Big Idea: Great Leaders Serve

During an interview last week, I was asked: What’s the biggest insight you’ve had regarding leadership throughout your career? That’s a really good question. How about you – how would you answer that question? The microphone is yours, what would you say?

I really do like the question. It does what most hard-working questions do – it makes you think. Also, it requires a synthesis of countless moments in time, thousands of ideas and hundreds of possible answers. It’s the kind of question I like to ask others.
As I think about my answer to the question, my mind races through possible answers. I’m thankful to have been exposed to many great leaders who’ve been willing to share their wisdom with me and the world.
The question is such a good one; I’ve decided to write several posts in the coming weeks and months on numerous “Big Ideas” that have shaped my leadership. Today, I’ll share the answer I gave during the interview.
My biggest personal insight over the last three decades regarding leadership is…

Great Leaders Serve

I know this idea is counterintuitive and countercultural. It always has been. To some, the idea that a leader should serve seems outlandish. But, think about electricity – energy flowing through wires to light our homes and power our appliances seemed far-fetched just over 100 years ago. Today, it is electricity that has modernized our world.
Just because an idea seems crazy at face value actually has no bearing on its validity. Servant leadership is a classic example. For me, to serve is at the heart of what enables a leader to become great. This idea applies at two levels.
First, is the issue of motivation - Why do you lead? Is it for you or for others? The best leaders think others first. It is a mark of their character. It is who they are or are becoming. Serving is a core motivation for the best leaders.
Second, SERVE represents the strategic practices of great leaders. I’ve written about this before; first in a book I coauthored with Ken Blanchard called The Secret. If you’re interested, here’s a link to a post which goes a little deeper on the following five SERVE practices. For today, I’ll just recap them here.
Great leaders SERVE when they…

See the Future

Engage and Develop Others

Reinvent Continuously

Values Results and Relationships

Embody the Values.

To serve is a tall order for any leader. It is about why we lead, how we lead, how we think and how we see our role in the world. It is a high bar to shoot for every day. To do anything less creates an inferior form of leadership. Great Leaders Serve![GLS_Shield]
If you’d like to explore this idea more, here’s another link to a post about why servant leadership works.


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