“How Can I Serve You?” This one question captures the servant leadership, smart management mindset.

There are books in my library that I continue to go back to over time. Often my return visit is to a single well marked page or two, the message of which continues to inspire me to better thinking and improved performance over time.

And that is the case with this short passage from Understanding Leadership, published in 1991 and authored by Tom Marshall.

A Question of Character, Not a Question of Function

There are, Robert Greenleaf in his seminal book “Servant Leadership”, says,

“two kinds of leaders.

Firstly there are the strong natural leaders. In any situation they are the ones who naturally try to take charge of things, make the decisions and give the orders. Generally they are driven by assertiveness or acquisitiveness or dominance.

But secondly there are the strong natural servants who assume leadership simply because they see it as a way in which they can serve.

If things are ever going to change for the better in society, says Greenleaf, only natural servants ought to lead and we should refuse to be led by anybody who is not a natural servant.

Furthermore, the biggest obstacle to change in society is natural servants who have the capacity to lead, but don’t.

Nature, Not Activities

The first thing we have to get clear is that we are dealing with a question of character or nature, not a question of function. The servant leader is first and foremost a servant by nature, it is what he is, not merely what he does.

Servanthood is the motivation that drives his behaviour, and motivation is all important in a servant.”

From: Understanding Leadership, 1991, Tom Marshall, Emerald Books

One Who Came to Serve

This reminds me of Jesus, who informed his detractors, “I am not seeking glory for myself,” and backed his message up with actions that sought the good of those very detractors. He did not seek gain for himself but gain, at incredible cost to himself, for others. He characterized himself as one who “came to serve.”

Pretty deep stuff, I know. But these things have bone practical implications and raise challenging questions for those of us who are in any form of leadership today.

Those Who Report to Us

Do we seek to assist those under our supervision to be their best? To be their servant? Is it our aim, insofar as we have opportunity, to help them improve skills, increase knowledge in their area of work, gain experience and generally improve and develop as a person and as a contributor to the shop floor, the office, the organization or in the general traffic of public life.

Are we listening to what they have to say? Acting on their observations and requests? Implementing their suggestions? Partnering with them in practical ways? Aligning together to achieve desired outcomes? Are we seeking to move them forward … in brief … to build into their lives for their good both on and off the job.

Those We Report To

Do we (again, insofar as we are able) seek for those opportunities to help our boss be his or her best? To give them every opportunity to rise up to spirit of their position and beyond with our encouragement and support? To step forward with suggestions on improvement or safety or information about a fellow worker with need?

Do we freely bring possible solutions with our concerns? Not in a we/them posture but with an “us together” attitude? In short, to do our part in honoring those over us and to help them be the best they can be in every way?

The Benefits of the Servant Leadership Smart Management Mindset

We/Them paralyzes governments, decreases productivity and demoralizes individuals and whole workforces.

The “How can I serve you?” attitude

  • Lifts individuals
  • Lifts 1st, 2nd and 3rd shifts
  • Lifts the moral fabric of a company or town
  • Lifts whole populations.

That sort of “what can we do to help you be your best” attitude, increases engagement and encourages a more satisfying day at work and a richer life beyond it.

A positive “you matter to me” attitude raises quality, increases productivity, and contributes to a significant bottom line.

Again, in brief … servant leadership gives a disproportionately high return for just caring about people and valuing the pursuit of a relationship with them.

The Need to Serve, A Way of Seeing

With this type of leader there are deeper things to be satisfied and it is the need to serve.

The servant leader works to succeed, (in the same way anyone else works to succeed) to build better products, to improve critical processes, to see services delivered more effectively tomorrow than they were today.

But in stark distinction, the one seeking to be a servant leader achieves those outcomes in a broader context of desiring for the people who make them happen, to do well and thrive at home, at work and in life. This is the servant leadership smart management attitude at work.

Beyond Commitment to Ownership

It is the mind and heart of the servant leader that takes OWNERSHIP of what it is they are doing and who it is that does the work around them. Commitment may suffice to do the work, but ownership makes it soar and builds up as many as possible that contribute to make it so.

Making it my own because it’s right and good to do and because people matter sees beyond “the daily grind” to something both higher and deeper that says, “it’s a way in which I can serve.”

Did you catch that critical statement from the book … “the biggest obstacle to change in society is natural servants who have the capacity to lead, but don’t.” This is your day, my day … our day to step up and make critical adjustment to the way leadership seems most often to be done around us … starting right where we are.