Should Leaders Serve Others?

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Many people imagine a leader as a kind of commander going into battle: he or she is facing forward in front, while others surge along behind.

Yet I have watched many leaders use this forward march style, only to have their “soldiers” trail behind reluctantly, or not at all. Often, the issue seems to be that the leader in front has never taken the time to earn that leadership.

There are many ways a leader can attract a loyal, enthusiastic crew, and one way that offers great impact is to work on becoming a leader who serves others. Leaders with a service mentality must be willing to sometimes lead from the back while encouraging others forward. It’s a tough shift for some, but the payoff can be extraordinary.

It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership. —Nelson Mandela

Robert K. Greenleaf coined the term “servant-leader” to describe this style of leadership, but it is not a new idea.

Here’s how he defined it in his essay, Essentials of Servant Leadership: “A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the ‘top of the pyramid,’ servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

Servant leaders spend significant time listening, empathizing, and encouraging others’ growth. They put the needs of employees and customers at the center of their focus, and promote a sense of community in their organizations.

As a coach I’ve seen leaders transform businesses by adopting this approach.

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