Servant Leader

4 Tips for becoming a better Servant-Leader

Servant Leader

“We succeed when we help other succeed.” — Skip Gilbert

Are we leaders or rulers? Do we tell people what to do or do we support the needs of those producing the results? The answer to these questions may very well set the tone for our success or limit our results.

As a leader, when we view the hierarchy of our organization, do we see ourselves at the top or bottom of the pyramid? Do we see ourselves sitting at the top of the chart needing to direct a group that follows our commands or do we see ourselves at the bottom of the chart facilitating the productive accomplishment of our mission? Let me ask this in a different way, are we leading an organization that needs to be told what to do next, or are we enabling the resources in our care to deliver their best performance in accomplishment of our goals? The answer makes a big difference in the type of organization we will build and our ultimate success.

If we see ourselves as the top of the organization and those below us as a necessary means to execute our commands, then we most likely subscribe to an autocratic style of leadership. In this model we typically prefer to have clearly defined tasks and closely monitor the activity and results. We prefer to make the decisions and highly value those that can follow our instructions. We generally leverage our experience and observations to make decisions that are intended to produce the outcomes we desire.

If we see ourselves as sitting at the bottom of an inverted triangle in our organization chart, we most likely view our role as being one of setting a vision, empowering teams or individuals to meet our goals and helping to facilitate their success. In this model we typically see ourselves as a servant-leader, one that sees a world bigger than just ourselves. This model is characterized by seeking a high level of participation in decision-making and delegating the work to those more capable to deliver. We generally benefit from gathering information and experiences from a broader audience to make a more informed decision that has greater buy-in. Having produced a decision, we then see our role as serving those that will execute the work and supporting their needs and efforts.

So which is smarter, a single individual or a the collective wisdom of many perspectives? Who knows the true outcome of a decision better, the people that perform the work or an individual that interjects their perception of the work? In most cases the likelihood of success is enhanced by having greater input into a decision with a larger buy-in to the outcome. In most instances the higher level of participation will yield greater ownership of the decision and better results.

So how does this work? I have finally achieved a level of responsibility and authority to have a larger level of influence in my organization and you are telling me that I now work for them? Exactly!! There is only so much work we can accomplish as an individual. Even with more hands and feet available to do our bidding, they can only accomplish what we instruct them to do and are limited to doing it the way we have instructed it to be done. As a leader, this will quickly become a limiting factor in the ability of our organization to adapt to ever-changing conditions and to overcome obstacles. In addition, we are not being good stewards of our resources by not tapping into their vast knowledge and experience to collectively produce a better result.

This can be really uncomfortable for the truly autocratic-style leader. Being in charge and forcing what seems like better decisions may feel comfortable. However in the end it will be our downfall. Once we run out of ideas and those around us become dependent on us to do their thinking, we will be at the limit of our organization’s capability.

As a smart leader, we are better serving the needs of our organization and our goals when we provide a vision, engage the thinking of our resources and then help them accomplish their work. It does not mean becoming passive in our role or accepting mediocrity as an operating norm. Quite the opposite, it requires an intelligent, engaged and confident leader to operate in this manner. It means setting a vision and clearing the road for our resources. It means involving more people in decision-making and helping to develop their thinking to make better decisions.

Here are 4 tips for being a servant-leader:

1) It starts with trust. We must first have trust in our leadership capabilities to move beyond the autocratic command and control model of leadership. The second level of trust comes with building a relationship with those around us. We must trust that we are in the outcome together and that this is not just a scheme to avoid responsibility and place blame.

2) We have to be consistent in our leadership style. If we truly believe that the servant-leader model will produce better results for us then we need to be consistent in our application of its principles. Going back to our autocratic mode will set back our progress and reduce trust.

3) Help people be successful. Their success drives our success. Listen to their feedback, remove roadblocks, be fair and transparent, and help people accomplish more. They will be happier and we will achieve our goals. A very good combination.

4) Drive for Excellence. Good enough will never do. We are creating a powerful machine when we unleash the creative thinking of smart empowered people. Do not be tempted to set our expectations too low. Reach for Excellence everyday.

It works. Take a look around at truly effective and successful leaders and you will find these characteristics. They produce organizations that operate with excellence and sustained success. Watch out for the imitators, they are just a flash in the pan.


Skip Gilbert


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One thought on “Servant Leader

  1. Thought-provoking article! As I read through the article, I realized that I need to be more consistent in my leadership, which is easy to say and harder to do. I’ll keep this article close and re-read it several more times as there are genuine nuggets of truth contained within it. Thanks for another great article, Skip!