Want To Be a Leader? First Become a Servant.

Becoming a leader first means taking on the responsibility of servanthood and serving those you wish to lead.  

Conversations can be such a great breeding ground for life lessons. Those life lessons also can be used in our business, since our business should be an extension of ourselves. One of the best lessons I have ever learned came through a conversation I had with Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks Coffee. He taught me about servant leadership.

It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Servant leadership. Can one truly be a servant to their employees, clothing themselves in humility, and still be a leader? In fact, it is the only true way for us to lead our business, especially if we are focused on growing that business with a soulfulness that makes it an extension of who we are, where our passions are aligned, and with whom we build our relationships.

What is a servant leader? First, let’s look at what it is not. Everyone has seen the old example of a leader versus a boss. On one side of the picture at the top it says, “Boss,” on the opposite side it says, “Leader.” Now, both pictures looks similar: a set of three employees are trying to move a desk. On the “Boss” side, the person in charge is sitting on the desk, watching his people do their work. On the leadership side, the leader is out in front of his employees helping them accomplish their goal. In order to be a servant-leader, you must be the leader instead of the boss.

That is servant leadership. Howard Behar, says it like this, “…leaders are not here to be served, but leaders, rather, are to serve. We  serve  our  people,  our  organizations  in  a  way  that  helps  our  people  accomplish  the  goals  that  they  have  for  their  lives  in  the  journey  of  accomplishing  the  goals  for  the  organization.” He takes this concept even further by stating, “It’s not soft and gentle. It  has  high  expectations  and  performance  matters, but  what  matters  most  is  what  we  do  for  our  people  first  in  the  context  of  us  serving  the  organization. It  makes  such  a  difference  in  life  because  it  basically  says  to  our  people  that  they  matter, that  they  come  first  in  our  organizations.”

Behar likes to use a simple equation to prove his philosophy. This equation helps grow his people, which in turn grows the organization, then ultimately grows the business. But the focus, at the beginning — and continuing throughout — should always be your people. Behar says, “…there is  only  one  role  that  any  of  us  have  in  life.  Only one.  That’s to be a server of other human beings.”

Products and bottom lines, as well as copy and promotions are all secondary to the people we are serving. The customers we’re servicing to be sure, but more so, those under our employ. When our focus shifts from a product-centered mindset of a boss, to a people-focused mindset of a leader, growth occurs.

At the end of the day it boils down to this question: What drives our business? Sure, we can say that profits drive our business—and they can. But, dream for a bit. What if our business made profit, but to a greater extent, made a difference?

In my conversation with him, Howard Behar teaches and inspires us all by:

  • Showing us the difference between a boss and a leader, and encouraging us to be leaders.
  • Teaching us that profits and process are secondary to our servanthood.
  • Inspiring us by saying, “…there is only  one  role  that  any  of  us  have  in  Only one. That’s to be a server of other human beings.”

By servant-leading your people, your goal is to serve people, then watch the profits roll in. People will buy in, you will be fulfilled, and the soul of your business will be satisfied. And, isn’t that what it’s all about?

To hear more of my interview with Howard Behar on my THINK Business podcast please click here.

Think BIG!