“Servant-leadership is more than a concept, it is a fact. Any great leader, by which I also mean an ethical leader of any group, will see herself or himself as a servant of that group and will act accordingly.”
M. Scott Peck, psychiatrist and best-selling author
For years, our vocabulary has equated a leader with such concepts as “the boss … the guy at the top … the big cheese … or … the big wheel.” And none of those terms have been very flattering. Perhaps the terms have been unflattering because … all too often … the leader’s behavior was nothing to brag about. After all, the terms implied that he or she ran the show and everybody else had to bow to his/her wishes.
Well, that approach might have worked well in the past, but most employees and most team members have had enough of being ordered around. Intuitively, they know they’re on the front lines and they often know as much about the business as the leader does. MOST employees want to do a really good job for the company and the customer.
And yes, I know there are a few knuckleheads in some companies who could care less about the company or the customer. That’s why I said MOST employees want to do their best or give their best. They just want the leader to help them do that. And that’s why “servant leadership” works so well. It’s all about giving to others, caring about them, and empowering others. It’s highly effective as well as motivational.
The good news is … you can be a servant leader no matter what job title you hold or where you work. It includes some of the following elements that I emphasize in my “Journey to the Extraordinary” program.
In fact, in my most recent “Journey” program in Denver last June, Susan Rogers, the Acting Regional Director for the Veterans Health Administration, said, “The ‘Journey to the Extraordinary’ is a life-changing two days. This workshop will absolutely change your life. I am a better leader because of this workshop.”
To become a servant leader, you need to…
1. Live palms down.
Thousands of people ask me for the “secrets” of success. Again, it’s a large part of my two-day “Journey” program. But here’s one of them: The secret to a successful, happy life is giving yourself away.
I know it doesn’t make sense. By nature we would rather possess than share, have than give. But if you get real serious about being truly happy and highly successful, one day it will click for you. As Tommy Barnett, the author of “Hidden Power” says, “Joy is not living palms up — it’s living palms down.”
He’s right. Very few people have become revered and respected, happy and healthy because of all the things they acquired. No, the greatest prizes in life always go to those who give the most.
The concept of servant leadership starts with giving … with being a servant first. In other words, you can’t expect to lead others unless you are willing to serve others …because servant leaders must focus on the well being and individual growth of their followers.
I don’t know why it’s taken us so many hundreds of years and so many thousands of university studies to tell us what Dr. Suess told us so very plainly when we were children. Dr. Suess said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Or Dr. Zimmerman’s way of putting it, ” People will not follow a leader until he/she shows genuine interest in them.”
Of course, the whole idea of giving … of being a servant leader … may not come naturally. That’s because you may have to …
2. Overcome a “lack” mentality.
After all, we live in a world that encourages us to hold tightly onto everything we have. Things always seem to be running out. Our cell phones have limited minutes and limited calling areas. Our cars can only hold so much gas. Our vacation time runs out. So does our patience, our energy, and our attention. Our monthly budget seems to disappear long before the month is over.
On a global scale we are told that the oil supply will run out in a few decades and that there isn’t enough room on the planet for all the people who will be born. Some say the supply of fresh water is dwindling; others say that the ozone layer is thinning too quickly.
We are conditioned to think in terms of limits and limited supplies and, therefore, the world operates on the principle of lack. We are told that you start out with nothing and you have to grab and claw your way to having enough. In the world, the successful man is the one who stores up the most …the million-dollar bank account, the huge pension, the homes, the sports cars, and newest tech gadgets.
If that sounds anything like you, without sounding too judgmental, let me suggest that you may be suffering from spiritual bankruptcy. Most religions approach life from the opposite angle. They operate on the principle of plenty. And the most successful man or woman is the one who gives the most away.
The world says, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Spiritual maturity says, “He who gives away the most wins.”
Or as Tommy Barnett puts it, the co-founder of the Dream Center in Los Angeles, where I actually served as volunteer to the homeless, “God doesn’t see the cup as half full or half empty. He sees it overflowing.” From his perspective, words like “scarce resources … empty bucket … and … limited” are meaningless.
To be a servant leader, you’ve got to grow beyond a “lack” mentality. And then you need to …
3. Operate on the third level of giving.
Some people are stuck on “The Mud Level.” They return evil for good. They throw mud in your face, no matter how nice or decent you might be. We see glimpses of this in our day when acts of kindness are paid back with evil. We see small doses of this when we greet a co-worker with a cheerful “Good morning,” and he/she doesn’t even bother to acknowledge our existence. He just walks on. And we see large doses of this when someone stops to help a stranded car and is assaulted, or we see large doses of this when a long-term, trusting relationship is betrayed by lies or infidelity.
Other people operate on the human level. They return good for good and evil for evil. The way they figure it … if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you, but if you’re mean to me, I’ll be mean to you. It may sound fair, just, and all that good stuff, but there’s nothing particularly noble, inspiring, or motivating about this level of giving.
By contrast, real givers and real servant leaders live on a super-human level where they return good for evil. They do good to people … even those folks who steal from them or cheat them. Of course it’s difficult for them or anybody else to live and lead consistently on this level, but it’s how the most effective leaders operate. In my program called “The Payoff Principle: How To Motivate Yourself To Win Every Time In Any Situation,” I call it being an “actor” instead of a “reactor.”
If all of this “servant leadership” stuff sounds a bit overwhelming, I’ll be the first to admit that it might not come naturally. It takes an attitude adjustment from being “the big boss” to being “the kind servant.” And it takes a bit of practice.
If you’re not sure how to start being a more effective “servant leader,” I suggest…
4. Give more of your time.
I can already hear some of you saying, “I don’t have any more time. How am I supposed to give away more of what I don’t have?”
Start by thinking smaller. I’m not saying you have to give every waking moment to your team mates. You’d never get to the rest of your responsibilities. But you can start by spending a few minutes each morning checking in on each of your team mates. You can take a moment here and there to ask them some questions, listen to their answers, and listen to their questions.
And instead of thinking in terms of hours and days of time, think in terms of half-hour blocks. In fact, if you tell me what you do with your half hours, I can tell you how productive your life is and how well your career is going.
So forget about what you want to do in the next six to twelve months … temporarily. It’s the half hours that count. The half hour after you get up in the morning. The half hour spent waiting for your meal to arrive at the restaurant, or waiting for the train, or waiting to go to bed.
Everything that is worthwhile has been done in half-hour blocks. As the old poem says:
Little drops of water
Little grains of sand
Make the mighty ocean
And the beauteous land
Little deeds of kindness,
Little words of love,
Make our earth an Eden,
Like the heaven above
And the little moments,
Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages.
Mrs. J. A. Carney (1845)
Half-hours determine your future. In fact, most of the most important things in your life happen in half hours. You get married or buried in a half hour. You get hired or fired in a half hour. And you often make life-changing decisions in half of an hour.
So you’re pressed for time. So is everybody else. But you CAN manage to be a “servant leader” by using your half-hour blocks of time well.
Finally, in the process of becoming more of a “servant leader,” you will be giving out a lot more encouragement. That’s great. That’s the way it should be. Just don’t forget to get some encouragement for yourself so you can keep on keeping on. That’s why I tell “servant leaders” to…
5. Refuel your own encouragement tank.
I’ll be the first to admit that it can be rather draining to give, give, give to others. So you’ve got to put some good stuff back into your encouragement tank so you can keep on giving to others.
And one of the best ways to do that is to read the histories of successful people and successful leaders. There’s nothing more encouraging than reading about the failures of people you admire. But it’s also good to remember that it wasn’t their failures that made them great; it was their ability to overcome their failures that made them great.
Take Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morito, for example. They had both failed in some way before they partnered in business together. They failed when they made an automatic rice cooker that burned the rice. But they tried again, this time making an inexpensive tape recorder which they sold to Japanese schools. That was the beginning of the Sony Corporation.
Henry Ford’s first business, the Detroit Automobile Company, failed within two years due to partnership disputes. Ford’s second automobile company also failed. It was only on his third try did he succeed with the Ford Motor Company.
Phillip Knight wanted to build a shoe company but ran into problems. His manufacturer wanted majority ownership of this company. Knight refused and was left without a product to sell. He had an idea for a waffle-sold shoe design and began selling them on his own until a dock workers’ strike and fluctuations in Japanese currency almost put him out of business. His company barely survived. But survive it did — and today it is known around the world as Nike.
Most everyone loves the gourmet pizzas at California Pizza Kitchen, but it too was started by “failures.” Rick Rosenfield and Larry Flax co-wrote a screenplay they couldn’t sell, started an Italian restaurant that went bankrupt, and launched a mobile skateboard park that failed. It wasn’t until they started selling pizzas that success came for them.
As a “servant leader,” you need to give lots of encouragement, but you also need to be encouraged. After all, encouragement is more potent than any drug on the market. It imparts something no chemical company can: real, genuine hope. As Barnett writes, “I encourage you once and for all to choose to be an encourager, a dream-builder, a cheerleader for people. The words cost nothing for you to give, but they will prove priceless to those who receive them.”
One final bit of good news. When you act as a “servant leader,” it’s almost always a win-win. As Barbara DeAngelis, an American researcher focused on relationships, says, “Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.”