The executive speaker series session with Donnie Smith, president and CEO of Tyson Foods, is always a highlight of the WorkMatters Institute. This one particular week raised the bar.
There was the cool factor of meeting at the Tyson Discovery Center and trying new products for our dinner.
There was the talk itself: full of great content about servant leadership. We investigated corporate structures that support servant leaders and talked through the head, heart and habits of servant leaders.
There was the transparent Q&A on topics ranging from integrity to personal financial stewardship.
For over two hours, the CEO of Tyson Foods poured his heart and soul into the 14 students and six leaders of the WorkMatters Institute. He was engaged as if that time with our young leaders was the most important thing in the world for him to do.
And that was the biggest lesson on servant leadership of the entire evening.
For over two weeks, Donnie and his team had been engaged in a bidding war for Tyson to acquire Hillshire Brands. It ended late the night before, after weeks of long days and late nights. The day had been full of responding to analysts and media, and Donnie had every justification for canceling our event. Over the past week, as the bidding war continued, I kept waiting on the email saying “I’m sorry, but…”
The email never came.
Despite the pressure and exhaustion of the last several weeks, Donnie still chose to invest in us. Why?
For Such a Time as This
Esther was a Jew living in the hub of the Persian Empire. Through some dubious means she became Queen. Haman, a high official, convinced the king that Jews were a danger, and he gets a decree passed to exterminate them. Esther is petitioned by her uncle Mordecai to appeal to the king in hopes of saving her people.
At first Esther is scared to reveal her identity and risk her life in appealing to the king. Mordecai reminds her that if she does nothing she will be found out sooner or later and will be killed just like everyone else. He says, “who knows, but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther does appeal to the king, and the decree is changed. God’s people are saved.
God used Esther in her position to identify with, mediate for and ultimately save His people, but Esther could never have known that as she was being elevated to the position.
“What if the point of me being CEO of this company is for this moment,” Donnie asked the group, “what if it is not about me, but about one of you? What if this is my ‘such a time as this’ moment? That’s why I’m here tonight.”
What if this is my “such a time as this” moment?
The insight in this question is incredible, and it is one that the true servant leader recognizes. It orients us properly: God put me here. This is His position. It is not about me.
We do not hold our positions for ourselves. We are elevated to or put into our positions for the sake of others: our teams, those that work for us, our shareholders, our customers. We are in our positions to serve. With some help from Mordecai, Esther got that. With some help from Donnie, I pray we get that, too.