How Serving Others Makes You an Exceptional Leader

Acclaimed author and leadership expert John C. Maxwell gives a fresh perspective on what it means to be a leader.
Leader supporting her team
Effective leaders know how to set aside their pride and focus on earning respect instead of demanding it. (Photo: Rawpixel/Shutterstock)

George Washington. Mahatma Gandhi. Martin Luther King Jr. Nelson Mandela. What do all these figures have in common? They were exceptional leaders who led by example, inspiring those around them by putting others first.

John C. Maxwell

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” -John C. Maxwell (Photo: John C. Maxwell)

When you’re a small business owner, leadership comes with the job. But are you being the kind of leader that inspires others to reach their full potential? If not, you could be.

According to internationally recognized leadership expert John C. Maxwell, “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” And he should know. Combined, his leadership books have sold 26 million copies worldwide.

In his latest book, titled “Developing the Leader Within You 2.0,” Maxwell explores one of the key traits of great leaders that is often overlooked: humility and a dedication to serving others.

Quoting Zig Ziglar, Maxwell explains servant leadership like this: “If you help people get what they want, they will help you get what you want.”

The new book won’t be out until next week, but NCR Silver got to take a sneak peak before it hit the shelves. Here’s a bit of his advice for how to develop the “heart of a servant” and become a more effective leader in your small business.

Don’t rely on your position or title

Maxwell said early in his career his focus was on doing big things and getting ahead, rather than on serving other people.

“I was trying to get others to help me, not trying to help them,” he wrote. “I realized my attitude toward people wasn’t right. And that knowledge started me on a journey that eventually made me realize that the heart of leadership is based on serving others, not myself.”

Effective leaders know how to set aside their pride and focus on earning respect instead of demanding it. Touting past accomplishments or relying on your position as “the boss” won’t take you nearly as far as empowering your employees to be the best they can be.

“I’m grateful for the accomplishments I’ve had, but I don’t rely on them to help me lead. I work to earn respect every day by delivering on what I promise and by serving others,” he said.

So if your own personal gain outweighs serving others, you’ve lost the heart of leading.

Related: 7 Ways You’re De-Motivating Your Employees

Choose to believe in people and their potential

Think serving others doesn’t make sense in the business world? Maxwell would tell you to think again.

“The attitude, priority and practice of serving others makes good business sense and is accessible to anyone,” he wrote. “I care about people because it’s the right thing to do. But there are also practical reasons for believing in people. I’ve found that the more I believe in people’s potential, the more I serve them, the more their potential increases. That creates a win for everyone.”

Choosing to see the potential of each member of your team and mentoring them along their journey fuels those under you to see themselves in that same light — creating better workers, happier employees and more fulfilled individuals.

Related: How to Identify and Grow Your Top-Performing Employees

lead by example stones

“As a leader, I am always very conscious of the example I set for everyone I lead and serve. And that often prompts me to be more open and vulnerable than I otherwise might be.” -John C. Maxwell (Photo: kenary820/Shutterstock)

Try to see things from the perspective of others

Maxwell wrote that effective servant leadership can only happen when you genuinely seek to understand the perspectives of those you lead.

“Servant leadership is all about the person you serve. To grow in effectiveness you must value what is valuable to that person,” he said. His advice: “Intentionally connect with people and try to see from their point of view.”

As a leader, it can be challenging to get a true read of what’s going on in your organization. Because you are in a position of authority, people are more likely to tell you what you want to hear, rather than what you need to hear. So be deliberate about looking at things from your employees’ point of view and seek out honest feedback from your team — even when it’s criticism.

“The answers I discover are not always comfortable, but if I maintain a good attitude, they can help me to be self-correcting,” Maxwell wrote.

Related: How Bosses Can Improve Relationships With Employees

Work to create an environment of encouragement

Developing the Leader Within You 2.0 book

Maxwell’s new book “Developing the Leader Within You 2.0” hits shelves on January 16. (Photo: HarperCollins)

Company culture can make or break an organization. As an owner, it’s critical to ensure you set the tone for the work environment you want at your small business, he explained.

“As a leader, I am always very conscious of the example I set for everyone I lead and serve. And that often prompts me to be more open and vulnerable than I otherwise might be.”

If you truly wish to serve those who work under you, make sure their workplace has a positive and supportive environment.

“Few things are better than being on a team of people who desire to serve one another,” wrote Maxwell. “When leaders are willing to serve people and encourage others to serve, a spirit of cooperation emerges where it’s ‘one for all and all for one.’ That makes the environment positive and develops a sense of loyalty among team members.”

Related: How to Create a Culture of Kindness in Your Small Business

Measure your success in how much value you add to others

Maxwell wrote, “Helen Keller observed, ‘Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.’ Because servant leaders define others’ success as their success, they focus on helping other succeed.”

If you want to know how you’re doing as a leader, look at your people. Make sure you’re setting clear expectations for your team and asking them how you can help them meet their goals.

“As you seek to develop the heart of a servant, be sure to follow through with the actions of a servant,” he advised. “Wake up every morning thinking about how you can help the members of your team succeed — personally, professionally, developmentally, relationally and so forth. If you make them better or more successful in any way, you’re on the right track.”

Related: 5 Ways to Make Your Leadership More Authentic

Remember, he said, “By making service to others a core part of your leadership values, you, ironically, raise your game, because you help and empower others.”

“Developing the Leader Within You 2.0” hits the shelf on Tuesday, January 16.

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