The highest level of leadership is service.
The highest level of service is leadership.
At the highest level, service and leadership become one.
Serve to lead.
When Leadership and Service Are Not Aligned
One can serve intently, purposefully, yet not reach the level of leadership. For example, if one is serving only a few people, and without intensity. Or, if one is isolated, serving one person effectively, but not able to provide an example to others. Perhaps that just a passing phase, preparing one to serve more effectively in the future. So, too, there is leadership that does not reach a high level of service. One may be casually regarded as a “leader” solely by virtue of holding a position. So it is that we see many public officials, or corporate or not-for-profit officials, are referred to as “leaders” in the press. Yet we know that they are not, in actuality, leaders in any meaningful sense.
Definition of 21st Century Leadership
Traditionally—and still today in common usage—a leader is someone who commands others. The term ‘leader’ is often used for dictators, such as Gadaffi of Libya, or Hitler, der Fuehrer. The notion is of command-and-control. Power. Surely such definitions are incomplete if not altogether misleading. The Serve to Lead definition is: Twenty-first-century leaders inspire others to alter their thoughts and actions, in alignment with an empowering vision. That definition is at once down-to-earth and practical–and also presents an ideal. The closer one gets to achieving the ideal, the more alignment there is between the leader and those she serves, between leadership and service.
What is ‘Transformational’ Leadership?
Transformational leadership—and transformational service—occur at the summit. Those serving, and those served, are transformed, changed into something altogether different, something which results from the relationship they have chosen to enter. The sum can be far greater than the sum of the parts. And, with the achievement of the greatest combined potential, the relationship will necessarily evolve. The movement and action which aligns leadership and service at the summit is united, with greater movement and change to follow. Otherwise, it ceases to be service, and, soon enough, will cease to be leadership.
Serve to Lead? Who Decides?
Who has the power of evaluating leadership and service effectiveness? Those you are serving. Period.
The Burden of Leadership
A leadership ethic, built on service, means that one never reaches the end of the journey. The needs of others will always be there; service will always be required. The circumstances change, the needs change, the capacities to serve change. In some ways one may serve more or less effectively, or in entirely different ways. This may seem like a burden, yet it need not be seen that way. We are all familiar with study after study, finding that people who successfully nurture and navigate a series of relationships in their lives, tend to be healthier mentally, physically and emotionally. Nature and the world join to give life, vitality, to those choosing to serve. On the other hand, those who become isolated, who cease to serve, atrophy in the same ways.
Who Are You Serving?
The fundamental question, in every situation: Who Am I Serving? From this foundation, clarity and priorities can emerge, consistent with your calling, your deepest values. It is in answering that question that you can combine service and leadership into the unique masterpiece that combines your life and work. You resolve the question with the purity of your calling, expressed in the eloquence of action.
Leadership and Service