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  • Gonzalo Cordova

To Lead Is To Serve

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

By Gonzalo Cordova


May 2020

I invite you to think about your two favorite definitions of what it means to lead. Most likely they include service at their core in one way or another. The concept of service at the heart of leadership is not new. Plenty of old and new research support it. Contemporary authors, such as Simon Sinek and Adam Grant, continue to provide practical insights about the principles of servant leadership. However, in despite of this knowledge, we all struggle to be effective servant leaders at a certain degree. I believe our challenge is rooted on us losing our focus on service instead of us not appreciating its value. Thus, these are some proven practices to keep effective servant leadership in mind at all times.

Invest Time

Take time to establish a personal connection with the people you lead. It is easy to

spend the day jumping from one meeting to another while ignoring the fact that

our effectiveness as servant leaders depends on how well we know the individuals

we lead, both as professionals and as people. Find out what drives people at work

and outside of work, their needs, their dreams, their struggles. Only when we invest

the time to get to know others, we will be able to serve them by making decisions

that positively impact them at a professional and personal levels.

Listen to Understand

We all have fallen into the trap of listening to answer instead of listening to

understand. Our fast pace world leaves little room for reflection, so we need to be

intentional about listening to understand into our daily communications. A best

practice is to repeat aloud the information we received to ensure its accuracy and

then pause. The person providing the information usually takes advantage of the

pause to add information, correct any misunderstanding, or confirm that our

understanding of the message is correct. Ensuring we understand what we heard

from others allows us to capture their reality as they experience it. Our ability to

serve others as leaders is magnified when we take into account their realities

instead of relying on our perception of their worlds.

Earn Trust

People follow voluntarily the ones they trust. Trust has to be earned through

actions that benefit the people we lead independently of the benefit that we get as

their leaders. Extreme cases of servant leadership are displayed when leaders make

decisions that are good for the ones under their lead even though the leader faces

negative consequences. This is hard to practice when we have been wired by

multiple channels to win, to be first, to seek our own benefit. I acknowledge leaders

cannot perpetually lead without any personal wins, but I believe we can find win-

win solutions more often than not if we search deep enough. The next time that

you make a decision as a leader, check your motives and ensure the benefit of

others is equally weighed with your own.

Practice Empathy

Think of the last time you wished your leader could understand the practical

challenges you are facing to address his or her ask. Most likely, your leader had

good intentions when assigning the task, but well-intended asks tend to become

more complex in practice. As leaders, we can try to avoid the scenario described

above and serve the ones we lead by making decisions with empathy. To do this,

acknowledge that empathetic decisions require extra effort on our part. Next, ask

more questions, role play the execution of your asks, consult with other leaders,

check with the people you lead for unintended consequences of your decisions. In

short, go out of your way to make decisions from the perspective of the ones we

lead.

Serve Where You Are

You can start serving others where you are, regardless of your title, number of

direct reports, experience, and background. This mindset will support any

leadership journey, so it is never a waste of efforts and time. Start small or big, but

start making a contribution to the well-being of others now.

While there are additional ways to practice servant leadership, the ones discussed above will allow for a solid foundation. Thus, let me be bold and end by asking you to apply what you just read. Be intentional about servant leadership while pursuing your own goals. You will enjoy the magnified sense of satisfaction from enabling others to succeed…No better way to lead than to serve!

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