Recently a staff member asked me “Do you work for me or do I work for you?” My immediate response was to talk about our upside down organizational chart and point to the fact that I was on the bottom. The structure of this chart symbolizes that I am there to support the staff in my department. I went on to explain that as their leader I am there to work for them, after all isn’t that what a servant leader does. Another employee who was present during the conversation spoke up. He said I am not sure that is the right way to look at it. I would say we are all partners, not one working for the other, but a true partnership. That really made me think. How accurate was his statement?

As their leader I am called to remove obstacles so they can carry out their duties. I am called to provide the roadmap so we all march toward the strategic mission of the organization. Leadership should partner with staff, after all without the staff there would be no leaders. However, at the same time the truth is the staff does work for me. I am their boss; there is a hierarchy, a chain of command. So was my response as well as his response a play on words? Were these just niceties; a way to make people feel valued? It depends. It depends on the motive of the question “Do you work for me or do I work for you?”. It depends on the motive of my answer “I work for you.”

Was his motive to determine how I felt about my staff or was it to let me know that he felt under appreciated. Was my response my way of showing false humility or did I really feel that each day I came to work it was to help my staff. As leaders we have to be very genuine about what we say. We have to remember that our staff is always listening, always watching us. Not because they are waiting for us to screw up – it is because they trust us to lead them.

  • If asked by your staff how would you answer the question “Do you work for me or do I work for you?”

  • Do you think upside down org. charts send the wrong message?

  • What ways have you found effective to partner with your staff?

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