Service: To Give of Myself for Another’s Benefit
There are two kinds of leadership: Top down, and bottom up. Lead by authority, or lead by example.
The world has seen leadership by authority for as long as it’s been around. We now know that leadership by example is much more powerful and effective. This means that if we want to be on the cutting edge of leadership, we need to embrace service-oriented leadership.
How do the two models differ? Leadership will always maintain its element of authority, but the defining difference is in how that authority is used.
Top-down leadership sees people as a resource that can be used for any purpose, by any means, for the sake of accomplishing the goals. Bottom-up leadership recognizes that the people within our corporations are part of the goals, and it leads them in such a way that it raises them to their full potential. It looks not only to whether they are good at fulfilling their current job description; if they are not, it asks the question whether there is something productive they would be better at doing, and reassigns them to align their tasks with their strengths.
A top-down leadership structure will always create an environment of drone workers who punch the clock, do their job, and go home to their real life. But a bottom-up leadership structure will create a culture of leaders who are engaged and who actively contribute to the success of the whole.
SERVANT LEADERSHIP VALIDATED
There are many wonderful examples of servant leaders just in the past century or so, including such people as Martin Luther King Jr., John Wooden, Cathy Truett, and many more. One of the most notable examples, Nelson Mandela, once said, “A leader…is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”[i]
Each of these people has stories that validate the power of the servant-leadership they lived. But it’s especially worthwhile to note that King and Mandela used servant leadership to reform oppressive, authoritarian systems. If top-down leadership was more effective or powerful, then neither King nor Mandela would have succeeded.
WHY SLOW TO BE EMBRACED?
We might ask, if service-oriented leadership is so much better, why it has taken so long for it to be taught? The reason is that it’s harder.
In particular, servant leadership requires sacrifice. It’s about putting self aside for the betterment of another person and the overall mission of the organization. The military, top-performing athletic teams, and the most influential leaders of all time get this principle. But, truthfully it’s easier to be selfish. In fact, it is nearly impossible to yield self-interest in service unless a common cause or mission becomes more important to us than the self-interest we’re naturally born with. If we are going to work harder at leadership, we need to understand the benefit we’ll receive for the effort.
There is a deeper reason servant leadership has been slow to be embraced. After all, entrepreneurs and executives didn’t become what they are by taking the easy road. Also, if it just comes down to setting aside our egos, then we really just need to understand that the superior results of service-oriented leadership provides ample reasons to take pride in our work and feel a healthy sense of accomplishment. Why then would it continue to be difficult to set aside ego? The answer may be that our ego is not really about taking pride in our work or in the results we produce. Instead the issue is about the control we have over other people, and the power we feel from our exalted position.
If our ego is rooted in control and position, that’s a dangerous sign that our identity is derived from what we do instead of expressed in what we do. An achievement-derived identity is afraid of failure above all else and is intimidated by others’ successes. An identity that expresses its confidence through achievement bears failure as a steppingstone to success and can celebrate and encourage the successes of others, knowing that the success of one individual provides increased strength to the whole.
What does a lack of service leadership look like in a real-life work environment? Oftentimes, it simply looks like getting so caught up in our own roles that we forget the big picture. For example, a customer service representative within a computer industry may only have the perspective of answering customer questions as possible to meet the “quick response time standard” measure of the department. I’ve had many customer service reps answer the phone and then disconnect the line. Having come from customer service, I know they are trying to manage down their talk-time numbers. But the bigger picture is providing customer service so that a customer can purchase the right product and to obtain customer loyalty.
Sales people and customer service people are often at odds with each other in companies because the sales people want to win the customer (regardless of the policies) and the customer service people have protocols and procedures to follow. When something like this example happens, it’s easy for self to become the focus instead of service. But true service is looking out for the benefit of each other and the customer. Southwest Airlines is a good example of a company that has found a healthy focus and balance when it comes to service, which is why they consistently get five-star ratings from their customers. [ii]
Worldwide Copyright TJ Associates, LLC Diane Kucala, May 2013