David Goggins
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International Poker Champion
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Former CIA Clandestine Operative
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Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Serve Your Purpose: Redefining Leadership as Service with Dr. Tony Coles

Former Onyx CEO Tony Coles says that this philosophy of leadership “has influenced almost everything” he has done for the past decade. In this video, learn some of the key tenets of the servant leadership philosophy and how Coles applied it in his own work and career.

Create value through understanding

One of the concepts that’s been wonderful for me and has influenced almost everything I’ve done in the last decade of my life is the notion of what I call “service leadership.” So it’s this notion that you’re there to serve. It’s really a funny thing. I used to say to the employees all the time that I work for you. Now, no one ever believed that because I was the CEO and they all said, “Well, but you’re the one who signs the checks. We clearly work for you.” But no, no, no, we had to turn it around because my job was to serve, and in the spirit of service leadership what you understand or come to understand is that the more you serve your constituencies, whether they be employees or patients in the biopharmaceutical industry or the families of patients in the biopharmaceutical industry whose lives you’re hoping to change and impact, whether you’re serving shareholders, whether you’re serving the Board or other stakeholders, the more you recognize that you’re a servant of these various constituencies, the more rewarding the experience will be - certainly has been for me. But if you actually think about it, when you recognize whom you work for you can actually create even more value as a result of that.

Focus on the team

When I first moved into leadership roles I recognized that it was actually no longer about what I could contribute individually. You know, when you’re a manager, when you’re a director, when you’re an individual contributor, it’s really about you. And in so much of medicine it was really about who made the best diagnosis, who actually got the surgery done with the most efficiency and the least harm to the patients. It was really about the individual. But business really is all about the team. And we talk about team a lot in business, but I think the most important recognition for any leader is that you actually cannot do it alone, that your job is to get the absolute best out of people. And the incentive is really on the leader to lean in and to meet anyone who works for him or her more than halfway because it’s your job to get the best out of everyone.


Robert K. Greenleaf coined the phrase "servant leadership" in his 1970 essay The Servant as Leader. "It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first," Greenleaf wrote. "Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead." Former Onyx CEO Tony Coles says that this philosophy of leadership "has influenced almost everything" he has done for the past decade. In this video, learn some of the key tenets of the servant leadership philosophy and how Coles applied it in his own work and career. The full lesson is available exclusively on Big Think Edge.

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