While there are many leadership styles, I believe the only type of leadership that ultimately works is servant leadership. Being a dictator, or an unapproachable person, doesn’t get people to follow you. In fact, if you think you’re leading people, turn around. If nobody’s there, you’re not a leader.
I recently received a great example of what servant leadership looks like in an email from the fabulous Amy Lorton:
OK, ready for something that happened yesterday in Content? It’s kind of gross but a great example of servant leadership.
Richard brought his little granddaughter up here for a couple of hours. She ended up getting sick and lost it all over Richard and the carpet in his office. After we got her cleaned up, Richard had to leave with her. He’s gone, and I look back and see Allen on his hands and knees cleaning the carpet. Here he is, our leader, dealing with the mess. He could have passed it on to us or the cleaning staff. But he did it himself. I thought that was really cool.
As a leader, you must be willing to do whatever is necessary. Sometimes that means setting up chairs, doing gofer-level tasks, and even once in a great while, cleaning up…messes. When you do, it endears your team to you and they will follow you anywhere. Just look at Amy’s response.
Question: How have you seen someone be a servant leader?
*****UPDATE***** Read the comment below about Staff Sergeant Zac Harms and tell him and Tony Lamb how much you appreciate their sacrifices!!
31 thoughts on “What Servant Leadership Looks Like”
Acts of humility and humbleness go so far. I have one to share about my leader. Yesterday, she came to our team and said she wanted to apologize for something she’d said to a team member the day before during our weekly meeting. And she wanted the whole team to hear her apologize. So, she explained what she said and apologized. The funny thing is none of us recalled her even saying it. But that’s not the point. The act of humility was an awesome leadership move. I know it endeared me to her even more as our new leader.
If only all would do that!
This is a subject that isn’t touched on nearly enough. As a Christian, the greatest leadership example was Christ himself. He never grappled to gain notoriety, fame, or power. He was humble beyond measure as He lowered Himself by stepping down from His throne to don flesh and live as human. While others reached for crowns and status He reached for a towel to wash the feet of those that followed Him. The scriptures even speak of how Christ submitted and obeyed the authority that He was subject to as a child. God of all creation submitting to man that couldn’t even fathom who He was. I am stilled humbled by this. Sometimes I struggle to submit to my authority in my own pride because of what I think I know. He actually did know better!
Servant leadership is all about humility. If we think that we are too good to do something then the chances are that the ones that follow us will start to have the same attitude. It isn’t that we have to do everything, but instead we should be willing to do anything for those we lead.
While I was still in the Air Force, right after 9/11, one of our junior non-commissioned officers was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. If you don’t know what MS is, it’s a progressive neurological condition in which, essentially, your immune system goes haywire, recognizes the nervous system as a foreign entity, and starts attacking the insulation around your nerves (myelin). When the myelin tries to heal itself, it scars (hence the term sclerosis). It can cause a variety of problems, from extreme muscle weakness, constant pain and fatigue to severe immobility and blindness. There is no cure, and the only definitive prognosis is to wait and see what happens. He could be fine for the rest of his life, or 185 pounds of chewed up bubblegum by next week.
For a second, imagine something you are very good at; that one God-given talent. Now imagine a condition over which you have no control taking that away. Zac Harms was a weapon system. At 185, he could bench press 350 pounds, squat just over 500, and run seven-minute miles. He was an expert marksman, held a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and was a true warrior poet. With one MRI and spinal tap, all of that was gone.
So, this Staff Sergeant in the prime of his life (30) got a condition that would end his military career too soon, and potentially put him in a wheelchair or rob him of his sight. As his relapsing-remitting MS had yet to stabilize, some days he was fine, others he was flat on his back.
I watched him crawl across the parking lot on his way to work more than once, because he refused to take leave. While helping him to his car one day, I asked him why. “Because we’re at war,” he said through clenched teeth, ”and they need me here.” He wasn’t talking about the Air Force, or the squadron, or our commander. He was talking about his subordinate airmen. Those kids would have followed him to Hell to rig Satan’s boilers with claymores. Until the military retired him with honor, he never missed a day of work.
That’s servant leadership.
Tony, I can definitely say that I never thought I would start this day off crying in the drive through line at Starbucks, but I did. There are not enough words to tell Staff Sergeant Harms how much of a hero he is!!! Servant leader doesn’t even cover it. If there is any way you can let him know, please let him know that he has truly taken my breath away!!!! And he has every bit of my respect and admiration!!!!
I would say more but I can’t come up with the words. Thank you Tony for sharing this today!!!!
It’s been a while, but I still know where to find him. I’ll pass on your appreciation!
Others will comment today. Will you share those as well?
Thanks Tony, you guys are true heroes!!!!
A true hero! Thank you for sharing this example of servant leadership. I too was moved to tears to hear a leader care so much for the people put under his responsibility that he would endure physical pain to lead well. Outstanding leadership!
Wow. If anyone had an excuse to sit out, it’s him. What commitment and what an awesome story of leadership. We could use more leaders with that level of dedication to the people they lead. Thank you for sharing this story.
Wow. A true hero indeed. Thank you Staff Sergeant for your amazing example of heroism through sacrifice and commitment!
Wow. Amazing story, Tony. I’m with Chris – this is above servant leadership: this is heroic. Thank you for sharing and for your service.
Tony, really inspiring story. Thanks so much for sharing! Zac truly is an example of both valuing and understanding the responsibility of one’s calling.
All I can say is wow.
It is amazing to hear about someone willing to go through that for others, so dedicated. You don’t find that very often.
Thanks for sharing!!
There really are no words that can describe the pride I feel knowing that there are men and women like this serving and protecting our country. Medals and Ranks can’t do this man justice. He deserves more. All I can think of is Thank you, from the bottom of my heart Thank you.
It’s no surprise that people follow a guy like this. In the midst of weakness, he showed epic strength. Amazing.
Wow…that is true servant leadership for his team and his country. Because of men like this we are able to have the freedom we have. May we all learn from this example and rise up! Thank you Zac and Tony!
James Lamb: Wonderful story of commitment, tenacity and will. I now understand why his men and women would go to hell and back for him. Because they know that no matter what he would do the same for them too and has shown it.
So many of our military men and women are nothing but heroes and too often overlooked or recognized.
And there are a lot of other unsung heroes working in day to day jobs too.
Zac Harms is an inspiration to me. It doesn’t matter what I’m going through in life, there are ALWAYS people who will need me to lead and serve them. As a shining light of our armed forces, Zac should be honored and recognized for his commitment to himself, his soldiers, his country, and even to us as citizens. It’s people like him and many others in the military that allow this country to be the best one in the world. Thank you (and you Tony) for your service! We are here because of you.
ohmysoul! Very inspiring testimony of dedication and humility. Courage, strength and resolve.
I express my thanks to this Staff Sargent for his service to our country. I am truly grateful.
Sounds like you have a good team member here! This is servant leadership at its best. I appreciate the sacrifice of great men like this. We need more men like this to rise up in our nation.
are there any books specifically about servant leadership that you really recommend? taking a quick look on amazon i havent seen any that really stood out yet [usually my gauge for that is 100+ four star ratings lol]
There are some spiritual leadership books that focus on servant leadership. But I don’t know of any main stream books.
I completely agree. If, as a leader, you are not willing to do the unpleasant things with a humble spirit, your subordinates can not have complete confidence in all aspects of your authority.
Here’s a good example of what it looks like: http://www.stservicemovie.com/?cm_mmc=CheetahMail-_-Corp-_-WelcomeStream-_-STSRMovie&utm_source=CheetahMail&utm_campaign=STSRmoviecorpWS
Servant leadertship was demonstrated by Christ first. He said ” I came to serve (this world but not to be served.” Servant leader is one who demonstrates rather than instructing. He leads by example. True, its rare to find servant leaders today.
Chris, et. al.:
Tony e-mailed me about this blog article and comment stream last week, and I apologize for responding only now.
I am humbled and honored by your comments but, while I appreciate your comparisons, I must take issue with the term “hero.” I merely tried, as Sergeant Lamb and A LOT of others did on a daily basis, to lead by example, and protect those airmen who might, and eventually did, do their duty.
And, honestly, I was being extremely selfish. Just as my grandfathers had WWII and my dad had Vietnam, the Global War on Terror was supposed to be my war. I’d be damned if something as silly as MS was going to keep me from it!
Finally, while this is by no means designed to diminish your words or my gratefulness, I feel compelled to deflect these accolades and point out some of my heroes:
Pat Tillman, USA (6 Nov. 1976 – 22 Apr. 2004) – Corporal Tillman left a professional NFL career and a contract of nearly $11 million to join the Army Rangers, because he wanted to serve his country. When he died, his E-4 pay grade entitled him to a monthly salary of ~1400/month. I can’t do the math in my head, but that’s a long way from $11M!
Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock, USMC (May 20, 1942 – February 23, 1999) – Gunny Hathcock was a Marine sniper in Vietnam, credited with over 93 confirmed kills. But he also pulled seven fellow Marines out of a fiery armored patrol vehicle after it detonated a mine, despite second- and third-degree burns. His commander tried to submit him for the Medal of Honor for that, but it was downgraded to a Silver Star, which he tried to turn down, saying he was only doing what any other Marine would have done. By the way, Gunny Hathcock also had MS.
Christopher Reeve (September 25, 1952 – October 10, 2004) – I don’t deserve to breathe this guy’s air! After his horse riding accident in 1995, Reeve became the most outspoken proponent of spinal cord injury research. His therapists often said he wore them out. When he died in 2004, it was evident that Superman couldn’t hold a candle to Reeve!
Again, I am humbled and honored by your comments. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Tony!
Zachary C. Harms
This sir, is why you are OUR hero!!! While we appreciate your humility, we are indebted to your bravery. As well as every man and woman who chooses daily to protect us. Thank you for BEING courage for us!
The owner and CEO of our company visited our office a few months ago. He flew in to meet some of my new loan officers and everyone was very excited. We invited a few realtors to join us for lunch to meet the owner. Before I knew it – our leader – the owner of the company – Steve “Jake” Jacobson – was POURING THE TEA! Someone went over to him and told him to get a plate and eat – but he refused until he had served everyone else. He truly is a servant leader.