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Book Review: “Serve To Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Board Room

Book Review: “Serve To Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Board Room

As a business owner, I am intrinsically drawn to books on leadership. Recently, I was given a book by Matt Tenney called “Serve to Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom.”

The title intrigued me before I even flipped open the cover. Tenney’s journey reads like a movie script: going to prison for stealing and breaking the military honor code, discovering mindfulness through monastic practices, starting a nonprofit and ultimately helping businesses develop better leaders. While incarcerated, Tenney perfected being present in the moment and being constantly mindful when operating in daily life. Those teachings became the foundation for the leadership principles he developed for businesses — the most prominent suggests that by approaching life and business with a focus on serving others, anyone can become a better leader.

In the book, Tenney provides practical advice for becoming a better leader. Some of my favorite takeaways in this book apply to both business and life:

  • Do the right thing, no matter the cost.
  • Be mindful of your thoughts. Do you play a victim role? Are you complaining instead of helping to find solutions?
  • Treat employees like you would a customer — go above and beyond to help them.
  • Empower people and focus on others rather than your own return.
  • Practice emotional control. People follow and learn from people who can keep calm under pressure.
  • Park your ego and do things to get away from your pride.


Local Leaders

Tenney used small, localized companies as examples of great leadership and practices. Without giving too much away, each business is unique and successful. Reading about what leaders and businesses do in their local environments is inspiring — a reminder that North Central Florida also has a strong backbone when it comes to leadership. Tenney highlights what is being done by these companies and compares their actions to the likes of Oracle, Zappos and others.

See Also

The Golf Swing Analogy

Matt Tenney states something else in the book that I believe in: Focusing on serving others — whether in business or in life — requires practice and consistency. I analogize these actions and the overall mindset like a good golf swing: After spending time practicing your swing, you know when you do it right — when it is effortless and smooth. When you do things the right way and serve others, life also becomes effortless and smooth, and it becomes easier to repeat the process.

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