All Articles Leadership Management Behaving your way to servant leadership

Behaving your way to servant leadership

Living your life for the sake of others using the behaviors of servant leadership will change your life and the lives of those around you.

5 min read



I’m a product of the corporate power model.

After graduating from college, I entered into the corporate world and embraced the command-and-control leadership model; in fact, I made it the most important priority in my life. At 25, I was pushed into the senior finance role in my division as “controller.”

I had a real desire to succeed, and because I drove a company car, had a senior leadership role in a company, and was empowered to direct others’ actions, I thought I’d arrived. I literally sacrificed everything in my life for that job. 

When I was challenged in my leadership beliefs by Ken Blanchard in 2003, I was ready for a change. I’d just been “burned” again by my employer and was tired of giving my all to a corporate world that didn’t care about my family or me. Ken’s influence led me to look at leadership from a servant’s perspective.

I’ve come to believe with my whole heart that our job as leaders is to inspire and equip the people we influence to find purpose and meaning in the work they do. I’m here to help them through the unfolding of their life events.

Thus, when my wife and I purchased our radio company, Datron World Communications, we decided to implement servant leadership practices there. Fueled by my belief in servant leadership and supported by Datron’s success, we founded the Servant Leadership Institute, which is dedicated to teaching servant leadership implementation to other organizations. 

In my personal servant leadership journey, I had to face the reality that it wasn’t enough to say I was going to change the way I led; I had to change my behavior. Only then could I convince those I influenced that I was serious about changing the way I led them. And so at SLI, we developed the “Nine Behaviors of a Servant Leader.”

Today, I’d like to share three of the behaviors we’ve found are key in making a real change in your leadership.

Created with Stencil

Serve first

Serving first sounds easy. But when your life unfolds each day and you’re faced with challenges, your motives are tested. Your motives need to be pure, which is not always easy. I believe you can transform your mindset and motives to serve first; it doesn’t necessarily come naturally. The most important measure of serving others is this: Are people better off after they’ve come in contact with you?

Build trust

Building trust is one of the most difficult behaviors required of a leader today. We live in a society that doesn’t have a high level of trust, even though we talk about how we value it. Do a little self-assessment: Are you trustworthy? And are you willing to extend trust to others? As a leader, you need to emanate trust or others will not follow you. Trusting yourself first and then extending trust to others will give you the right to have others trust you. Remember, you can’t talk your way out of a situation your behavior got you into. Building trust is critical to your long-term influence as a leader.

Live your values

I recommend you post your company’s values so they’re visible throughout your organization, but that’s just the start. You have to create an environment where everyone in the organization can live your values.

It’s more than just telling your employees what you want them to do. When you present your values, you’ll have opportunities to mentor and coach. Sit with people and help them understand why you do what you do and why the values are so important. The values have to drive their behavior, and that only happens when they understand the purpose behind them. Make your values come alive and don’t just leave them as well-written words on a plaque.

Living your life for the sake of others using the behaviors of servant leadership will change your life and the lives of those around you.


Art Barter believes “everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.” To teach about the power of servant leadership, Art started in his own backyard by rebuilding the culture of the manufacturing company he bought, Datron World Communications. Barter took Datron’s traditional power-led model and turned it upside down and the result was the small international radio manufacturer grew from a $10 million company to a $200 million company in six years. Fueled by his passion for servant leadership, Art created the Servant Leadership Institute.

To learn more about Art and his latest book on servant leadership, “Farmer Able: A Fable About Servant Leadership Transforming Organizations And People From The Inside Out” — endorsed by Franklin Covey, Ken Blanchard Companies, and John Maxwell Co. — visit his website.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader.