“What Does It Take To Become A Servant-Leader?”

There is much talk about what it means to become a servant-leader and the starting point for becoming a servant-leader is to be other focused. We live in a culture that is steeped with a “ME” mentality when it comes to defining success in leadership. One has to acknowledge that becoming a servant-leader is counter-intuitive to our base nature which demands to be recognized for achievement. Servant-Leaders have to come to the place that of understanding that influence grows with how a leader serves their team not simply uses their team. As John Maxwell has said “We believe we exist temporarily through what we take, but we live forever through what we give.” What is becoming an epidemic in the market place is the sense that people are feeling less valued. Emma Johnson in her blog concerning servant-leadership writes, “Bossing around employees is so passé. Developing people, treating them with respect, encouraging their talents and input—these are trends that research has proven build strong companies and give them the competitive edge. Servant leadership—the philosophy of focusing first on the needs of employees and customers—has gained popularity in recent years, with numerous Fortune 500 firms like TDIndustries, Aflac and Synovus subscribing to its principles.”* The essence of servant leadership—serve the employees first, and success with clients will follow—might appear to be the antithesis of modern business. The roots of the philosophy are thousands of years old, with examples dating back to the 4th century and much of this philosophy being grounded in the New Testament through the life of Jesus Christ. In contemporary practice, it means actively listening to employees, treating them as people with needs, interests and failings, and respecting their roles in the company and the world.

Southwest Airlines’ former CEO Herb Kelleher believed that his company’s flight attendants were the airline’s most important leaders because they had the biggest impact on the customer experience. Those who have flown the airline know that Southwest flight attendants are some of the happiest people in the air. The corporate culture is often identified as an example of servant leadership, says Hunter, and the company is one of the industry’s most profitable. “The test of true leadership is whether employees leave the company better than when they got there,” Hunter says. “You want everyone growing and changing and improving. That is the only way your company will grow and change and improve.”* So what are the qualities of servant-leadership that one must embody in the way they live before those they lead?

Ann McGee-Cooper and Duane Trammell state, “That the most important quality is a deep, internal drive to contribute to a collective result or vision.”[1] The core drive for servant-leaders is never for recognition but instead it is about helping the success of other’s whom they lead. It is this core drive that develops a maturity by which the leader does not function with the sense of insecurity that others may advance quicker than themselves.

The second quality of servant-leaders is an awareness of paradox.  Paradox involves two aspects: the understanding that there is usually another side of every story, and the fact that most situations contain an opposite and balancing truth. Here are some of the paradoxes that servant-leadership illuminates:

  • We can lead more effectively by serving others.
  • We can arrive at better answers by learning to ask deeper questions and by involving more people in the process.
  • We can build strength and unity by valuing differences.
  • We can improve quality by making mistakes, as long as we also create a safe environment in which we can learn from experience.
  • Fewer words (such as a brief story or metaphor) can provide greater understanding than a long speech. A servant-leader knows to delve into what is not being said or what is being overlooked, especially when solutions come too quickly or with too easy a consensus.

favor opens doors humility keeps you in the room

The third quality of servant-leadership is humility which allows for the leader to allow one to take on a posture of always learning. I use this illustration that every servant-leader uses their head, heart, and hands to fully engage in the process of serving others. This requires the humility for a leader to be continuously growing from the inside/out. Because the servant-leader understands the principle, “You teach what you know, but you reproduce who you are.” Servant-Leadership transforms organizations because people are becoming transformed. Thus, “we do not get tasks done simply to get tasks done but rather we get tasks done to get people done.” In organizations in which key people have resistant to change a leader may find much favor in their entry into leading an organization but it is humility that that keeps them in the room. Humility is the pathway to success because a leader chooses to not compete for recognition with those they lead, but instead, a leader intentionally affirms and acknowledges the successes of those they lead. This requires that a leader has a strong sense of healthy personal identity that has not been corrupted by insecurity. When this is modeled in the leadership behaviors of the leader that leader gains authority by earning credibility rather than using the weakest posture for credibility which is positional title.

I will lead you with this one thought: Leaders are shaped to become Servant-Leaders through the journey of processing through painful life situations.

[1] AnnMcGee-Cooper and Duane Trammell, “From-Hero-as-Leader to Servant-as-Leader,” in Focus on Leadership: Servant-Leadership for the 21st Century, ed. Larry C. Spears and Michele Lawrence (New York, New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002). p 148.

  • See more at: http://www.success.com/article/how-to-become-a-servant-leader#sthash.aZeSGZI2.dpuf

  • Refer Emma Johnson, How to become A Servant Leader, http://www.success.com/article/how-to-become-a-servant-leader


About PastorAl

Al Soto has been married to his incredible wife Valerie for 30 years and they have five sons and one grandson. Al has been in Local Church Ministry for 35 years as both as a Lead Pastor, Associate Pastor, and for five years as a Regional Overseer for his denomination. He has a BA degree from LIFE Pacific College and is currently completing an MA in Leadership & Spiritual Formation from Vanguard University. He currently resides in Lincoln, CA where he is the new Lead Pastor for one of the Campus locations for Bayside Church. He continues to coach High School Football for the Lincoln Fighting Zebras for the Junior Varsity Program and is facilitating Leadership training and coaching as well as facilitating Spiritual Retreats. His hobbies include Golfing and Scuba Diving as well as he is a veracious reader. His Life Statement is “Real Success is Helping others to Succeed!”
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