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Give a little to get ahead

Fred Manske Jr. tells why he’s a ‘servant CEO’

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Fred Manske Jr. is the president and CEO of Purolator Courier, Canada’s largest distribution company with $1 billion in revenues and 13,000 employees. Yet despite all his power, Manske insists the key to getting ahead is to act like a humble servant.

Manske’s “servant leadership” philosophy is built on his commitment to help colleagues and employees. The more he can show he cares, the more productivity he figures he can wrestle from his team.

In this interview, Manske insists that the key to a fast-track career is to practice selflessness.

WS: You have three children who are just starting out with their careers. What advice do you give them?

Manske: Think about how to serve your colleagues. By serving, I mean finding ways to make their lives easier. If they’re having trouble understanding a new process, take the time to coach them. If they’re preoccupied with a personal problem, be sensitive to it.

WS: That sounds nice. But how will that help you get ahead?

Manske: I’ve always had peers who supported me and helped me get promotions because I was always trying to be helpful to them. You build a base of allies when you’re kind and unselfish. People remember you.

WS: But isn’t there a danger you’ll look soft?

Manske: Don’t mistake being a servant for being soft. You must still get the work done to move up. For example, one of my kids works at Toys ’R Us. She just told me about how a VP handled Hurricane Floyd. He bought truckloads of water and passed them out to employees along with rolls of tape. He said, ‘Go home early.’ They were still paid. Now I guarantee this VP will get the most out of these employees, and he’ll rise quickly because he’s looking out for his people.

WS: Can you tell if an employee embodies this servant attitude?

Manske: Yes. Being selfish is the No. 1 limit that will keep middle managers from getting ahead. I can spot these managers because the first thing on their mind is, “How will this affect me?” The first question out of someone’s mouth after you tell him something is what’s truly weighing on his mind. If that question is “How will that affect my status?” or “What does that do to the raise you promised me?” or “I guess that means I’m not getting that promotion, right?,” then you know he’s thinking of himself, not the team.

WS: So if you’re ambitious, how should you respond when your boss tells you some big news?

Manske: Think about the company or your peers or your employees before you think about yourself. Ask questions that indicate your concern for others. Don’t make it obvious that you’re just looking out for No. 1.

WS: If a manager is restless and wants to move up, what do you advise that person to say or do?

Manske: Get exposed to senior people. Look for exposure opportunities. I always did that. I always volunteered for any cross-departmental team. If anyone asked for help, I would say, “I’ll be glad to.” Don’t worry about being the spokesperson on the team. Just use the exposure to show what you can do and that you’re willing to take risks.

WS: What’s the best way to ask for a raise?

Manske: When the boss compliments you, don’t just nod and say thanks and walk away. Say, “Thank you. You know, I haven’t had a raise in 11/2 years. Is there anything you can do?” Build on compliments. Don’t wait a few weeks or you’ll lose the magic. And don’t barge into the boss’s office later and say, “You told me before I was doing well. Now I want a raise.” Slip it in right when you hear the compliment.

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