I am one of those people who believes that service to others is the heart of true leadership. I am also one of those people who struggles to serve others, without my own agenda. In life and in business, the path of surviving is made up of small, everyday choices. For me, it’s a daily struggle (I often use the term soft tension), between making choices that serve myself, and choosing to serve others instead. I wish those choices became easier and more intuitive, but that is a constant work in progress. I am learning that the choices that come from a place of true service are the ones without any strings attached. They can be tough to discern and even tougher to make. But developing the characteristics of servant leadership depends on them.


Sometimes it feels like my entire day is a series of choices and the right choice is always the choice that serves someone else. Here’s an example of that choice: A sales executive calls me to tell me about a new sales opportunity that she’s starting to get really nervous about landing. So in that call, I have two choices. I can give a superficial answer to motivate and hope to move on like: “Just keep doing what you’re doing.” Maybe I’m feeling the pressure, too. Maybe this opportunity is huge and I don’t want her to miss it, or I’m busy and don’t have the time to affirm her, so I cut it short.

There’s another choice. This is the one based on serving her well. Here I can put my own feelings and pressure aside and ask her to tell me more. I can help her get to the root of the panic. I might ask: “Are you feeling threatened? Afraid? What’s adding more pressure to this situation?” This question is meant to open up a dialog and allow us to move beyond the fear to a more productive conversation about how to score the opportunity. It helps to keep the perspective that my No. 1 job is to help my team be more effective. That means I have to engage what’s happening to them, and put aside what is happening with me in the moment. It’s a choice. The best part about serving others is that it creates the foundation of wonderful relationships with my colleagues.


Many high-ranking individuals default to a role of leadership for a variety of reasons, like a promotion, talent in a specific area, or experience in the field without service being at the center of their personal mission. Sometimes, becoming a leader helps expose and nurture a person’s desire to serve. But often times, it’s just not there.The classic example of this comes in sales. We’ve all seen it happen over and over: A sales superstar has impressive numbers and great client relationships. So, they are promoted to sales management. And they go from being an outstanding sales producer to being a below-average sales manager. Success in sales and sales management isn’t built on service alone, but rather on traits like drive, focus, communication, tenacity, and organization.  How these skills are applied along with an aptitude for service determines who is a successful performer and who is a successful manager.

When identifying candidates to promote to leadership positions, it’s important to look beyond the traits that make them successful performers, and to focus on service. Find the outliers who choose to serve, and you’ll find the leaders who will go far. When you’re looking at candidates, examine how they engage service to others in their current role. It’s also okay to ask how they engage service outside of work.

During the interview process, keep service as a topic of inquiry. Ask your candidates this: “When you hear the phrase service to others  what does that mean to you?”  Then ask for examples of how that has played out in work and life. The answers will tell you a lot about your candidate’s management style. Use a scenario like the one I described to find out more about a candidate’s aptitude for service. Ask what he or she would do if a colleague was panicking about an upcoming presentation. You’ll see right away if your candidate makes service-based choices. This article takes an in-depth look at the characteristics of servant leaders, and would be helpful to review before making any hiring decisions.

When your leaders make the choice to serve, your organization shifts, too. The results have a ripple effect and the customer service benefit is clear. The choice is going to be the same with a customer as it is with a team member. They need something from you and you make the decision about how to respond. Is your decision solely based on profit, your schedule, or convenience, or is it about serving the customer well? Of course, we all want and need to be successful financially and otherwise as we run our business. But ultimately, we care about our employees and customers so much that we put their needs ahead of ours. We do this knowing it’s inevitable that we will also win. In a service-based approach to leadership, everybody wins. Imagine that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *