What it Means to Serve Others — The Mark of a Servant Leader

I spoke recently to a good friend who told me a story about the leader that was just hired to take over her organization. This new director came in on the first day, introduced himself only to the senior staff, spoke in a very authoritative and dominant way and let everyone know “a new sheriff was in town.”

When I heard this story, before even halfway through, I knew where it was going: Meet the new boss, intentionally much different than the old boss (to paraphrase the words of Roger Daltrey from The Who). In fact, so different, that individual will immediately let you know just how different.

Not really interested in getting to know the other people in the organization, different. Not feeling like they owe their valuable time to the lower-level folks, different. Obnoxious, different.

In order for business and personal relationships to thrive, we as individuals have to begin with an open extension of empathy. Empathy must be genuine and heartfelt — otherwise, everyone will know they’re dealing with a phony. So in order to empathize and show you care, you have to want to get to know others. You have to put others first, not yourself.

Servant Leader

Being a servant leader means putting the interests of others above your own. You’ve probably seen some variation of these words before, but ask yourself the following questions: Do you put others before yourself in the workplace, among your friends or in your school setting? If you’re afraid to do this, why? What is the cost to you?

If you’re afraid to be vulnerable, ditch that fear. Vulnerability is one of the greatest traits you can espouse.

“Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy — the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” — Brené Brown

I recently met a fellow business professional for a cup of coffee on a Saturday afternoon. He said some golden words to me. They meant that much more because he met me in an effort to help me out:

“I make every effort to give without expecting anything in return.”

Wouldn’t the world be a beautiful place if everyone not only thought that way — but acted that way? Yet it seems, in my experience, the people who behave this way really stand out. Because they’re few and far between. Most of us act purely for our own self-interests. We have to “make it” first and do things our way — which usually means “getting ours” and not caring for what others get.

We take advantage of the generous help of others without giving in return.

Eventually, that really comes back to bite us. I’ve been on both sides. As a millennial and business professional, I’ve relied on the help of others in my network. I’ve met some extraordinarily generous people who have advised, coached and mentored me.

Their benevolence has helped me as I’ve forged the path and created a career for myself. I am nothing today without the people who have had my back and looked out for me — some of whom were essentially perfect strangers that simply cared and wanted to help. Think about that — on the surface, it would seem there was nothing in it for them. They were helping to better my situation.

Though I can assure you, they were bettering their own in the process. As the saying goes, it is far better to give than to receive.

Pay it Forward

I learned to start paying things forward through coaching high school basketball, volunteer work and coaching co-workers through difficult career adversities. I do these things because I want to do them. These are my passions. I care.

I get a very powerful feeling of self-satisfaction that comes from helping others. But as I’ve found, in return, I receive gratitude, respect and new connections who are willing to help me grow my business or tell others of my goodwill. I gain colleagues and acquaintances who make the transition to become friends.

“If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them.” — Robert Greenleaf

I met with a marketing executive recently who said to me, “The way I show up, is how others show up.” This is the ultimate Lead by Example mantra, as opposed to using words to lead. Both are effective, as I’ve seen in my life.

“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. — Robert Greenleaf

I encourage you to think about the way you may feel at times, the frustration that comes with simply living in our modern world. We all get down, we all seek motivation and inspiration through work we do, people we speak to and the activities that inspire us. Harness any negative energy toward service and generate excitement from doing good to help others in need. You’ll be truly amazed at how much this will change your life and outlook for the better.

The Vulnerable Leader

“You find that being vulnerable is the only way to allow your heart to feel true pleasure that’s so real, it scares you.” — Bob Marley

Vulnerability was scorned or looked upon as a sign of weakness for a long time. Not anymore. While we have a long way to go as a society, there are enough leaders who have embraced this mindset and shared it with their employees and friends. I think back to the gentleman who hired me for my first job in management consulting. He was a very senior-level leader who was an unassuming, quiet man.

You would have thought that he was one of your subordinates rather than your manager. He was very graceful and caring of others. He never spoke about himself but rather, always wanted to hear how everyone’s day was. His example left an indelible mark and impact on the way I treat others. He put himself out there, vulnerable and humble, and never expected much in return.

“The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware.” — Lao-Tzu from Tao te Ching

He went out of his way to meet everyone that he managed and he took them out to lunch early on during their tenure with the company. He cared dearly for other people. He surrounded himself with a loving family, kept things positive and treated others with kindness that let everyone know he cared.

Get to know the people that you lead and surround yourself with. Don’t just engage in small talk that borders on the trivial. After all, how many people do you know where the only conversations you’ve ever had are about the weather? What are you a meteorologist?! Leave that to Al Roker.

Meaningful relationships are what matter most. Showing the people around you that you care about them and that you’re willing to put them first, is the mark of a true leader. Great leaders are vulnerable and unselfish. Ultimately, they thrive by exhibiting this behavior and in so doing, they earn the respect of all.

Leading

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