Aké Satia is the Chief Vision Officer at Aké Satia, a Human Capital firm in the DC area focused on strengthening organizations by bolstering the intersection of people strategy and business strategy.



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The Palace and the Quarters!

Last week, we went on a fun expedition, metaphorically in sunny San Diego, on the set of a new game show, What Role Is It? On the game show, along with the host, Oliver the Showman, we uncovered an essence: Leadership is service and stewardship, and the primary responsibility of a leader is to shepherd.https://akesatia.com/what-role-is-it/
Today, to delve further and better understand this, let us peer into the worlds of emperors and stewards. On second thought, how about we take it a notch higher and explore two spheres that couldn’t be more dissimilar? Yep! The worlds of emperors and servants.

Before we start, a question for you: Have you ever met a servant? How about an emperor?
Many of us might have met the former, but I would venture to say very few have met the latter. Of course, you might beg to differ if you believe your leader rules like an emperor or empress! 😉

Jokes aside! What is this emperor stuff all about??

A Look-see into Emperor Rule.

In ancient Rome, an emperor, i.e., a supreme leader oversaw the empire from 27 B.C.–476 A.D. Ancient Roman Emperors: A Timeline (history.com) And as the supreme and sole leaders of the territory, their governance approach was autocratic and dominant! They made decisions unilaterally, without needing to confer with others or solicit advice. Many scholars consider this approach demoralizing, though some argue it is beneficial in crises. Different Types of Leadership Styles — What Type of Leader Are You? | Job and Internship Advice, Companies to Work for, and More | WayUp Blog

Sounds intense? Huh??
Perhaps when you read the passage above, you thought: That sounds crazy! We have come a long way!
This reaction is understandable because most of the world does not advocate for autocracy and domination – at least, not publicly! But to understand emperor rule and why the aligned governing approach persisted for centuries, we need only look behind the curtain.

What were emperors clothed in? 

Have you seen the Emperor’s clothes? 

Here, we will cover four garments or distinct qualities of an emperor. They are sovereignty, a marked ability to manage increasing size and breadth, keen detail orientation, and a penchant for seeing the big picture.
Sounds fancy, but what does this mean? 

First, Sovereignty!
An emperor’s commitment to the empire’s success had to be unquestionable. The emperor needed to demonstrate confidence in their capabilities, contemplate complex subjects, and piece them together. Also, to retain control, an emperor must demand the respect and loyalty of the staff. – But not trust too much. And subjects were expected to be unified regardless of whether they were naturally loyal to the emperor or friendly with each other.
It sounds like a train that could go off the rails! Perhaps this is why a Board of Directors is prevalent in organizations today. – To quell domineering tendencies, create balance, and keep senior leaders in check…

Another vital capability of an emperor is the ability to scale and manage increasing size and breadth. And this is a valuable capability because, unlike a king, an emperor ruled not just one country but many territories (or functions and divisions in business today.) 

Expectedly, given the complexity of managing large systems, emperors also needed to be detail-oriented! And they needed to have a high-level understanding of all elements of an empire (or business functions). Realistically, they could not oversee all the day-to-day activities of the empire and needed to delegate responsibility to those they trusted.

Lastly, emperors needed to be able to see the Big Picture! – To understand how their empires fit into the rest of the world. This included predicting how internal and external events (perhaps, a pandemic), politics, and other forces (such as wars) would affect the empire. Also, an emperor needed to be willing to act on foreseen dangers and protect his empire from threats (like resource shortages) that had not yet developed. What Are the Characteristics of an Emperor? – Synonym

Are you sure you haven’t met an emperor?

Ok. Did we review the qualities of an emperor or the required abilities for a senior leadership position today?? Indeed, as I learned and refreshed my memory on emperor rule, I wrestled with a question: Are modern organizations modeled after empires? 

Sure, we’ve added an extra human touch here and there, such as robust benefit plans, flexible incentive structures, and a sprinkle of well-being and citizenship initiatives. But the business world is also thick with competition that sometimes borderlines on domination. And some news headlines suggest attempts to exercise sovereignty.

Where do we go from here?

From Palaces of emperors to Quarters of servants.

Earlier in the 2000s, servant leadership was all the rage!
We went from vying for the top position in the palace to seeking a role in the servant quarter, albeit in our minds.
 And like many, I hopped on the bandwagon – listening to every talk and reading every article on the subject. Unfortunately, given the lack of lasting change in cultures, servant leadership seemed more of a buzzword than a new path to traverse. But as we know, more is required to adopt a new practice than occasionally throwing out buzzwords. 

When we peel back the onion of servant leadership, we realize that the concept is simple, but the practice is not easy. Because service requires one to act for the benefit of another and prioritize others’ needs above theirs. And at a time when many “appear to succeed” by prioritizing themselves, allowing others to be first in line seems more like martyrdom than service.
However, we also scorn when others are self-serving, self-absorbed, or selfish. Because intrinsically, we know fulfillment is derived by meeting the needs of others. 

Today, when we think of service, we think of people who help us get stuff done – cooks, waitresses, waiters, or home cleaners. And often, for the benefit of others, they are asked to dress in an identifiable way: to wear “aprons.” Also, we tend to think that those in service roles, such as wait staff, are there for one reason and one reason only. – To meet the needs of the patron!

Want more bread for the table? – Call the waitress and place the order!
Four-year-old Ben threw his spoon on the floor. – Call the waiter and ask for a new one!
The french fries are too salty? – Ask the waiter to bring out a new serving!
Want molten chocolate lava cake for dessert? – Ask the waitress to put in the order before the entrée!
You get the drift… 

The Greatest of All!

Yes, the waitstaff meets needs. But they also do much more. – They guide others’ experiences. As the primary point of contact between patrons and a restaurant, they are often the face of the restaurant: one of the first, sometimes the last, and often the most frequent face a patron sees.
An astute restauranteur knows that the wait staff is perhaps the most critical member of their team. Serving is meeting the needs of others. And meeting the needs of others is leading. Indeed, those who serve are the greatest of them all! 

As the noteworthy author Leo Tolstoy said: The vocation of every man and woman is to serve other people.
Hence, a critical question is: What enables one to serve?
During my sabbatical, I was fortunate to engage with people whose lives epitomized service. And I gained insight from them that I will share next time!

Until then!

For you and to you,



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