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Lovesac Wisdom

April 23, 2024  |  540 words  |  Economics, Philosophy

Not a day goes by without a new batch of unsolicited suggestions for self-improvement hitting my inbox.  Fueled by the latest research, these highly-annotated ideas are meant to help me develop a higher level of empathy and improve my emotional intelligence, making me a more effective employer and manager, a better husband and father.

The latest pearl of wisdom came in the form of a promotional blurb for the newly-published memoir of a young man who built a wildly successful, publicly-traded furniture company from the humblest of beginnings in his parents’ basement.  In Let Me Save You 25 Years: Mistakes, Miracles and Lessons from the Lovesac Story, Shawn D. Nelson, the 47-year-old founder and CEO of The Lovesac Company (NASDAQ: LOVE), details how he turned his teenage daydream into a global brand.

The promo lets potential readers know the book is filled with personal stories that illustrate certain maxims Mr. Nelson has gleaned from the trials and triumphs experienced during his gritty journey.  Here is one I can certainly relate to:

Never lose your willingness to sweep floors, and you will become a uniquely effective leader known for your integrity.”

It sounds to me like Shawn D. Nelson might be a proponent of Servant Leadership.  This concept has been around for at least two millennia, of course, but was coined for specific application in the business world by Robert K. Greenleaf in his seminal work first published in 1970, The Servant as Leader.  After spending 40 years at AT&T, Greenleaf retired in 1964 as director of management research.  

He cited as influences his father, who stood for him as a role model for servanthood; E.B. White, whose writings emphasized seeing things as a whole; the culture at AT&T, which showed him it was possible to nurture the spirit of employees while making a profit; and the work of a nineteenth-century Danish Lutheran clergyman by the name of Nikolay Frederick Severin Grundtyig, who showed how servant leadership could transform a country.

Lots of academics and scholars have expounded on Greenleaf’s work since then, helping to carve out an alternative to the conventional hierarchical-oriented leader who sees his/her primary role as delivering profit to shareholders.  The alternative has introduced a more nuanced view of leadership that still achieves profitability while also embodying socially-responsible virtues like stewardship, ethical behavior, and collaboration. 

Such virtues should not be news, since in most cases they were transmitted to us as young children at our parents’ feet.  Just as an aside, neither my father or mother built a wildly successful business, or became a big-time corporate executive.  They were just your basic, salt-of-the-earth types who taught me to do unto others as I would have them do unto me.

Simple, straightforward advice which has stood me in good stead as I have made my way in the world as an employer and manager, a husband and father.  Though it is always good to hear from hard-charging entrepreneurs who have found a measure of humility along with their outsized success.  And I do welcome the work of all those experts who are busy detailing how best to apply such timeless concepts as servant leadership in the business world, while helping to redefine what constitutes ‘good leadership’ in that world.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.

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