Servant leadership: A different way to lead your small business

CNBC has a show that’s about saving small business; it’s called “The Profit.” Although the topic is right up my alley, I have never watched the show because I’m so appalled by the short snippets they show in the promos. In the show Marcus Lemonis, owner of Camping World, multi-billion dollar company, seeks out struggling small businesses that are desperate for cash. He makes the owner an offer that’s impossible to refuse – his cash for a piece of the business and a percentage of the profits. Oh, and they have to do everything he says. He supposedly has turned around over 100 small businesses in the past 10 years and profited nicely.

The clips they show in the promos consist entirely of Lemonis ripping the business owner to shreds. He screams. He throws things. He threatens to take his money and leave. He looks like a small child throwing a tantrum. He comes across as a “my way or the highway” kind of person. Every time I see one of the ads, I think, “What kind of leadership is this? The business may be saved and Lemonis may walk away with a profit, but at what cost?”

It is possible that if I got up the nerve to watch an episode, perhaps the outtakes they show in ads are exaggerated and Lemonis is a good guy underneath who only wants what’s best for the business owners he works with. But I doubt it. Somehow I think the title of the show tells us what it is really all about as far as he is concerned – a profit. His style makes for good TV, but does it really make for good business?

This brings me to the topic of servant leadership, which is 180 degrees from the type of leadership mentality that Lemonis shows in his promos. Instead of wielding power like a cudgel, a servant leader shares power and believes that serving the needs of others and helping them to develop to their utmost capacities is the path for organizational success. In essence, servant leadership turns the leadership pyramid upside down.

Commonly cited characteristics of a servant leader include listening, emphatic, awareness, persuasion, foresight, stewardship and the commitment to the growth of people, among others. Does this sound like the way you’d like to build your small business? I hope so.

The term servant leader was coined by Robert Greenleaf in 1970; he wrote about and taught the concept prolifically until his death several decades ago. There is a center named after him called the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, where you can learn much more about this philosophy of leadership. They have a blog and a podcast, which are easy ways to start to familiarize yourself with servant leadership. Also, popular business author and management guru Ken Blanchard wrote a book called Servant Leader that you might want to buy or check out of your local library.


  1. Diana says:

    Great insights, Jeanne. Thanks for sharing.
    I have never watched this show either. The concept is unnerving as well as appalling.
    Love the "stewardship" idea and reference.

  2. Annie says:

    I saw the previews too. Scary! Another show Restaurant Impossible is similar. The guy is mean. He does not invest in the biz to my knowledge. He instead finances a makeover and of course everyone is thrilled at the end after they dry their tears from his ranting a half hour before.

    As a consultant, if I treated someone this way I would probably get the boot. And well deserved.

  3. Brian says:

    Wow. Three opinions from folks that are judging it based on preview clips.

    Watch the show. Entire episodes. Yes, it's dramatized a bit for TV, but his philosophy makes sense when you watch all the episodes. He (Marcus) is certainly willing to call it as it is… but you have to see his comments in context.

    Any small business owner will learn from his insights. And by commenting on a show that you've never watched, you're proving one of the central lessons of the show… successful business owners maintain an open mind as to what works, what doeesnt, anw how to measure it.

  4. I just started watching this series for the past week or so and what I love concerning the show is that given that it is quite genuine, sometimes the bargains work as well as often they don't. That's life isn't really it?

  5. very good Great insights, Jeanne. Thanks for sharing.I think you've made some truly interesting points.Keep up the good work.

  6. Bonnie says:

    I’d take time to watch the show. I just recommended the show to a friend as an example of servant leadership as I believe he exhibits all the signs of servant leadership in his show. Promos show drama because drama sells. I never saw a promo before being introduced to the show. I was hooked from the beginning because of who he is as a leader.

  7. Rebecca Ann Wheeler says:

    You need to watch the show… Who writes and article without seeing the show. Its one of the best and my favorites. HE is saving companies, jobs and people – !! Good Lord- He is a fantastic example of strong servant leadership. He is the last stop before bankruptcy and if an owner is lucky enough to have him investing in the business, they would be well advised to let him take over. You really missed the mark on this blog.

    • Jeanne Yocum says:

      Sorry you feel I missed the mark. However, the examples of servant leadership I’ve witnessed in my life are very far from the example shown in this show. There is no need to be a bully, which is what he comes across as in all the promos. Perhaps that is just for the purposes of ginning up the drama for the show, but that is 180 degrees from my understanding of servant leadership.

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