One of the greatest issues with servant leadership is that most believe it is about behaviors, style and techniques that can be taught as with other leadership styles. In fact, most of the books you’ll read on the subject of servant leadership focus only on those topics. Servant leadership requires a change in the heart of the practitioner; and a heart motivated by self-interest is the greatest barrier to becoming a successful servant leader.
People are inherently self-focused and self-centered. It is the nature with which we are born. As we grow and mature into adults, we learn that life is not so much about what we can get, but rather, what we can give to others. In Philippians 2:1-4 (KJV), the Apostle Paul counsels us to look to the interests of others and not to focus on our selves.
“If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.”
Leaders motivated by self-interest place their agendas, safety, status and gratification above those of the people they influence by their thoughts and actions. Are you a self-serving leader or a serving leader? Why not take a little test to find out? Answer the following three questions:
- Do you believe negative feedback is a gift or a criticism and threat?
- Do you plan for your successor?
- Who leads and who follows in your life?
Self-serving leaders see negative feedback as a criticism and threat to their leadership. They often believe that negative feedback means people don’t want them to lead any longer. Servant leaders view negative feedback as a gift because they realize someone cares enough about them to help them through a course correction.
Have you ever considered your leadership legacy? What are you going to leave behind? Servant leaders plan for others to carry on in their role when their season of influence is over. Not only do servant leaders leave behind their accomplishments, but they leave behind a legacy in the hearts and minds of those they’ve been given the opportunity to teach and to work with. In my Leadership Framework I write:
”From each of my direct reports, I request that if they’ve ever learned anything at all from me in managing and developing people, that they in turn impart what they’ve learned to their future direct reports. After all, it’s a fact of life for anyone in Information Technology that the only lasting value we bring to the table is that which we do for others. Every system we touch and every computer program we design is destined for retirement before the project begins. Only what we do for people lasts. People, and how we touch their lives, are our legacy.”
Who leads you in your life? Are you driven by pride, fear, self-promotion and self-protection? Or, are you driven by the characteristics of servant leaders: humility, confidence, community, fellowship, contentment, generosity, trust, truth, inspiration and commitment? Self-serving leaders can only be changed from the inside-out through a transformation in their heart’s attitude. It’s impossible to change a self-serving leader from the outside-in through behaviors, style and techniques. It’s like constructing a new facade on a crumbling building for curb appeal. It might look good on the outside, but inside it’s a real mess.