When Leaders Serve


A Servant Leader

My graduate work in Organizational Leadership included the concept of servant leadership.   In nearly every class the author, Ken Blanchard (“One Minute manager” and thought-leader on this subject) was mentioned.   I was taught that a true leader helps others to succeed by empowering, guiding and serving them.  No matter how many times I was exposed to servant leadership concepts in the classroom, what I learned about it in the last ten years of my professional life has solidified my understanding.   Tangible evidence of its long-term benefits are the real teachers.

I learned servant leadership is not something that only happens at corporate levels.   It happens at all levels in an organization.  Examples of servant leadership happen when a group of employees donate their vacation time to a sick co-worker or when a receptionist spends Sunday evening changing travel plans for an executive because of last-minute complications.  The essence of pride in one’s work and commitment to others is servant leadership.

I witnessed more servant leadership when I saw an experienced business man take a young graduate under his wing to launch a software program that had potential to change the way high-volume pharmacy solutions were handled.   The business man was generously compensated for his work, but the young man gained so much more than he could have on his own.   He is now a multi-millionaire who is paying it forward by working with non-profits and is now running for public office.   All the employees involved in the process shared in the rewards.    The willingness of one CEO to go out on a limb for a young entrepreneur that created wealth for many epitomizes servant leadership.

During my career, I also watched the president of a company help several down-trodden individuals from unfortunate circumstances find employment which lead them on a road to recovery and healing.  In that same company, I witnessed a group of team members take control when a co-worker had fallen into a deep depression.   Each member of the team went to the employee’s home.   They even found a way to clean his home, do yard work, shop for groceries and keep him company while he ate.  The team ultimately got him into treatment, on the road to recovery and back to work.   These individuals were all servant leaders.

Most recently, I witnessed servant leadership when I spoke to a colleague about a former Cambodian refugee who had completed college studies here in the states but was unable to get his website launched.   The colleague, without hesitation, invited me to have the young man contact him.   I was assured he would guide and connect him wherever he could.   My colleague will not financially benefit from his good-Samaritan acts.   Instead, he can revel in the mere knowledge that he helped another find success.

As managers we can all serve our subordinates. We can help them grow and develop professionally. But as people, we can all be servant leaders. When we use our talents and gifts to move someone else forward we are servant leaders. The next time that waitress runs out of the restaurant to catch you because you left your credit card on the table remember she too is a servant leader. And as this country rebounds from an economic slump and struggles with enormous debt, keep in mind that it is the servant leaders at all levels that will pull us together. It will be servant leadership and not greed or politics that moves our country forward.

Servant leadership is alive and well in Corporate America – not just in the classroom.



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