As we honor MLK today and engage in a National Day of Service, I like to reflect on the connection between great leadership and acts of service to others. I hear about the value of “servant leadership” from many business leaders, and they often equate this to the idea of leadership being the ultimate act of service. We agree that great leadership is not self-serving, but rather a means to empower others, to achieve great goals that impact our broader set of stakeholders, community, world.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” As an example of a leader who led from a sense of service, he listened deeply and sought not power or riches, but an improvement in the life of his fellow man, and a remedy for the injustice he saw in his community. The greater leader is the one who leads when there is no personal benefit to be had, when there is resistance encountered, and where the leader continues on, faithful to the power of the vision, and the greater good to be achieved.
We often think of leaders as the ones speaking loudly at the front of the room, but true leadership is not loud or about one’s self, but about the greater good, about enabling growth and greater independence in the people around us. When you lead a team, do the members of the team learn, grow and engage more deeply in the problems of the organization? Do the communities you work in derive benefit from your leadership, and the results of your organization and its work?
Service is not only a duty of leadership, but it is perhaps the most powerful driver of great leadership, for great leaders see leadership as the path to creating great things, for overcoming significant challenges, for addressing insufferable wrongs. Leadership is not a goal in and of itself, but is a powerful tool for creating positive change in the world.
What changes are you making in the world? How does becoming a better leader enable you to have greater impact and create benefits for the larger community?
If you seek to lead, ask yourself first, “Who will benefit most from my leadership?” Look to widen that group and create a bigger vision of what you can achieve, and your leadership influence will spread. A powerful inclusive vision of success will sustain you and your team through difficult times, unexpected challenges and resistance to the changes you must make.