Leadership isn’t nearly as complex as people make it out to be, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. The big difference between highly effective leaders and those just playing at leadership is often found in their willingness to do what doesn’t come naturally or instinctively. Real leadership begins in the moment you realize leadership has little to do with the leader, and everything to do with those the leader serves.
My belief (and my experience) shows leadership not linked to service is nothing short of a farce. In fact, it is understanding the link between service and leadership that underpins sustainability and fosters a true culture of leadership. I was recently asked the following question: If servant leadership is so powerful, why isn’t its use and application more prevalent? What a great question. While this question could be answered in many ways, any well-developed response would eventually boil down to the following theme: the practice of servant leadership is antithetical to our human nature and our current culture.
We live in a culture obsessed with celebrity. And most people, if honest, will admit they spend more time trying to find their way into the spotlight, rather than look for ways to shine the light on others. That said, the concept of “servant leadership” and its resultant output of “service beyond self” are practices that resonate with everyone who has ever been on the receiving end of the service. However the sad reality is our nature adversely affects our perspective, as service is often undermined by shortsighted self-interest. What most people intuitively understand, but fail to keep at the forefront of their thinking, is that our personal success and fulfillment will be much more closely tied to how we help others than what we do for ourselves.
While there are many motivating factors that underpin a leaders thoughts and actions, nothing is intrinsically more pure, and more inspiring than the call to serve. The dedication and commitment required to be a true servant leader requires a level of personal sacrifice that can only be instilled by a passionate belief in a greater good – something beyond one’s self. So, the #1 thing holding you back as a leader is YOU. It is you who must decide what you’ll pursue, and whether of not you’ll serve. Do you have the courage to surrender and serve?
Aside from ego, pride, and competing cultural norms, another aspect that impedes many leaders from becoming servant leaders, and in turn, from creating a culture of leadership is their inability to surrender. The application of servant leadership apart from surrender is nothing more than an exercise in frivolity. Here’s the big takeaway… The magic of servant leadership is found in mastering the art of surrender.
What amazes me is how rarely you’ll encounter the words leadership and surrender used together in complementary fashion. Society has labeled surrender as a sign of leadership weakness, when in fact, it can be among the greatest of leadership strengths. Let me be clear, I’m not encouraging giving in or giving up – I am suggesting you learn the ever so subtle art of letting go. A leader simply operates at their best when they understand their ability to influence is much more fruitful than their ability to control. Here’s the thing – the purpose of leadership is not to shine the spotlight on yourself, but to unlock the potential of others so they can in turn shine the spotlight on countless more. Control is about power – not leadership. Surrender allows a leader to get out of their own way and focus on adding value to those whom they serve.
If you’re still not convinced the art of leadership is learning the focus point should be on surrender not control, consider this: control restricts potential, limits initiative, and inhibits talent. Surrender fosters collaboration, encourages innovation and enables possibility. Controlling leaders create bottlenecks rather than increase throughput. They signal a lack of trust and confidence an often come across as insensitive if not arrogant. When you experience weak teams, micro-management, frequent turf wars, high stress, operational strain, and a culture of fear, you are experiencing what control has to offer – not very attractive is it?
Surrender allows the savvy leader to serve where control demands the ego-centric leader be served. Surrender allows leadership to scale and a culture of leadership to be established. Surrender prefers loose collaborative networks over rigid hierarchical structures allowing information to be more readily shared and distributed. Leaders who understand surrender think community, ecosystem, and culture – not org chart. Surrender is what not only allows the dots to be connected, but it’s what allows to dots to be multiplied. Controlling leaders operate in a world of addition and subtraction, while the calculus of a leader who understands surrender is built on exponential multiplication.