Recently I read the article, How Can You Spot True Leaders? By Marcel Schwantes and it so resonated with me that I had to reach out and ask him for an interview. Marcel is the founder of Leadership from the Core – one of the few servant leadership training and coaching companies in the world. He is a keynote speaker, leadership coach, advisor, and syndicated columnist, drawing more than 500K readers per month to his thought leadership.

AE: In your article, the thing that caught me was your statement "Leadership (and life, really) is about people and relationships. These are words I have actually spoken! Have you always felt that way?

MS: Not always. I think the turning point was understanding
that, in order to influence, build and keep trust, and collaborate well, fostering healthy and strong relationships are critical. Before that, I was just in it for me, drowning in my own pool of hubris and self-gratification. 

AE: The article gives three examples of super rare things that leaders do daily; speaking their truth, displaying courageous vulnerability, and managing with compassion. What has been your experience with leaders and their ability to embody all of those?

MS: Besides the fact that they're three of the rarest things you'll ever encounter?  Well, my experience is that those leaders embody character, integrity, and a level of authenticity spoken about by Brene Brown and people naturally respond to them because they are safe. Vulnerability, especially, is reserved for leaders who aren't afraid of being emotionally honest, speaking
truth in all circumstances, including when things go south. Those leaders are far and few, but they do go far in their career path. Showing compassion in leadership means being for your people, especially when life throws a wicked curveball their way -- it's the ability to respond with "I'm here for you in your time of need. What do you need from me to support you in this tough phase of life?" 

AE: Throughout my own career, as a Human Resource professional having worked in a number of industries I have personally encountered few leaders that have these qualities. What has your experience been?

MS: I have encountered them, but for every one there are five that exemplify opposite traits of the hard, driven, autocratic boss who manages through control. 

AE: Are organizations doing enough to prepare those entry-level leaders for the future and what will be required of them?

MS: There are plenty doing it the right way. But you'll have to go to companies regularly featured in places like Conscious Capitalism, Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, and Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work for to understand the model for effective leadership and high performing work cultures.  

AE: What does displaying your own truth look like?

MS: Having self-awareness, strong emotional intelligence, understanding that being emotionally honest throughout all circumstances is what will minimize and even avoid conflict. 

 AE: Your statement about displaying courageous vulnerability struck home with me and made me reflect on how I expressed this to my own team. How have you seen this demonstrated this or demonstrated it with those who work for you?

MS: I think the best way to describe it is "speaking from the heart." But first, you have to
adapt a mindset of connecting to your heart. One cannot lead this way without the capacity to be vulnerable with oneself.  

AE: The last example you give is managing with compassion. How does a leader balance the needs of the business with compassion?

MS: It’s the idea of seeing things
clearly from another person's perspective, which you can leverage for relationships and conflict management that will lead to business outcomes. When someone disagrees with you, the natural reaction for most of us in leadership roles is to see through our own perspective and try to convince the other person to come to our view, after all, we're the leader and "we know more." Compassion is critical in these circumstances. Think about it. How many of us ever take a constructive minute to understand why the other person has reached a different conclusion than our own? Do we ever ask ourselves, "Hmmm, I wonder what got them to this position?" and investigate further? It could be that they've experienced something much different, it may be their background, and it could be legitimate fears and apprehensions from something I haven't seen on the surface that led them to take a different position. Challenging our assumptions with a compassionate response, asking the other person questions to get to understand their position can turn a challenging and potentially confrontational situation and turn it into a collaborative experience.

AE: What advice would you give to a first time leader in any organization?

MS: Read as many books on Servant Leadership you can get your hands on. Start with "The World's Most Powerful Leadership Principle: How to Become a Servant Leader by James C. Hunter. Then get mentored by leaders with this mindset and philosophy of leading.

AE: I try to inspire my team, those I work with, and those that follow my website and posts with a motivational quote of the day; do you have a favorite?

MS: The best leaders are clear. They continually light the way, and in the process, let each person know that what they do makes a difference. The best test as a leader is: Do those served grow as persons; do they become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become leaders?

-- Robert K. Greenleaf

AE: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview, I sincerely appreciate it.

MS: My pleasure! 

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Marcel Schwantes

By Anthony T. Eaton   |   November 2017

[  "You don't need a title to be a leader - and having a title doesn't make you one."  ]