Leadership Quality #19: Servanthood (Being of Service) – To get Ahead, put Others First

You’ve got to love your people more than your position.

When you think of servanthood, do you envision it as an activity performed by relatively low-skilled people at the bottom of the positional ladder? If you do, you have the wrong impression. Servanthood is not about position or skill. It’s about attitude. You have undoubtedly met people in service positions who have poor attitudes toward servanthood; the bored worker at the government department, the waitron who can’t be bothered with taking your order, the store assistant who is more interested in the phone than assisting you. Just as you can sense when a worker doesn’t want to help people, you can easily detect whether a leader has a servant’s heart. The truth is that the best leaders desire to serve others, not themselves. What does it mean to embody being of service? A true servant leader:

  1. Puts others ahead of his/her own agenda – The first mark of servanthood is the ability to put others ahead of yourself and your personal desires. It’s is more than being willing to put your agenda on hold. It means intentionally being aware of your people’s needs, available to help them, and able to accept their desires as important.
  2. Possesses the confidence to serve – The real heart of servanthood is security. Show me someone who thinks they are too important to serve, and I’ll show you someone who is basically insecure. How we treat others is really a reflection of how we think about ourselves. Philosopher-poet Eric Hoffer captured that thought: “The remarkable thing is that we really love our neighbour as ourselves; we do unto others as we do unto ourselves. We hate others when we hate ourselves. We are tolerant toward others when we tolerate ourselves. We forgive others when we forgive ourselves. It is not love of self but hatred of self which is at the root of the troubles that afflict our world.”  The Law of Empowerment says that only secure leaders give power to others. It’s also true that only secure leaders exhibit servanthood.
  3. Initiates service to others – Just about anyone will serve if compelled to do so. And some will serve in a crisis. However, you can really see the heart of someone who initiates service to others. Great leaders see the need, seize the opportunity and serve without expecting anything in return.
  4. Is not position-conscious – Servant leaders don’t focus on rank or position. Their attention is on one person being of service to another.
  5. Serves out of love – Servanthood is not motivated by manipulation or self-promotion. It is fuelled by love. In the end, the extent of your influence depends on the depth of your concern for others. That’s why it’s so important for leaders to be willing to serve.


Where is your heart when it comes to serving others? Do you desire to become a leader for the perks and benefits? Or are you motivated by a desire to help others? If you really want to become the kind of leader that people want to follow, you will have to settle the issue of servanthood. If your attitude is to BE served rather than TO serve, you may be headed for trouble. If this is an issue in your life, then heed this advice: Stop lording over people and start listening to them. Stop role-playing for advancement, and start risking for others’ benefit. Stop seeking your own way, and start serving others.

To improve your servanthood, do the following:

  • Perform small acts – When was the last time you performed small acts of kindness for others? Start with those closest to you: your spouse or partner, children, parents, friends. Find ways today to do small things that show others you care.
  • Learn to walk slowly through the crowd – The next time you attend a function with a number of clients, or employees, make it your goal to connect with others by circulating among them and talking to people. Focus on each person you meet. Learn his/her name if you don’t know it already. Make your agenda getting to know each person’s needs, wants and desires. Then later when you go home, make a note to yourself to do something beneficial for half a dozen of those people.
  • Move into action –  If an attitude of servanthood is conspicuously absent from your life, the best way to change it is to start serving. Begin serving with your body and your heart will eventually catch up. Sign up to serve others for six months, be it at your place of worship, community service, or a volunteer organisation. If your attitude still isn’t good at the end of your term, do it again. Keep at it until your heart changes.
“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: The ones among you who will be really happy are those that have sought and found how to serve.”  – Albert Schweitzer

If you want to lead on the highest level, be willing to serve on the lowest.  

Part 19 of our Leadership Series: Leadership is an Inside Job, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader


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