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Why Serving Leaders Are the New Black


Why Serving Leaders Are the New Black

Popularity breeds, in some circles, believability. What is a popular notion soon becomes the belief of the day.

It’s the age of populism

Populist topics abound around us and define the conversation around what’s important — #MeToo, illegal immigration, “the wall”, decriminalization of cannabis, the environment, indigenous rights and the charter of rights & freedoms define the social agenda and the priorities people turn their attention to.

In a relative sense, not much attention is given to the people who define the economic agenda of society — the leaders of our organizations whose quality of leadership defines how people live their lives in the other pluralistic society that engulfs them. Their daily environment is shaped by how they are treated; how they are motivated and how they are engaged in fulfilling the strategic agenda of their organization.

And when attention is paid to the topic of leadership it is typically dealt from an academic and theoretical perspective. Studies discovering relationships between leadership behaviours and employee performance are discussed and conclusions reached on the skills people should possess if they want to aspire to be an amazing leader.

Rarely are emotions targeted as the means to hook people to engage in a leadership conversation; certainly the same cannot be said about debates on the environment, oil pipelines and allegations of sexual misconduct. These topics are dripping with emotion — how people feel dominates the position you take rather than the facts presented.

Leadership is ignored

Certainly #MeToo gets a more emotional conversation going than #Leadership.

The practice of leadership, is in my view, every bit as important as #TheWall. People spend most of their life in a working context with a boss they coexist with.
And it is the boss’s skills, capabilities and attitudes that impact the lives of individuals in a relevant way much more than any movement could.

But not the same old leadership taught by people with proud academic pedigrees and theoretical expertise; rather the new style leadership that has grown up in the trenches where real people work and profound performance is achieved. Practical leadership experience grown from knowing what it takes to ignite the passion and emotion in people to achieve the organization’s goals and objectives.

#ServingLeadership is the new black. It must be if people are to have meaningful and rewarding careers and if organizations are to achieve remarkable levels of performance and stand apart from their competitors.

“Organizations exist to serve. Period. Leaders live to serve. Period.” — Tom Peters

It’s a fashionable notion because it relates to the fundamental human needs of people to feel they have a compelling purpose and that they are needed and cared for.

#ServingLeadership stems from empathy rather than text books. This is what it looks like when it’s in action.


Leaders ask; they don’t tell. They are more interested in what people have to say about what’s going as opposed to directing them on what they have to do. They know they don’t know; that their staff are the experts, so they ask them. These leaders have conversations that are skewed to listening and not transmitting. Their communications style invite commentary, opinion and input.


The key questions they ask are “How can I help?”; “What key changes should be made to enable you to do your jobs easier?”; “What do you think about…?” They see themselves as instruments to make life easier and more productive for others.


They spend most of their time walking about in the trenches rubbing shoulders with the people doing the work required by customers; they dislike their office and boardroom consuming much of their time time at all. If you look at their calendar, they literally have a mobile office.


They act with humility. They don’t create a splash wherever they go and they are more comfortable without an entourage than with one. They are the antithesis of what most people view these days as a stereotypical leader. They don’t need charisma to be effective; that veneer isn’t consistent with who they are.


They believe in simplicity. They understand that success is a function of connecting and engaging with people and that complexity gets in the way. They wrote the book on dumbing stuff down to aid in understanding and with that the commitment to achieve.


They are practical in orientation. They’re unimpressed with theoretical concepts that can’t be implemented. They are more receptive to ideas they believe are both consistent with the strategic intent of their organization and are likely to have strong support by people who would be asked to implement them. Their “would they be emotionally all-in?” filter dominates their decision making on potential innovation.


They’re ok with imperfection. They are not jaded by the notion of trying to achieve the perfect solution. In fact they encourage people to try as many imperfect solutions as they can, and preach that the more tries made the more likelihood that success will eventually be achieved.

#ServingLeadership is the new black.

It addresses a compelling societal need — to create organizations with a human face where people can grow, prosper and be valued.

Related: How a Leader Can Really Engage People

It’s not a cause or fad that will fade with limited media life. In fact it won’t attract the traditional and social media attention that other current narratives garner.

It is a sustaining force because of its universal — rather than special interest group — appeal.

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