On Leadership: Service to Others

November 3, 2020 / Posted in

By August Pasquale —

The following is an excerpt from James Kouzes and Barry Posner’s A Leader’s Legacy, with additional comments and analysis below.

“Everything leaders do is about providing service.

Our late colleague John Gardner once observed, “A loyal constituency is won when the people, consciously or unconsciously, judge the leader to be capable of solving their problems and meeting their needs.” (John knew a lot about leadership, having once been Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, founded Common Cause, and served as an adviser to six U.S. presidents, as well as being a respected author and scholar.) John didn’t mean that the leader should personally fix the problems and fulfill the needs. What he was suggesting is that people willingly follow someone who’s attuned to their aspirations, fears, and ideals. Loyalty is not something a boss can demand. It’s something people choose to grant to a person who has earned it. The people’s choice to follow is based not simply upon authority but upon the leader’s perceived capacity to meet a need.

Perhaps we can better present the importance of the constituent perspective by rephrasing John’s comment. Try reading it this way: “Loyal customers are won when the customers, consciously or unconsciously, judge the company to be capable of solving their problems and meeting their needs.” Isn’t that exactly how organizations win customer loyalty? By solving problems and meeting needs? Customers decide whether to continue to give us their business, and if we want our customers’ loyalty then it’s our job to be responsive.

The same is true for leaders. Constituents decide whether or not they’ll be loyal. Loyalty is earned when constituents decide that their needs are getting met, so leaders who want commitment had better see their jobs as requiring responsiveness. Believing foremost in service means being more concerned about the welfare of others than you are about your own well-being.”

At the Severn Leadership Group, we believe that service to others is not a style of leadership, but a learned behavior. It is a mindset established over time that affects how we interact with others and view the world – and the world-view servant leaders have is very different from the norm. Betsy Sanders, former GM for Nordstrom in California, once said “I serve my associates so that they can serve our customers well. Actually, I’m at the bottom of the organizational pyramid supporting them and not at the top with them supporting me.” Leaders are servants first. 

Leadership as service is not just a concept on paper, it is vital for organizational success. Leaders who serve themselves first are surrounded by followers who work for them because they have to. Leaders who serve others first attract followers who work for them because they want to. As leaders, we’re not just exchanging a paycheck for man-hours. We’re giving blood, sweat and tears in exchange for blood, sweat and tears. If we sow shallow selfishness, we will reap shallow selfishness. But if we sow love and sacrifice, we will reap love and sacrifice.  And the leaders who devote themselves to serving others first will inspire those around them, change the world, and leave a legacy.

Scroll to Top