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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Jim Gane

10 years ago

Life is hard. I used to wait for it to get easier. I thought when I reached this or that summit, or achieved a certain life stage ease would follow that transition. Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Finances are hard. Faith is hard. Health is hard. Work is hard, etc. It can get easier, but it's never easy for very long. My best way through the struggle is with faith in God, a commitment to personal growth and sharing all of life with others.

Dave McAuley

10 years ago

One of the greatest lessons I've learned as a leader is to embrace that fact that I'm incomplete and that I need other people to complete me. I feel more secure as a leader when I can honestly assess what I'm good at and freely admit where I need the most help. Finding other people who are smarter, more talented and gifted in areas that I am not, completes me and allows me to accomplish so much more than trying to do everything on my own. The image of the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12 is a great word picture for this concept.

Orlee Berlove

10 years ago

I also think that great leaders serve when they listen .... and listen well to their employees. Perhaps I am just putting another spin on your "Engage and Develop Others" point. However, I think it is worth noting that Listening is important and is often overlooked.


10 years ago

I agree! Listening is overlooked - and I'm often guilty myself. Thanks for reminding us all. Great leaders are great listeners! Mark

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