purpose at work is exceptionally rewarding. It is the leader’s opportunity to leave a legacy in lives of people you lead.

For principles to matter, they have to be “in action,” not on plaques. Principles must come alive in the daily conversations, decisions, and actions of the team.

Self-centered leadership is actually a lazy path. The leader merely wields power over others to achieve results for their own benefit. This is not difficult to do. But this approach stunts performance of the people and the enterprise. It cannot deliver superior results.

If you are a leader who is at the center of transformation responsibility, this book is a must read. If you are already someone who already leads through service, this book will help you gain a diverse perspective of what stewardship looks like in real life.

Also Read: Other book reviews/author interviews at QAspire.

15 Simplest Acts of #Leadership


  1. Smile. It is a universal language of compassion, care and love. 
  2. Greet people by their names.
  3. Share positive feedback about the work they are doing.
  4. Ask them about their advice on a critical problem.
  5. Listen with an intent to understand.
  6. Learn about them, their work, their process and their challenges.
  7. Help them in getting rid of their roadblocks.
  8. Establish trust to create a non-threatening environment for people.
  9. Be your authentic self when dealing with people and remain integral.
  10. Act on their feedback.
  11. Show them how much you believe in them.
  12. Encourage them.
  13. Thank them for their contributions.
  14. Recognize their work and their achievements.
  15. Celebrate their accomplishments.


In 100 Words: Heaven or Hell?

A Rabbi used to tell a story of his tour to the heavens.

He first went to the Hell and it was horrible. Tables were laden with sumptuous food yet people looked pale and hungry. Their arms were strapped with wooden planks such they could not bend their hands to put food in their own mouth.

It was the same story in Heaven, except that people looked contented and happy. When he closely observed, he saw that people were using strapped arms to feed each other!

Hell or heaven is not about circumstances but about how we treat each other.

Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

Change: The Power of Gradual

In a fast paced environment, we notice things that are urgent, immediate and abrupt in nature. We forget to notice the gradual.

One small serving of unhealthy food doesn’t seem to harm but many such servings over a long duration increase the odds of having a health problem manifold. One conversation that went wrong now doesn’t seem to have any direct impact on a relationship but with every such conversation, trust is eroded till it reaches a point where relationship ends.

In an organization, this becomes even more complex where larger system is a collection of many independent sub-systems. Decisions and conversations in each of these sub-system affects the whole. The impact of one strategic failure may not be visible in a short term but can prove fatal in a long run.

The good news is: the converse is also true. Any great success is, almost always, a result of many small things done right. Careers are built one opportunity at time. Trust is earned one deed at a time, lessons are learned one experience at a time and great teams are built one conversation at a time. It is gradual and very powerful.

Why do we fail to notice the gradual then? Because we are too obsessed in responding to the immediate. Because doing takes a precedence over thinking. Because we fail to see living systems as “systems”. We work on components without considering the impact on the system as a whole.

This reminds me of a metaphor of a boiling frog

A frog, when placed in boiling water will jump out immediately because of heat. However, if placed in cold water that is heated very slowly, the frog does not perceive the danger and enjoys the warmth. Incrementally, as warmth turns into heat, it becomes groggy unable to climb up. Eventually, it is boiled to death.

As leaders and professionals, our ability to notice the slow and subtle changes in the system is as important as our ability to respond to urgent and immediate changes. 

In the novel “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway, one of the lead characters Mike Campbell is asked, “How did you go bankrupt?”. Mike responded, “Gradually… and then suddenly.”

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Photograph Courtesy: Chaula Vora – Red Eyed Frog, Costa Rica

In 100 Words: The Cracked Pot and Leadership

An elderly woman used two pots to fetch water, each hung on the ends of a pole. One pot was perfect and delivered full portion of water while the other had a leaking crack. The imperfect pot felt very ashamed and this went on for a year.

One day, the woman told the cracked pot, “Do you see flowers on one side of the road? They are your gift to this world. Knowing about your flaw, I planted flower seeds on your side of the path which you watered”.

We all have cracks. Effective leadership is about handling them well.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Photograph by: Tanmay Vora, Earthen pots arranged on the roadside, India.

In 100 Words: On Criticizing Constructively


A novice painter once put his first painting at a busy cross road for people to mark mistakes. End of the day, the painting was full of cross marks!

Next day, he made the same painting and displayed at the same cross roads. This time, he kept colors and brush there and requested people to not only point out mistakes but also correct it themselves. The day ended and painting was intact with no corrections made!

It is as important to say no to constant negativity as it is to pay heed to constructive criticism that helps us improve constantly.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Collaborative Leadership at AIMA Blog

I was invited to write a series of articles on the topic “Indispensable Traits of a Collaborative Leader” for the blog of All India Management Association (AIMA). Since 1957, All India Management Association (AIMA) is functioning as an apex body of management with over 30,000 individual members, 3000 institutional members and 62 Local Management Association across India and overseas.

My first post in the series outlines the foundation of collaborative leadership. While you can check out the complete post at AIMA’s blog, here is a short excerpt:

“If trust is the currency of a collaborative team, communication is the way to build it. It is only when a team frequently communicates, provides clarity, clarifies vision, shares ideas, extends their lessons and outlines problems clearly that they can really collaborate. Leaders in a collaborative environment need to be transparent and conscious about cultural aspects of communication. They need to offer a compelling view of the future (vision) to engage the energies of people.”

One question that comes to my mind is, “In a knowledge world, can we really lead others without being collaborative?” The first response from the gut is “No”. In this series at AIMA blog, I look forward to dig into this question and think about key traits of a collaborative leader.

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Graceful Leadership 101 – in Gujarati language

In 2012, I wrote Graceful Leadership 101 (Free PDF Download) – a running list of simple (and common-sense) ideas that can help leaders become more graceful. Mr. Ashok Vaishnav, who is a regular reader of this blog and a blogger himself translated these ideas in Gujarati language and did a fantastic job at retaining the underlying emotion of each point. The translated version was published recently on a regional portal “Aksharnaad.com”. Please check it out if you are a Gujarati. Love the way how ideas spread!

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Great Quotes: On Expectations

“Nobody rises to low expectations.” ~ Calvin Lloyd

One of the most important qualities of a leader is to believe that they can do better. People respond to expectations and the only way to grow people is to consistently raise the bar of expectations.

If a team is not doing great, it is either because the team members are incapable or the leader has established very low expectations from them. Low expectations result in lower or mediocre performance.

To be able to set the expectations higher, a leader has to have a deep understanding of the work people do. As a leader, if you don’t understand the nuances of how work is done, you will never be able to raise the bar for others. Leader also needs ability to decide when to focus on details and when to see a broad picture.

If you are a leader at any level (yes, parents are leaders too), do keep raising your bar of expectations. You will be surprised to see how people step up and respond!

P.S: This also applies to expectations that you have from your own selves.

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In 100 Words: What Do You See When You See People?

I once read a story of a boy who found a bag full of dried clay balls when he was playing in the field. Not sure about what to do with them, he started throwing them in the pond to enjoy the ripples. Just then, he dropped one of the balls and saw a glittering diamond inside the ball. When he opened remaining balls, he found more diamonds. He regretted for the ones he threw.

Like clay balls, people around us are precious too. How often do we discount them just because we don’t see the hidden treasure within them?

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Posts

Team Success – Insights from Conversations

I have been a close observer of team dynamics in a project environment. In last 13 years, I have seen a number of teams that were highly successful, teams that failed initially and then succeeded, teams that succeeded only when there was a fire in the project and teams where success was constant and incremental.

Here is some of what I have gathered talking to successful teams.

  • “We were successful because each one of us exactly knew what we had to do.”
  • “There was chaos, but then, we all knew how important the the job was and why.”
  • “Our project manager made it enjoyable, despite all the challenges.”
  • “As a team, since roles/responsibilities were clear, we valued each other’s contribution. We trusted each other.”
  • “There was no power game. Our leader was never bossy.”
  • “Everyone was fully involved.”
  • “Expectations and communication was clear, and it only helped us deliver what customer expected.”
  • “The team was not really a team, but a bunch of great friends. We hanged out together to ensure that we work hard and we party harder.”
  • “We were treated as ‘humans’ who were ‘engaged’, and not as ‘resources’ who were simply ‘deployed’.”
  • “Some tough calls had to be taken and were willing to take some calculated risks on our project.”
  • “We did think a lot about processes in the project initiation. We also ensured that all stakeholders understood the process.”
  • “Our leader gave us a lot of space to try new things and experiment. A few such successful experiments resulted in a lot of improvement in our performance.”
  • “The project manager exactly knew the strengths and weaknesses of our team members. People were only assigned to tasks they were good at.”
  • “The decision making process was participative.”
  • “Yes, we had conflicts and differences. But at the end of it all, I think our differences allowed us to think differently.”
  • “As a project lead, I had to ensure that team does what they are supposed to do. My role was to ensure that all peripheral issues are managed so that team remains focused.”
  • “I was held accountable for whatever I delivered and this was expected from all.”

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P.S: Did you check out my new Tumblr blog? That is where I share short bites of insights and wisdom from my friends in blogosphere. Check it out if you haven’t already.

The Rubber Meets The Road 15

The rubber meets the road when you, as a business leader…

  1. deliver real business results to customers (not just deliver an excellent pitch with an impressive powerpoint)
  2. start executing relentlessly (not just define your strategy on paper at an off site planning retreat)
  3. implement improvements in your processes (not when you create that good looking document with improvement areas)
  4. pick up the phone and talk to that frustrated customer (and not get into a chain of email exchange)
  5. lead by example and live your values (not just pass instructions for others to follow. Not just document your values on the website)
  6. act on your customer’s feedback (not just collect it through your customer feedback program!)
  7. start treating your people like “humans” (and not just “resources” or “capital”)
  8. “do” equal to or more than what you “say” (and not the reverse)
  9. start thinking about “preventing” problems (not just “correcting” them after they happen)
  10. work “on” your business (not just “in” it – easy to get consumed working “in” the business)
  11. communicate and share feedbacks often with your people (not just in their quarterly performance review)
  12. start looking at ways to solve problems (rather than finding someone else to blame)
  13. stay lean, flat and accountable (and not let your growth turn you into a bureaucratic, heavy top-down structure)
  14. understand that excellence is everybody’s job (not just a single department or a few people in the team)
  15. only speak when you completely, totally mean it (and not just throw clichés to please them now)

P.S: “Where the rubber meets the road” is an idiom that refers to the tyre of a vehicle on the surface of a road, meaning “where it really counts.” It is used to represent the defining moments or focus on real actions.

Bonus: My post “15 ideas To Ensure That Trainings Effectively Deliver Value” was featured in HR Carnival over at  i4cp PRoductivity Blog – along with a host of other brilliant posts on talent management, general HR, managerial advice and career advice. If you are a people manager or HR professional, this carnival edition is a MUST READ!

Also download (PDF) 100 fantastic insights that will help you become “BRILLIANT At The Basics of Business” – from none other than NICHOLAS BATE. Visit him for this and tonnes of other great resources – I am sure you will admire his generosity as much as I do.

11 Ideas on Treating Your ‘Prospective Internal Customers’ Well

I wrote a post earlier titled “Points to Ponder on Your Internal Customers: Your People” listing some of the important considerations when managing your people. Internal customers are your people, and it is important to treat them well. Obvious!

Today, I want to touch upon your “prospective internal customers” – people who you interview and screen for open positions within your organization. If they make it through the hiring process, they are going to be your internal customers. But even if they don’t make it through, they still remain your “prospective internal customers” because they interact with you and share their ideas. They ultimately go back into the marketplace with an “experience” you extend to them during the hiring process.

If you are a human resources professional managing the hiring process, a business owner or someone on a technical interview panel, here are a few things you MUST consider for extending a great experience to your prospective candidates:

  • Remember that every candidate that walks into the doors of your company is your brand ambassador.
  • People are more connected, physically and virtually over social media. They talk about companies and experiences.
  • They start “feeling” your organization the moment they walk in. Why not make that feeling a pleasant one?
  • Treat them well – as an interviewer, you have to be humble and give due importance to what candidate has to say.
  • It is important to share larger perspective with them. Introduce them to your organization (read “sell”) and be transparent in sharing the details.
  • Seek to understand them – ask right questions to get the right details. Elaborate your questions so that they are easily understandable. Short and direct questions are sometimes incomprehensible.
  • Remember that an interview is not about “quizzing” the candidate. It is about engaging them in a “conversation”. Seek details as a part of conversations, not as a rapid fire round of questions.
  • Conversation is important because people only open up fully when they are engaged in meaningful conversation.
  • Be generous. Educate them when they demonstrate lack of clarity on something. When you add some value (in form of knowledge) to the candidate, they remember you (because you gave them something).
  • Interview them in the right setting, offer basic courtesies and extend a positive experience. It goes a long way in creating a positive word of mouth.
  • Earlier, marketing/advertisements were enough for creating your brand. Today, it is people and their experiences with you that creates brand. 

People will eventually forget the kind of questions you asked them – but they will remember the “experience” you extended to them during the hiring process.

Make sure you deliver a GREAT experiences!

Announcing my new book: #QUALITYtweet – 140 bite-sized ideas to deliver quality in every project

Writing a book (at least one in my lifetime) was my dream and I am glad to announce that my dream is finally coming true with my first book titled #QUALITYtweet – 140 bite-sized ideas to deliver quality in every project”.


This book is a compilation of 140 ideas on quality management. Each idea is in form of a tweet – no longer than 140 characters. Twitter’s popularity has proven that you can indeed say a lot in 140 characters.

The inspiration for this book came from Rajesh Setty – my mentor and a very good friend. This book is a part of Rajesh Setty’s #TH!NKtweet series. I cannot thank him enough for his generosity.

The basic premise of this book is that Quality is still a very heavy subject with lot of focus on models, frameworks and theories. With limited time to read, people want short and practical insights on how quality can be managed. This is a book you can read in less than 30 minutes. You can read it over and over again, because each tweet will prompt you to think.

The foreword of #QUALITYtweet is written by Dr. Pankaj Jalote who is an accomplished author, academician and a veteran in the field of Software Quality and Processes. You can read more about him here. Many thanks to him.

I also thank Lisa Haneberg, Skip Angel, Phil Gerbyshak and Michael Wade for their kind words of advance praise. They have been great teachers for me over past few years and they continue to enlighten me. Utpal Vaishnav is a cool friend who reviewed the book with lot of love and care. I thank all my peers at Gateway TechnoLabs who have been extremely supportive and encouraging. Readers of this blog have never failed to inspire me.

The book will hit the stands on 11/11/2009, my daughter’s third birthday! Stay tuned for more updates on #QUALITYtweet in the time to come.