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How Could Service Change You as a Leader?

Excerpt from Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others

I began studying different approaches to leadership several years ago and that’s when I first encountered the idea of servant leadership.

Robert Greenleaf introduced the concept of the servant leader in the late seventies  – one who leads by putting the well-being of others first.      

Greenleaf was not a professor or a researcher.  He was a middle manager in one of the 20th century’s largest organizations, AT&T.  He was a thoughtful, optimistic kind of guy, who had observed leaders in real-world situations. I think that is why I liked his views. They seemed based on reality.

In his writing, Greenleaf concluded that at the extremes, a leader chooses either to be Leader First or Servant First – a leader who focuses on self-ambition, or a leader whose ambition is to serve others.

The Leader First type could be called “it’s all about me.”  Self-focused leadership.  This leader seeks a position of power, enjoys getting and wielding power, and seeks to win for personal gain.  This leader has an integrity filter that is selective, meaning they do what is right, as long as it serves them well.

The Servant First type is well described as “it’s all about the people.”  Others-focused leadership.  This leader is in a position of power, but they use their position to share power – listening to people, collaborating with the people, seeking a win for the people and the enterprise.  This leader has moral integrity as their filter.  They do what is right, no matter what the cost to self.

Greenleaf said few leaders are actually at the extremes – either 100% Leader First or 100% Servant First.

After 35+ years of my own observations, I don’t think there are “bad guy” leaders and “good guy” leaders – we all have bad and good traits.  The problem is, we fail to deliberately decide between the two poles of self-serving leadership versus serving others well.  We wobble back and forth between serving the people well, and serving our own interests.  In fact, we wobble from day to day, and hour to hour.  We lack conviction.

We struggle between who we are and who we wish we could be.

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