ASK and You Will be Followed

Group of business associates chatting at table in a cafe
Group of business associates chatting at table in a cafe

A blog about servant leadership by Caleb Chan Dean, Gainey School of Business at SAU

More than two decades ago, I came to Spring Arbor University to start my career as a professor in business. As a fresh graduate with a Ph.D. in Business Administration focusing in Decision Sciences, I thought I could do just about anything. My head was filled with knowledge in my field of study, however, the skill set I had was rather limited due to not having a very broad experience in the vast world of business.

As I began to teach in our Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, I quickly realized that something should come before knowledge and skills in order for students to impact the world – attitude. Without the proper attitude, we can become arrogant and thinking we know more than the next person; and without the right skill set, we will find ourselves somewhat handicapped and lacking problem solving capabilities that the business world so desperately requires of us.

This realization led me to believe that the proper order of the three (which I had totally mixed up before) should be attitude, followed by skills, and then knowledge. Thus, the acronym ASK.

No matter where you are getting your MBA , I hope that you keep this acronym in mind. Success is not a function of how much knowledge and skills one can accumulate but whether we possess the right attitude. Are we eager to learn from our superiors with a humble heart? What about our peers and even subordinates who may not seem as competent as you?

People with MBA credentials are expected to not just manage, but to lead in their organizations. How would you characterize your leadership style? Are you a dictator whom no one likes to follow? Or are you an indecisive leader often seeking the input of everyone but having the hardest time of making that final call? Do you want followers who are nothing but “Yes” men or women? Do you want to serve those who follow you or to be served by them?

Having the right attitude will also set your leadership apart and bring you loyal followers. I didn’t fully understand the relationship between servanthood and leadership until someone explained it succinctly as something to the effect of “when you keep the needs of those whom you lead (and manage) in front of your very own, they naturally want to become your followers. Their needs will be met more often and readily when they ‘follow’ you, more so than when they ‘follow’ other leaders whose interests are centered around themselves.”

Don’t be afraid to ASK your subordinates ‘What can I do for you to help you be more successful?’ as if your servanthood will be taken advantage of. Serving others, especially those who are subordinate to you, requires a big paradigm shift in our attitude and there is no one in the entire human history who can model it better than Jesus Christ whose teaching and sacrifice literally changed the world. So, if you don’t remember anything that I had just shared, keep this in mind – ASK and you will be followed.

- Caleb Chan, Ph.D. Dean, Gainey School of Business