Makarios Consulting Blog

The Best Test of a Servant-Leader

To say that companies today are execution- and performance-minded is an understatement. Leaders are under tremendous pressure to rally the troops to get massive amounts of work done as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. Key performance indicators (KPIs) track everything from enterprise-wide trends to the output of individual employees.

In this frenetic “Flight of the Bumblebee” work environment, the words of James Sipe and Don Frick in their classic book Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership, sound an unsettling note. The best test of a Servant-Leader, they state, is this: “Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely themselves to become servants?”

If this question pulls you up short, that’s okay. In the quiet space, pause to reflect. Take a moment to remember that the people who work for you are not tools or automatons whose sole purpose is to get things done. A full human being comes to work every single day. How can you – as a leader – serve that full human being?

You may be thinking, “I don’t have time for this with everything else I have to do.” Yet, ironically, it is exactly because you have so much to do that this concept is incredibly vital. Here is why: most people desire challenging work and want to make a contribution to something bigger than themselves. When you help people become “healthier, wiser, freer, and more autonomous,” you are enabling them to rise to the challenges before them and make a contribution. Plus, when your team members themselves become servant-leaders, you end up multiplying your effectiveness many times over. Translation: you get all the productivity and execution you need, and then some.

To this point, consider Novartis and their core value of creating an “Unbossed” culture:

“We want to develop inclusive leaders who are self-aware and able to empower their teams by creating clarity and accountability, removing obstacles and empowering and supporting others to reach their full potential …. [so they can] unleash the power, passion and talent within all of our people including themselves.”

The simplicity of this description powerfully ties together the need to serve the whole person and the need to get work done. It recognizes that when you serve the whole person you not only get the work done – you get the work done at the highest quality possible, whether that is measured in terms of speed, cost, efficiency, etc. because motivated, empowered, fulfilled people will always give you their very best.

In our interactions with thousands of leaders, we can attest that people who work for servant-leaders who help them “grow as persons” are the people who are outstanding at getting the work done. These people tell us with excitement, “Wow! That leader pulls more out of me than I ever thought I had within me.”

Since that is what you want to hear from the people you lead, take the time to ask yourself, “Are the people I am leading growing as persons? Are they becoming healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely themselves to become servants? And, if not, what can I do to help them get there?”