Servant Leadership: The Mark of a True Leader

The race to be a leader is crowded, but the field is wide open for those willing to be servantsRick Warren

A silhouette of a man in front of some words.I first heard the term Servant Leader from a seasoned Non-Commissioned Officer in the Army. Our paths crossed during a tour in Europe that we were both on. I asked him if I could have a moment of his time to ask him a few questions. Like most good leaders, he took the time to discuss with me the most effective ways to lead others. I asked him a variety of questions pertaining to success, setbacks, adversity, and accomplishments. One particular question that spawned this article was, “what is the best way to lead Soldiers and achieve success in our profession?” His rapid response was to be a servant leader and give people another chance when they make mistakes.

A servant leader in my own words is someone who goes out of their way to ensure that everyone else in the organization is taken care of. They put others needs first before their own and they make sure that their people are always taken care of to the highest possible degree. There is a contradicting mindset however that you have to take care of yourself first so that you are fully capable to take care of those around you. The best approach to this situation is balance.

The Balance of Time and Energy

You must always ensure that you have your “A” game with you at all times. That way you can give your best to your people. You increase the probability of having your “A” game when you are well rested, clear minded, on a good nutrition plan, are competent in your field, and have a positive mental attitude. Once you have all those going for you, you are better equipped to lead your people. This does not mean though that you push everyone else aside so you can have all these good habits first. You must balance it. Make sure your people get all these things as well, and if they are lacking in them, you dedicate energy and time to ensure that they get it. The strong leader can do without these things from time to time if it means that the people are taken care of, but at times you must focus on yourself so you can stay fully functional. The samurai philosophy was 50 percent for yourself, and 50 percent for the team. That way everyone grew equally.

A Copper green statute of a samurai on a horse

Serving your Organization

You serve your organization by adding value to it. That should be your main priority when you are in a leadership role or any other role for that matter. The best leaders are the ones who add value to their companies, teams, businesses, etc. When you add value, it makes the organization more productive. Organizational goals are met when the leaders are adding value. John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” This should be the state of mind of the servant leader. You should go out of your way to improve productivity. You should look for ways to improve the welfare of your people. You should educate your mind and those around you so everyone develops and an upward progression is moving fast and smooth. The servant leader does not look for ways to make the people work for them or make themselves look good. The servant leader looks for ways to build the people up and set a positive example. You build people up by supporting them, honoring them, respecting them, and treating people with dignity. When you do that, the results will speak for themselves and your efforts will not go unnoticed.

You don’t need to try to be in the spotlight, you need to bring the best out of everyone. Every day you show up to work you should ask yourself “how am I going to add value to my organization today?” If you can’t come up with anything, then ask your people. Ask them to tell you what you can do to improve things. Get a feel for what they really need.  Most of the time, you will get great responses, you can take action from there. This technique alone requires a lot of courage but it can give you some of the best feedback.

Liked or Respected?

As leaders, we all want to be liked, but your job as a leader is not to make everyone’s day. Your job as a leader is to ensure the objectives are being met and the people that you lead are being taken care of. There are times when people are going to dislike your actions, but there should never be a time when they don’t respect you. Respect is earned. You earn respect by respecting others, respecting yourself, and staying true to your core values. If you have to correct a member in your organization, it should be done in private so that they can maintain their dignity and you don’t embarrass them in front of others. When you praise others, it should be done in public. This alone can earn you a great respect.

Another way to earn respect is to never hold onto a negative event. Once a correction has been made, you leave it at that and you should never keep bringing it up.  Zig Ziglar said, “yesterday ended last night.” You should always have the capability to put the past behind you. Learn and become better from previous mistakes, remember the good times, but don’t live in the past. Your greatest work should always be in front of you.

Birds Flying in FormationYou should develop the reputation around your workforce as the person who takes care of the people and takes care of business. You can get things done and you are not a push over. People need to be able to trust you. When you say you are going to do something, they believe you, and you actually need to do what you say you are going to do. This will earn you a great respect. The best leaders I have ever associated with are the ones who are respected by many if not all. People like to work for them. People enjoy being around them, they will go to the end of the earth for them. This world needs leaders like that. It is possible to achieve this state, I’ve personally seen it. If you are in a leadership role, the recipe for leadership success is to take care of your people, and to take care of their families. This advice was shared with me when I was young in my career and it was paramount to every bit of success that I have ever had in my career. Once you have built that foundation, the other things will be primed to be built upon it.

Lastly, A Personal Note

I would like to share a personal experience with you. A while back I was put into a new leadership role and for the first few months I was very overwhelmed. I had a difficult time coping with the speed and capacity of responsibilities that I owned. I spoke with my mother and made the comment “leadership is tough.” She responded, “Yes, that’s why there are so few leaders, and even less good ones.” Our world is starving for good leaders. I hope this article will help you become a great and better leader that I know you can be. I will close with a quote.

Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death. -Sun Tzu


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