Mark Cole: The Key Is To Serve-John Maxwell

Almost fifty years ago, John Maxwell heard Zig Ziglar say something at an event that changed the way John viewed leadership: “If you help people get what they want, they will help you get what you want.” That day John realized that the heart of leadership is serving others.

And boy, am I glad that John was in attendance on that day! Because his influence on my life and so many others has been drastically impacted by this understanding of servanthood.

I believe this is true—The degree to which you serve as a leader will determine how effective you are as a leader.

In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell teaches servant leadership inside his Law of Addition: “The best place for a leader isn’t always the top position. It isn’t the most prominent or powerful place. It’s the place where he or she can serve the best and add the most value to other people.”

I have met many leaders who exhaust themselves, day and night, looking for ways to get ahead and make it to the top. And to be clear, I don’t see anything wrong with desiring to progress in your career and achieve more success. However, if you are stepping on others to get to the top, any success you find there won’t last long.

John Maxwell says, “You’ve got to love your people more than your position.” That’s what servanthood is all about—putting the needs of your people before your own aspirations. 

I know, easier said than done. Here are a few practical applications that will help you:

  • Listen to your people instead of lording over them.
  • Risk for the benefit of another instead of for your advancement.
  • Allow the best idea to win instead of seeking your own way.

Consider these wise words from Robert Greenleaf in his book Servant Leadership, “The servant-leader is servant first… The best test is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And what is the effect on the least privileged in society?”

What’s the health of your team? Are they growing? Are they helping others as well?

Ken Blanchard says, “Too many leaders act as if the sheep (their people) are there for the benefit of the shepherd, not that the shepherd has responsibility for the sheep.” 

The truth is, getting ahead and putting others first go hand in hand. Contrary to what you might have been taught, the two concepts are not mutually exclusive. You can achieve more and lead a successful organization while putting others first. In fact, if you want to make it to the top and stay there, servanthood is the key.

I’ll leave you with these challenging words from Lao Tzu, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” 

Would the people you lead say that about your leadership?