Surprisingly, the biggest challenge servant leaders face is not in mastering the skillset of leadership . . . skills can be learned.
Instead, it is the serving element of servant leadership that most often trips us up and limits our impact.
It’s a matter of motivation. Servant leaders actually go through the functions of leadership much like everyone else. However, if you look closely, it is the “why” behind their actions that sets them apart. Servant leaders are motivated, even compelled, by an unshakeable desire to serve.
For most of us, however, this desire doesn’t come naturally. There is something in us that pulls us to be self-serving rather than others-serving. My theologian friends might call this sin. Whatever you call it, it is essential for us to overcome our natural tendencies if we are to lead to our full potential. This is, first and foremost, a matter of the heart.
I have two suggestions for strengthening your heart for serving others. One is a prayer and the other is a practice.
The biblical story behind this can be found deep in the pages of the Old Testament. If you are a Bible reader, you may know the story.
Israel wanted a king. God knew this was not the best idea; they already had a King! However, for reasons I don’t fully understand, He decided to grant their wish.
The story is a fascinating one: how a leader can emerge, find God’s favor, and then fall. That particular fall is a cautionary tale for another post. The part I want you to think about today is what happened in 1 Samuel 10.
After Samuel anointed Saul, God showed up and did His part. I think that’s always a good model for us to follow: we should do our part in the process and trust God to do His part.
For me, the turning point in the entire narrative is in verse 9. “…As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart.”
That’s what I need! I think it is what every servant leader on the planet needs. And it’s the part only God can provide—the only way to defeat the desires of self. A heart change.
My prayer: God, change my heart! Give me a heart to serve.
Now, there is a also very practical, tactical way you and I can exercise our heart as it relates to serving others. Here’s an activity I wrote about in my book The Heart of Leadership.
Before I offer this suggestion, as crazy as this may sound, I challenge you to try this for one week and see if it doesn’t rock your world.
Try to add value to every person you meet.
I know—crazy! For many of you, your first reaction might be, “That’s impossible.” Hold on. Before you go there, let me ask you to read the assignment again. The most important word in the statement is “try.”
If you are trying to add value to someone else, who are you thinking about in that moment? The other person. The ability to “Think Others First” is the pre-eminent trait of the servant leader. Jesus did this every day of His earthly ministry.
How can you add value? Let your imagination be your guide. It might be an encouraging word, a bit of coaching or even a silent prayer. Don’t let the tactics derail you because the key is the effort.
The trying is what changes you.
To reach your full potential as a servant leader, yes, you must learn to lead. But the far greater challenge: you must cultivate the ability to “Think Others First.”
Ask God to give you a new, serving heart and TRY to add value to everyone you meet. If you do, your heart will change and so will your leadership.
Mark Miller started his career at Chick-fil-A as an hourly team member and now serves as the vice president, High Performance Leadership. He has written several best-selling books including The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do, co-authored with Ken Blanchard. He travels extensively, encouraging and equipping leaders. He has attended the GLS for 20 years. His latest book, Leaders Made Here, was released in March 2017.