Servant Leadership Workplace-Ann McGee-Cooper

Ann McGee-Cooper – A Tribute

“My art teacher in fifth grade at Everette Lee DeGolyer was a wonderful woman named Ann McGee-Cooper, who had a sign on her classroom door that said IMAGINATION’S GROWING PLACE. She was creative and fun, and really let our imaginations run wild. In one of those amazing coincidences you could never make up, Ann went on to become a professor, an author, a consultant, and a leading expert in the creative approaches to business pioneered by companies like Southwest Airlines, TDIndustries, and The Container Store. 

Ann is a passionate advocate of Servant Leadership, a term coined by the great management thinker Robert K. Greenleaf to describe something we’ve been doing instinctively since we opened our first store. After our company was well established, we learned about Greenleaf’s work and realized that it perfectly described the way we do business: placing the highest premium on listening, empathy, humility, and serving others rather than the old militaristic command-and-control style.”

– Kip Tindell, Chairman and CEO of The Container Store (from his book, Uncontainable)

Servant leadership suffered a great loss last week when Ann McGee-Cooper passed away after a courageous battle with cancer.

Ann became the most important force in the servant leadership movement following Greenleaf’s own death in 1990.

I say that for two reasons.

First, Ann taught servant leadership by example.

Ann was humble. She was mentored by Robert K. Greenleaf late in his life and was a true expert on servant leadership. Yet, Ann shunned the spotlight and the guru status she could have claimed. Soft-spoken, quick to listen, slow to speak – that’s how I experienced Ann.

Ann was generous. I took the picture here during a servant leadership orientation that Ann conducted at TDIndustries. I was visiting TD on other business and Ann invited me to participate. Her invitation that day was a gift for me.*

Ann served first. In my experience, Ann was always about serving others – her team, her clients and the larger servant leadership movement, to name a few. Ann struck me as constitutionally unable to act in a self-serving way.

The second reason I say Ann was so important to the servant leadership movement: results.

In the passage above, Kip Tindell mentions Southwest Airlines, TD and his own company, The Container Store. Ann influenced each of them, and many more.

Indeed, through their results, those three great companies make a persuasive case for servant leadership each and every day. In so doing, they are part of Ann’s legacy.

Foresight is said to be a cardinal virtue of servant leadership. So it seems appropriate to close this tribute with Ann’s own words:

“When I was a child, I used to climb the tallest tree in our neighborhood. I guess I’m still looking for the tallest vantage point – looking as far ahead as possible and dreaming of what might be.” 

– Ann McGee-Cooper


*Ann was also generous enough with her time to be a guest in one of our Servant Leadership Sessions podcasts, entitled “The Transforming Power of Servant Leadership.”