Should Leaders Serve Or Be Served?

To transform yourself and your team, you must be willing to serve yourself and your team.

Highly effective and servant leaders assure their teams, and others in the organisation of the following three things:

  1. Am I important to you?
  2. Are you trustworthy?
  3. Can you help me?

They are assured of these three questions because highly effective leaders prove this by taking action. They show their teams and others that they are important to them. They show their teams and others that they are trustworthy. They show their teams and others that they can help them. They prove this on a daily basis.

I have been in the engineering industry for 20 years. I left school at 16 and for the first 10 years I was a mechanical engineer and a railway technician working in Liverpool. For the next 10 years I was a project manager, engineering production manager, engineering performance manager, and engineering technical manager.

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I was working in Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and London in the United Kingdom. So, I have the experience and I know exactly the challenges you are facing as a manager. I am here to help you.

1. What Obstacles Are You Coming Up Against?

Throughout my career, I have worked with engineering depot teams, engineering depot supervisors and engineering depot managers. I have also worked with corporate managers, senior managers and directors. What I have found is that the people working in the depots are not getting the right opportunities.

I know a lot of depot based people who want to climb the leadership ladder, and move into the corporate world. In the industry you are working in, I am sure that the opportunities are few and far between too.

People all over the world are not getting the opportunities to advance their careers at the right level. That is why I write this article, and my other articles.

I want to share with you as many experiences and stories as possible through my articles, so that you can relate to as much as possible. It will also be easier to visualise how the principles I am sharing work.

I want you to visualise the obstacles that I had to overcome, and compare them to the obstacles you have had to, and still have to overcome. By doing that you will have a better idea on how to use these principles to overcome your obstacles.

For me, my biggest obstacle was ME! I still have to overcome the obstacle of ME every day. Actually, I’m pretty sure I will have to keep overcoming the obstacle of ME for the rest of my life. You may have the same obstacle.

I really hope that when you read through this article it will give you the inspiration to look within. I hope it inspires you to focus on working on yourself, and making improvements EVERY DAY.

We have discussed working on ourselves and making improvements quite extensively, and in this article I want to reiterate it. Servant leadership is very rarely practiced in the world of business. It comes across to most teams, supervisors and managers as a weak way to lead a team.

2. Servant Leadership Is Not Weak

If we are being honest with ourselves, the reason most teams, supervisors and managers think that servant leadership is a weak way to lead, is because they are too weak to lead this way. They say things like “That won’t work with my team, we’re different to all the other teams”.

The supervisors and managers need to be in control of everything, and cannot give any of it away due to how insecure they are. We discussed the difference between an insecure leader and a secure leader earlier on. The most common view of servant leadership throughout the world is definitely the view of an insecure leader.

It’s quite funny actually because the insecure leaders who say that servant leadership is weak and will never work, would rather work with a servant leader. It’s ironic because a servant leader is secure, and does everything in the opposite way to an insecure leader.

Why is it good enough for them but for nobody else? My personal viewpoint is that insecure leaders are a major reason why companies don’t achieve the results that they should. So, they should either be removed from the organisation or developed so that they improve.

Being a highly effective and a servant leader is not easy, and it takes a lot of self-development and hard work. But, it is definitely worth it in the end. Working on our character to improve ourselves and our leadership is what is required, and we need to work on ourselves EVERY DAY.

Teams, supervisors and managers who say servant leadership is “weak” are not willing to put the hard work in. So saying it’s “weak” is an excuse for not doing the work.

3. Servant Leadership Is Hard Work

Are you willing to put the hard work in EVERY DAY to improve yourself? Are you willing to build on your character and leadership? I really do hope the answer to those questions is an enthusiastic yes.

If so then continue reading, if not then you might as well quit now as the rest of the article will not help you. But, before you do, please answer the following questions:

  • Would you rather work with an insecure leader who dictates to you, tells you what to do and is weak?
  • Would you rather work with a secure leader who will do the exact opposite to an insecure leader?
  • Who do you think your team would rather work with, an insecure leader or a secure leader?

I hope that you can answer these questions with a strong and secure response. I hope that you are looking forward to continuing, and learning the rest of the leadership principles. You will become a strong, secure, servant, highly effective leader, and you will be able to develop your team to be the same.

You will become the leader that earns respect from your team and not the manager who was given the position because you can manage well. You will become the leader that can climb the leadership ladder, and not the manager who would prefer to foot the ladder because it’s easier.

You will not stand back and watch everybody else climb the ladder to become a highly effective leader because it’s hard work.

Servant leadership is hard work. However, the higher you climb the leadership ladder, the easier it becomes to lead and influence your team. To become a highly effective, servant leader you must climb back down the ladder and help others to climb up.

That is when the really hard work begins because you are not the focal point anymore. The focal point becomes the person you are helping. If you can do this, then you are on your way to becoming a highly effective, servant leader.

4. Are You Willing To Help Others?

Are you willing to climb the leadership ladder? Are you willing to climb back down and help your team do the same? Are you willing to make the sacrifices it takes to help others? I really hope the answer is yes because again, you are well on your way to becoming a highly effective, servant leader.

Helping others is not “weak”. Helping others is one of the most courageous and strongest acts that a human being can perform – serving others.

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It takes a lot of strength to work on yourself to develop your character, and leadership. It takes a lot of strength to want to move beyond your position of manager and become a highly effective, servant leader. It takes a lot of strength to develop the passion to want to help your team develop into highly effective leaders, and serve them.

It doesn’t take any strength at all to want to use your position of manager as the authority to dictate to your team. It doesn’t take any strength at all to tell your team what to do, and expect to be served by them. That is easy and only an insecure leader would want to do that.

All in all, being a highly effective leader is basically being a servant leader. If you are not a servant leader then you are not a highly effective leader.

To become a servant leader you must be strong, work on yourself, and develop yourself EVERY DAY. You must have the passion to help your team become servant leaders too. If you are willing to put the work in to achieve this, then you are on the right path to becoming a highly effective leader.

Being a leader is a responsibility to serve others, not an authority or a right to be served by others.

I welcome hearing how this post has influenced the way you think, the way you lead, or the results you have achieved because of what you’ve learned in it. Please feel free to share your thoughts with me by commenting below.

Check out my other articles by Clicking HERE

All the best,

Tom (LeadGrowInfluence)

32 thoughts on “Should Leaders Serve Or Be Served?

  1. Tom,

    Great article on effective leadership. I was in the US Army for over a decade in the, and exited as a commander. I am a huge believer in servant leadership. You need to make sure that your employee’s have everything they need to succeed. If they don’t then you in return will not succeed.
    I feel that this topic is not coached or taught in the workplace, which is a shame, if companies worked on developing their leadership they will have a more effective workforce.
    Again, great read, and I’m downloading that free book now!
    Shawn

    1. Hi Shawn,

      Thank you for your comment. I’ so happy that you found this a great article, means so much to me.

      I really appreciate you sharing your experiences in the U.S. Army, as there will be many people who will be able to relate to you. Our teams definitely do need everything they need for success and it is up to us as the leader to provide that.

      I agree that this topic isn’t taught in the workplace, in fact a lot of topics that I write and talk about are not taught in the workplace.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  2. In a way it works in 2 directions, I think, Tom. We can build up strength by working on our self growth. But because we are growing we are building up strength as well. I regard that as the biggest advantage of personal development.

    As always your article indeed inspires to a lot of thinking. Usually I get memory flashes. This time of my father, because he had a similar development like you had; first being a technical craftsman, then growing into a leadership position.

    That is how far the similarity goes, because my father had nothing with personal development in a mental area. No mumbo-jumbo for him. 🙂 He was a very rational oriented person, where you combine both in my eyes.

    1. Hi Hannie,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m really pleased you found this article valuable.

      As always I really appreciate you sharing your memories that are related to the topic I am discussing. Your Dad sounds like he was an “old school” and traditional kind of leader. I have worked with many of them, and they are the ones who are most in need of development.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  3. Hi Tom, I am so happy that I came across your site. I do agree with every single word you wrote and I gain so much useful info. As you said, to be or to become a good leader you need to develop character, it’s only for strong personalities. One needs to have a passion to help others, if there is no passion there’s no way.

    1. Hi OlaBee,

      Thank you for your comment. It makes me happy that you are happy coming across my article and my site.

      You are right, to develop our leadership then we must work on and develop our character. If we don’t have a strong personality right now then we can develop one, anybody can become a leader.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  4. Tom,

    I can’t agree more. I always led my teams with this mindset. When I was a GM for a very large retail store in Alaska, I had a team of 60 employees and 10 managers.
    The one thing I always asked when doing reviews or coaching people in general was, “How can I do better? How can I be a better Manager for you?”
    I respected their responses and took note of them. Especially when it came to constructive criticism. I always strived to do better by them.

    I also never asked my team to do something I wasn’t willing to do. There was an instance where there was human feces by the door outside. My RD came to me and said that it needed to be cleaned up. She had opened the door to smear it on top of that (she was not a good leader).

    My husband was there at the time, and I sighed and said I would need gloves and a shovel. Good thing it was cold that day. He asked why I was cleaning it up. I was the “Big Boss” to him. I looked at him and said, “Babe, if I don’t want to clean it up, my employees won’t want to do it. So, I have to do it.”

    I ended up getting it up, and my team thanked me for not asking them to do the dirty job. I told them, “That’s why I’m here. To do the messy work.”

    They ask me to this day if I’m a manager anywhere so I can hire them. I tell me that I’m in my own business right now and not hiring yet. I don’t have the means. But they tell me they will follow me anywhere.

    Thanks for sharing this information!

    Katrina

    1. Hi Katrina,

      Thank you for your very thorough comment. I am so pleased that you found this article valuabel and that you agree with it, it means o much to me.

      I am so grateful for you sharing your experiences as a General Manager. You had a huge team, and including 10 managers that is huge responsibility. Hopefully there will be many people reading this article who can relate to you and your experience.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  5. Hi Tom, thanks for this powerful post as usual!

    I found this post really insightful because I have always believed in the ‘servant leader’ as an approach to effective leadership.

    You wrote in section 3:

    ‘To become a highly effective, servant leader you must climb back down the ladder and help others to climb up.’ –

    This has always been my approach and I firmly believe in this.

    Also, you wrote in the same section 3:

    ‘That is when the really hard work begins because you are not the focal point anymore. The focal point becomes the person you are helping. If you can do this, then you are on your way to becoming a highly effective, servant leader.’

    This is true, but I have also found that when you ‘climb back down the ladder’ to help others up the ladder, and you focus on helping that person, some people actually resist that approach and feel slighted that you are actually leading but also empowering them to move up the ladder.

    What would you suggest in such a situation?

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post and a reminder of the servant leader role.

    1. Hi Ola,

      Thank you for your thorough comment. I’m so pleased that you found this article powerful and that you found it insightful.

      I love that your approach is to also climb back down the leadership ladder to help others. This is how a leader becomes a highly effective and servant leader. Please keep doing this and keep helping others climb that leadership ladder.

      In the situation when people resist, you must build a relationship with that person. When building a relationship, we are building trust. When we build trust, we are increasing our influence and that is how we lead. To build trust then we mus lead by example and follow up on the commitments we make.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  6. I also believe in servant leadership. When I read your article I was reminded of a biblical story of Jesus who washed the feet of his disciples.
    An insecure leader commands and doesn’t serve, but it is the leader who serves who will be respected and followed. I have worked in different places and it was always important to me to have a good manager/leader. If he or she wasn’t, I usually didn’t stay. I have had some wonderful bosses, and at other places I have also had some terrible bosses …

    1. Hi Christine,

      Thank you for your comment. It’s great that you too believe in servant leadership. We need to inspire more people to believe in it.

      It’s amazing that my article reminds you of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, because that is what I had in my mind when I was writing it. That means so much to me that you say that, so thank you.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  7. How ironic, I should come across your article today of all days.

    I have recently started a new job, where the manager/director expects to be served but offers very little back to the team philosphy. Only last night, he requested/pressured team members to do overtime to complete an order ontime but actually he left his office at normal time.

    Being a little old in the tooth, I am a person that only gives respect to those that have earned it and this guy certainly hasnt earned mine, no matter how many years experience he may claim to have.

    Your article hits the nail on the head in regards to being a better manager by being a servant manager. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Lawrence,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m so pleased that you think my article hits the nail on the head, means a lot to me.

      I hope things are going well in your new job.Your manager/director sounds just like some of the managers I have worked for in the past. You are 100% right, respect must be earned and not expected. The same with trust. If your manager/director wants to be trusted by you and the team, then he needs to do things that would gain that trust. The only way to do that is to build relationships with each member of the team and to lead by example. When leading by example, you are serving the team.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best and good luck in your new role,

      Tom

  8. I love reading your articles on Leadership, and this one is straight to the point.

    Lead by example, and I think it is similar to servant leadership.

    Your post is so inspiring and motivating. I want to learn more.

    1. Hi Yvonne,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m really pleased that you found the article inspiring, this means so much to me.

      I couldn’t agree with you more that leading by example is basically servant leadership. Leading by example is the most important leadership principle in my eyes.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  9. Hi Tom,

    I still remember my first ever managerial role literally being thrust upon me at a young age.

    At the time I wanted to “be a manager”, but I also wanted to be myself.

    The thought of “leadership” and want it truly meant to lead a successful team hadn’t actually occurred to me.

    I literally thought it was all about “How good I was.”

    Luckily for me, I had a regional manager who was a great leader, and in a way I viewed him as a mentor.

    I wanted to be like him.

    I remember after many of our mangerial meetings he would typically suggest further reading or books on many of the concepts we have discussed in our meetings.

    Many of these books were far more focused on improving ourselves as a person, as opposed to being a better manager or leader.

    With time, additional study and research on my part, I slowly transformed from a manager to a leader.

    Many of your articles resonate strongly with me Tom, simply because I wasn’t always the way I am now, but I can see the truth in what you write about.

    I eventually came to realise that being a great leader was an-going process, which required me to constantly work on my own personal development.

    I also realised that I was merely one cog in the wheel, i.e. part of the team, which would only function if we were moving in the same direction.

    A great read as always Tom, much appreciated.

    Partha

    1. Hi Partha,

      Thank you once again for your very thorough comment. I’m so happy that you found this a great read as with my other articles, it means so much to me.

      I am so appreciative of you sharing your experiences of when you decided to become a manager. I had very similar experiences and that I didn’t realise the difference between management and leadership. I actually didn’t understand what leadership really meant. But, after a good while of being a manager and “learning on the job” and doing lots of reading, I am in a much better position.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  10. There’s a new way to leadership and this is explained so well here Tom!!

    Gone are the days of dictatorship, it’s been proven in almost every sport and successful business around. Love this!

    1. Hi Mike,

      Thank you for your comment. I am so pleased that you found this article valuable.

      I completely agree that there needs to be a new way of leadership in most organisations and industries throughout the world. Hopefully I can play a hand in changing leadership.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  11. None of us can ever achieve anything worthwhile alone. So it is important to build a team around us.
    A team that sees the manager working together with them for their mutual advantage will respect the manager and always put more effort into doing the job to the best of their abilities.
    There is nothing worse than being told what to do by a leader, especially when you know that they would not do what they are asking you to do. Most workers would lose respect for a leader like this.

    It’s always best to ‘have a foot in the trenches’ so to speak so that we actually know what’s happening within our organization, and are therefore in a great position to deals with stuff effectively before problems arise.

    Many thanks for sharing again.

    1. Hi Andrew,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m pleased that you found this article valuable, means a lot to me.

      You are absolutely right, doing anything worthwhile cannot be achieved alone. Surrounding ourselves with the right people is so important.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  12. In my years working in business, I found real true leaders hard to come by especially with the credentials you talk about Tom.

    I guess many are just climbing the ladder for the money and not the love of the job but coming from a non-managerial role into management is a big step for many to take.

    I found that many just forgot they had teams under them at times and just carried on as though they weren’t in that higher responsible position.

    With your experience, Tom, did the company have or offer courses to benefit ones moving into management or was that just left to the individuals?

    Very inspirational and thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Mick,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m so humbled that you find this an inspirational article, it means so much to me.

      I really appreciate you sharing your experiences in working in business. It’s great that you have worked with highly effective leaders, and I know you have traits of a highly effective leader too.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  13. Hey Tom,

    Great lesson.

    I also believe in and practice servant leadership, whether at home, at work or in other vocation. There’s is nothing weak about it at all. It involves a loooot of work and sacrifice.

    I like what one of the commentators here said when they stated that they never ask their team to do what they won’t (be prepared to) do themselves. That’s serving at it fundamental level. I was once a member of a public speaking club in London which is affiliated to Toastmasters International which helps individuals who want to gain confidence in delivering speeches
    (Holborn Speakers).

    I saw first hand what a serving leader looks like when I got the support of the president of the club in setting up and clearing the meeting venue every week in my role of the set-up/break down. The task is not the most exciting aspect of running the club; it’s got very little to do with delivering and practising public speaking and it involves being the first to arrive and last to leave the club. Yet without it you run the risk of the meetings not running well. This president would always be there to help in the set up and clearly virtually throughout his term as a president. He gave me the model that I then used when I became the president of a sister club (Bloomsbury speakers) and this helped my club to grow to the extent that we spurn another club during my tenure.

    As Jesus said, to be the first, you got to be the last to begin with.

    Cheers
    Femi

    1. Hi Femi,

      Thank you for your very thorough comment. It’s great that you find this a valuable lesson.

      I really appreciate you sharing your experiences with the toastmasters club, they certainly do practice and teach servant leadership. Leadership starts with you, but it is not about you. If you can remember that then you will be practicing servant leadership.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  14. I’ll keep this short and summarize your post in a sentence – Treat others the way you want to be treated.

    Don’t demand respect, earn it, and I guarantee it will serve you better!

    And oh my, how much I agree with you. Helping others evolve is far from weak. It’s empowering, kind, and undoubtedly one of the most courageous and strongest acts you can do as a human being.

    Thank you so much for crafting such a fantastic write-up, Tom. You’re unquestionably one of the best to do it.

    1. Hi Gorjan,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m pleased that you found this article valuable.

      I appreciate your emphasis on my sentences and I’m glad that they resonated with you. Hopefully they will resonate with a lot more people and help them in their future leadership.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  15. Really good article. I’ve read a bunch of your previous blogs as well so always nice to get different leadership insights.

    Servant leadership is an interesting topic and I guess there is a fine line between the hands on approach v the delegation approach. If someone has come up through an organisation and has an understanding of the various parts of the business then the loyalty and buy-in that they can garner from their team can be immense. Hard to not respect a leader that puts others first.

    1. Hi Jason,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m glad that you found this a good article.

      I really appreciate you sharing your experiences in servant leadership. Hopefully a lot of people will be able to relate to you and learn from you too.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      All the best,

      Tom

  16. Lovely article and I think most people in higher positions should be trained on this before they ever get promoted.

    A lot of people I have worked with are bosses but not necessary leaders, it’s a shame this issue is not more important in the workplace. I hope it will change in time 🙂

    1. Hi Sliviemfit,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m really happy that you found this a lovely article, it means a lot to me.

      You are 100% right. Before we are ever promoted to a leadership position, we must be developed first. We need to gain leadership skills and understand exactly what a leader is and does. When we don’t do this, the whole team suffers and eventually the organisation too.

      Keep returning, keep engaging and keep leading.

      Stay safe and well.

      All the best,

      Tom

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