A lot of what I’ve learned about leadership was from watching poor leaders make mistakes and bad decisions. In fact, a lot of what I’ve learned about life comes from watching people make mistakes; and even making some mistakes of my own and saying “well…I won’t be doing that”. But one thing is vital to mention when talking about the mistakes other leaders have made. That one thing is to remember that when you are on the outside looking in, hindsight is always going to be 20/20. When we aren’t the person in that situation, it’s very easy for us to say what they should have done. I am very guilty of passing these sorts of judgements and do my best not to do so anymore.
However, the mistake that all of these leaders in which I speak made—was that all of their decisions were made for selfish personal interest. They made their decisions based upon what they got out of the ordeal. Humans are selfish by nature; but in order to be a good leader you have to realize one very very important thing…Leadership is not about you. Being a good leader, is being a good servant. Also known as being the servant leader. This holds true in any type of leadership role; whether you’re in the military, work for a company, in school, on a sports team, and even in your relationships and marriage. You lead by serving, by putting them first. Who is them? Your followers; whether that be your subordinates, co-workers, team mates, or spouse, etc.
Lets put servant leadership into perspective here and dig into what I mean when I say servant leader. Think about servants in ancient times. Every day they worked and served in order to earn. Now, what they earned varied between freedom, food, clothing, or another day to live. In the same way, as leaders we must earn our leadership. Earn your right to be called a leader, and earn your followers whoever they may be. Your leadership should be about the success of others, not yourself alone. Your success will be shown dependent upon who wants to follow you. And following out of fear is much much different from being voluntarily followed.
Take the book of Daniel for example. More specifically, the 3rd chapter. King Nebuchadnezzar had a statue of himself constructed out of pure gold and ordered the people of Babylon to worship it. Out of fear the people of Babylon fell prostrate to worship the statue, with the exception of three; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (formerly named Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah). All three, friends of Daniel. Out of rage, Nebuchadnezzar had them thrown into a burning furnace. Being loyal followers to the God of Abraham, the three went voluntarily to the furnace and were prepared to become martyrs. On the way to the fire, they were calling out prayers to the Lord, prepared to follow him to the death. However, the three men were saved by their faith, as God had protected them from the fires of the furnace.
Now, I am not saying that in order to be a good leader you have to get on God’s level; because lets be real, you won’t be able to obtain that no matter how hard you try. But lets look at the differences in leadership here. King Nebuchadnezzar ruled solely based upon fear or bribery. This is much like the supervisors or bosses we have that get people to obey based upon contingent rewards or via threats of disciplinary action. Their followers play the part and act pleased when the boss is in front of them, but would probably jump at the new opportunity of a new leader. Then you have the Lord, who is the epitome of servant leadership. God serves his people and pursues them no matter what. He doesn’t need to threaten or make promises. His followers are bound under covenant, not contract. This is much like the supervisor who uses transformational leadership. They utilize your strengths and build on your weaknesses. They do what they have to in order to help you succeed. These are usually the supervisors and bosses that are followed more voluntarily.
So as a leader in any given situation, if your decisions revolve solely around what’s in it for you, then please know that sooner or later you will either fail or you will leave and never be missed. My mother, who has been an operations director for over 15 years, has had these types of leaders who have come and gone. And years later, those individuals ended up working for her. Things do tend to come around full circle sooner or later. As a leader, if you are not worried about the success of others, you will fail.
There are some traits that embody what it means to be a servant leader. One of which is act of listening. Do others feel that they can come to you? Do they know that you will listen to them and hear them out? Or will you just tell them you’re busy or tell them to get over it. Awareness is another trait. Are you aware of the people you lead and serve? Aware of mood changes, or that something may be wrong? Can you people come to you for healing and understanding when something traumatic happens? Can they come to you when nothing seems to be going right at home or at work? Are you committed to helping others grow? Are you concerned with making your team a community and are you concerned with increasing morale and a sense of value? Are you empathetic to your people?
If you don’t know the answer to some of these questions, take a step back and observe yourself and your people. As a leader, your style needs to be ever changing to the situation and people at hand. it can’t just be one concrete way of thinking and doing things.
So are you a servant leader? Do you put others first? Or are you only concerned about the growth and prosperity of your own career and merits. As you grow as a leader or as you become a leader, just remember one very simple yet powerful point: Leadership is NOT ABOUT YOU.