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Become a serving leader

4 min read


“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

When it comes to leadership, this familiar proverb may be one of the least believed or practiced. Yet serving, or “giving” as the beatitude states, holds great advantages at every level of your career.

You’re at the bottom of the pecking order, and you wish someone would notice you. Study your supervisor to discover what produces their pain. Do your job in a way that removes or minimizes it. Solve their problems. Assure your boss that, whatever their nightmare, you’ve got it covered.

You’re in a pack of aspiring climbers, and you hope there’s room left in the company for you. Ask the serving questions: Does my work add value to this company? Will it amaze our customers? Can it generate cost savings without harming excellence? When you talk to your boss, keep the agenda on the welfare of the company, not on your need for recognition.

You’re in senior management, pancaked between the executive office and the clamoring mid-level, and you pray that the rising stars don’t use you as a ladder rung. Make serving your watchword; look for upcoming performers also devoted to serving and serve them. Ask how you can help them win.

You’re at the top, with no rungs left on the ladder, and you long to leave a lasting legacy. Declare that “serving” is the purpose of your life. After all, serving is the focal lens that gives shape and direction to all good power. It is the discipline that lies at the heart of all value creation. Lead in a way that serves others, serves excellence, serves customers and the world. Put yourself at the service of the whole.

From the helm, your power enables you to build a culture of serving. Those who tramp on others must be dealt with; provide a pathway to self-correction, and if they resist, show them the door. You’re the boss! And for the beautiful servers who amaze your customers, lay yourself out in service to them. Become a serving leader!

Of course, there are risks to becoming a serving leader. You may find yourself in the middle of a self-serving pack, led by managers with no sense. You can do the right thing — do the serving thing — and still get passed over for promotion or even fired. It happens. It’s more blessed to give than to receive, but giving doesn’t protect you from harm.

At the end of the day, no one is protected from harm, not the givers or the takers. Those who serve — those who do what’s right and pursue excellence — can be fired with their excellence intact. Take your excellence with you and offer your-immensely valuable self to a new boss; one, perhaps, with a greater understanding of what truly builds a winning enterprise.

There’s no downside to serving that isn’t equally (or even more so) a downside to not serving. Losing your job from a dog-eat-dog enterprise has its benefits, after all.

Plus, there’s an amazing upside in serving. Those who create true value are servers! These are the ones who know that they’re on earth to serve something bigger than themselves, and who, day after day, quietly make a difference for others.

Living is always a risk. Every pathway is littered with setbacks. The value creators and the value thieves all struggle. That being the case, the servers have nothing special to lose by living out their principles. Doing what produces true value is not costlier than cutting corners.

And, oh, the upside of serving! It is not far from the truth to say that the advantage of serving has no limit. The opportunities are infinite, as are the rewards. It is, in fact, the only pathway to true success. And it is for this reason that we recommend that you commit your life to serve.

Ken Jennings and John Stahl-Wert are the authors of “The Serving Leader: 5 Powerful Actions That Will Transform Your Team, Your Business, and Your Community.”

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