Since Mendoza first ranked as the No. 1 undergraduate business school in 2010, we have added a short tagline to mentions of the ranking on celebratory banners, posters and bumper magnets: It’s a responsibility.
To some, that might seem like throwing a big wet blanket over an accomplishment that we should be bragging about. Don’t get me wrong—we certainly welcome the ranking. But it has never been the point for us to use it as a way of saying we’ve arrived, we’re the best, everyone else can go home.
Instead, being recognized as a leader signifies that we have a responsibility to serve—our students, the Mendoza and Notre Dame community, and truly a host of global stakeholders whose future depends on the raising up of leaders who understand the power of business when it is directed toward changing society for the better.
Leaders who understand their responsibility to serve, or put another way, servant leaders.
“Servant leadership” is not a new term. An early reference goes back to the Biblical passage in Matthew where Jesus explains to his disciples that the true purpose of his earthly incarnation was to serve, not to be served. To offer himself up as a sacrifice for many.
Now, the “leader” part is easy to understand. Everyone wants to become a leader. It is the most common marketing pitch there is for colleges, especially graduate business programs. We associate “business leader” with power and influence; the rock star CEO with the big ideas and personality, pulling everyone in his or her wake.
But servant leaders first and foremost recognize that whatever resources are given into their hands— the lives of their employees, whatever wealth or assets the company has acquired, the customers and shareholders—are not theirs to possess.
Servant leaders seek to build trust and use persuasion, rather than to dictate or coerce. They are dedicated to growth of the individual as well as the organization, empowering others and in doing so, encouraging transparency and accountability.
They are to be stewards—mere stewards—dedicated to a philosophy that says, I am responsible for the lives of those around me. I am responsible for their welfare, and that of my customers and stakeholders. I am responsible to the world.
There’s that word … responsible. Responsibility. It is not a word we usually associate with fun or privilege. It is something that we often want to turn away. But the simple word “responsible” is nothing short of transformational, if you place it at the center of your vision of leadership.
If this is sounding a little lightweight to you, a little too soft to possibly be effective, let me throw out a few company names here: Starbucks, Costco, Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods. These are just a few companies recognized as very high performing, and as it turns out, that also have CEOs who practice servant leadership principles.
Servant leadership is not mutually exclusive with company growth and superior results; in fact, research finds just the opposite.
Here is another consideration. We recently have heard Pope Francis publically recognizing the role of business in improving people’s welfare in certain areas, while indemnifying the widespread social exclusion that often results
Many news outlets ran headlines about the pope excoriating capitalism. But take a closer and deeper look, and you find that he is urging people away from business as consumerism, to a transformational vision of business as a vital force for societal good. He states, “Business is, in fact, a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life.”
At the Mendoza College, this same message that business is a vocation was stated by our founding dean, the Rev. John Cardinal O’Hara, C.S.C., who stated in an often-quoted passage, “The primary function of commerce is service to mankind.” You could say that the College was built upon the notions of servant leadership.
Servant leadership does not require a big executive title. It doesn’t require that you command billion dollar budgets. It only requires an attitude that says, I accept the responsibility to serve.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Everyone can be great because anyone can serve.”
Let us all aspire to be great. God bless you.
Roger D. Huang
Martin J. Gillen Dean
Kenneth R. Mayer Professor of Global Investment Management