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Lead to Serve -“If it is to be, it’s up to me.”

Servant leadership – what does that phrase mean to you? One of the best and most unique courses I took in graduate school, at Seton Hall, focused on the concept of servant leadership and how we as school leaders live that vocation. While I have never previously had a course in which the instructor asks us to join him in song at the end of class, the tangible benefits I gained from this course nurtured the deeply ingrained spirit of a school leader, who must serve others to effectively lead. This concept, while not always practiced, is as necessary in business settings as it is in schools.

Good leaders, regardless of their setting, should seek to serve those around them: students, teachers, peers and colleagues. Service to those whom you lead strengthens the bonds that build and enhance your organization and your leadership role. By acting as a servant leader, you build the relationships that enable your role to evolve from a leader who has positional authority (authority that is given out of respect for the position you hold), to one who has gained the relational respect and authority of those she or he leads. To be a truly effective leader it is critical to have both. Relational authority is earned through relationships built on trust and service. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind as you seek to strengthen the relational bonds with those whom you lead.

LEAD: We lead by example: hard work, respect, commitment, and honesty. Good leaders are empathetic to those whom they serve, as well as being knowledgeable in their field. Empathy and trust are important building blocks in order for any leader to have real credibility with the people they serve. Sometimes, being a leader means moving away from the agenda of the day to focus on the unexpected life event that a member of the community is experiencing. Empathy with real life situations, while still maintaining a focus on mission, often demonstrates true leadership capacity.

TEACH: By sharing your knowledge and expertise generously with those around you, you effectively model your expectation for the climate of your organization. Recognizing the gifts that others share as you mentor them, also demonstrates your capacity as a servant leader. Individuals matter, and as you teach others and keep central the focus on the mission, both the organization and the individuals flourish.

SERVE: Service in your organization can take on many forms. The examples above are the building blocks of how you can serve the members of your organization. But to create a true culture of service, you must seek to make a difference that goes beyond the daily expectations of your position. How did you make a difference today?

A timely example of a great businessman and leader, who practices this style of leadership, is Jim McIngvale, of Houston, Texas. Known as “Mattress Mack,” he owns the Gallery Furniture chain of stores. This past weekend, in the wake of the catastrophic flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, he opened his Houston stores as shelters for the displaced and is feeding them from his stores’ cafes. Every available chair and mattress has been put to good use by the hundreds sheltering in each store. He has personally been there to serve his community, including using his stores' trucks to evacuate people, giving out his personal cell number for those in need of help, and serving in his furniture showroom turned shelter. His motto is, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.”

Jim serving at the showroom turned shelter. National Guard resting - Images from NPR and KPTV

Lead to serve. Practicing servant leadership, leadership that values the individual and reaches out in a compassionate and empathetic way, does not diminish the mission of the organization. Rather, it builds a team of trusted and respected co-workers and community, who will effectively carry out the organizational mission. To lead, teach and serve demonstrates the hallmark of all great leaders and “Mattress Mack” is at the top of my list.

Karen Jakuback, Ed.D.

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