The Dilemma Of The Servant Leader

Most servant leaders pride themselves on being leaders who—well, serve. And most do.

They serve people with compassion, empathy, listening, and healing.

Richard is an excellent leader and a smart man. I’ve been coaching him for years. but recently he told me he felt he was failing as a leader.

I was seriously shocked to hear him say this, because I know him, and as a leader he is one of those people you automatically admire.

So why would a great man and an even better leader feel like he was failing?

As he spoke, I realized that his dilemma lay in the fact that most of us have made leadership into something that is unreachable and unattainable, something that’s bigger than us.

As a result, we have potentially great leaders who have paralyzed themselves with worry that their leadership will never do well.

We’ve made leadership about changing the world. We’ve taken the title of leader and we treat it as if it’s something that one day we’re going to live up to, and on that day we’ll finally be able to call ourselves a leader.

And I worry sometimes that we spend so much time celebrating amazing things—things that hardly anybody can do—that we’ve convinced ourselves that those are the only things worth celebrating, and in so doing we devalue the things we can do every day.

Richard is and will always be a servant leader, a man who leads from within. The people who interact with him every day can vouch for that.

But he is also human.

Sometimes he cannot be there the way he wants to be. That fact of life was causing him to feel less successful as a servant leader, when in truth he is the best kind: an imperfect person with a perfect giving heart.

With the right attitudes and actions, the rest of us imperfect humans can also be effective servant leaders.

Here’s how:

Lead from within. If you are driven to serve others and you make a conscious choice to lead from who you are, with your passion, your perseverance and your sensitive heart, you are a servant leader.

Know how to listen. Practice and value the art of listening, and remember that listening is one the most sincere forms of respect you can give someone. When you truly listen—listen to understand, not to set up your own speaking points—you are expressing that you care. When you can show up with a listening heart, you are a servant leader.

Embrace empathy. When you understand that empathy means seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another, you are a servant leader.

Inspire and motivate. Servant leaders inspire motivation. They can rally the troops in crisis, they can bring together people in difficult times, and they can make people feel important and valued. When you can speak to others knowing that everyone is afraid of something, everyone loves something and everyone has lost something, you are a servant leader.

Be aware. A deep level of self-awareness allows us to relate our unique gifts and talents to this new economy, our complex world, and the ways in which we can help others. Self-awareness builds strength. But making a commitment to grow in awareness can be frightening, because sometimes we uncover our own imperfections. If you can accept who you are in that imperfection and remain aware of yourself, you are a servant leader.

Have vision. Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. Leaders create a vision; they passionately own it, they articulate it and they relentlessly drive it into being. People buy into a leader before they buy into the vision. When you have a vision that people care about, when you uplift that vision and the performance of those who support it to a higher standard, you are a servant leader.

Commit to the growth of people. Encourage those around you to grow; make it safe for people to take risks and make mistakes. Servant-leaders believe that people have an intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions as workers. If you’re deeply committed to the personal, professional and spiritual growth of every individual within the organization, you are a servant leader.

Build communities. Leadership is about building a sense of community. Servant-leaders seek to identify a means for building community so they can overcome isolation and actively move toward a congregation of brotherhood and sisterhood, a company—in every sense of the word—where people feel safe and cared for. If you do this, you are a servant leader.

In large and small ways, servant leaders listen, empathize, inspire, elevate, and foster individual and community growth. They bring people together to accomplish something meaningful and compelling.

Richard’s dilemma was centered in the belief that he couldn’t be human. But it is the sheer acceptance of our humanity that makes us great leaders.

Lead From Within: Think about the leaders you know—the ones you admire, the ones who serve. Find a way to let them know that any imperfections make them, in fact, perfect servant leaders.



N A T I O N A L   B E S T S E L L E R
The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR,, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

  1. sunil jogdeo

    09. Mar, 2016

    Lolly, nicely put..`build communities` is what I have grabbed from this sharing of yours..I am in the process and I am enjoying it..thank you very much..:-)

    Reply to this comment
  2. John Malone

    09. Mar, 2016

    We all are a constant work in progress! -) Some days we feel unworthy – But, we must evolve, daily, with practice.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Gary Gruber

    09. Mar, 2016

    In the service of and to others one will inevitably be disappointed and frustrated with the results because the expectations and standards are exceptionally high. As human beings, we are all flawed and far from perfect as your point out so well. Understanding appreciating and accepting our “imperfections” are simply part of the bigger picture. It’s the classic we are sometimes our own worst enemy when we need to be our own best friend.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Nabil M

    09. Mar, 2016

    Why we do not look at the nature of community ? And what is the type of community ? And the impact on the community leader? Does community have a role in the dilemma of leader? Does community have a role in the superiority of the leader?

    Lolly Daskal : You’ve been given a wonderful concepts, and successful in this . Greetings to you from the depth

    Reply to this comment
  5. Jim

    09. Mar, 2016

    Very strong and well thought out principles here. Thanks for affirming that complex results from servant leaders do not always get recognized by anyone. I have been blessed to have worked with team members who choose to see value of humanness in the ‘Richards’ in the world.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Vishal Kataria

    10. Mar, 2016

    You’ve hit the hammer on the nail Lolly. We’ve pedestalized leadership to the extent of it overwhelming us. Yes, leaders are humans too, and they are bound to fail. What truly separates the men from the rest is the grace with which they accept where they went wrong and how much they learn from it.

    Leadership is essentially about driving people to make small changes, until one day, those become so big that we cannot imagine how things were before.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Joseph

    10. Mar, 2016

    Great Post lolly as Always , And Very Relatable my Sentiments as well .

    Reply to this comment
  8. Phil Thomas

    13. Mar, 2016

    Lolly well said “Leaders can not be all things to all people in their Community/Work process. Leaders need to understand that . For me when I was in my 40s ( a long time ago ) I was not good at understanding to manage my Leadership at work , often I bought this Home to my Family which was not a good look.”
    Life is a marathon not a sprint.
    Enjoy life don`t endure life.
    Smile and laugh a lot

    Reply to this comment
  9. Faisal

    13. Mar, 2016

    Excellent ,Thank you & God bless you.

    Reply to this comment
  10. Vic Williams

    14. Mar, 2016

    So well written Lolly. I have so often seen people in leadership role who don’t know how to listen. It is like they are formulating answers before the other person has had chance to speak. As they don’t listen, you can see the rest of these you mention falling apart no matter how hard they try to hold it together.

    Reply to this comment
  11. David A. Goddey

    17. Mar, 2016

    Lolly, I’ve learnt over the years how vitally important to listen helps a leader stay in alignment. Your thoughts were all on point. Let me say that you’re amongst a few leaders who drive in and keep a simple leadership concepts in your articles. Knowing and listening to you i understand when you say “lead from within”. Portals are open from within and leadership starts from there. When you learn and know how listen from within, your vision will become a tangible reality and effectively communicate them because of the conviction from within as you’ve listened. Thank you again for this concept. Awesome Grace!

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  12. Tunde

    17. Apr, 2016

    Every true leader is in the 1st place a servant. In fact, one can only lead to the degree to which they can serve. There are very few “Richards” in this world because most leaders are more concerned about protecting their position and keeping others down rather than think of how inadequate their leadership style and impact on their followers can be.

    Thanks for sharing “Richard”.

    Reply to this comment
  13. kaajas

    27. Apr, 2016

    Hi to all, the contents existing at this site are genuinely remarkable for people knowledge, well, keep up the good work fellows.

    Reply to this comment
  14. Cherie

    12. Jun, 2016

    Well said! A great reminder that we keep pushing on and doing our best. Growing each day as we grow those around us.

    Reply to this comment
  15. asianwomanleadership

    05. May, 2019

    The push to get more women in sports governance roles before a 2021 deadline is proving difficult, with some sports putting their hand up for help.

    Sports Minister Grant Robertson has revealed some national sports organisations (NSOs) have told him they’re concerned they won’t meet a goal of 40 per cent women on all of their boards in the next two years.

    Reply to this comment

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