Upending the Pyramid: Why Serving Others Matters in the Workplace

While certainly not the author of the idea (or the practice, for that matter) of servant leadership, Robert K. Greenleaf catalyzed a modern “servant leadership movement” in management philosophy over the last 35 years. His famous question about the impact of a leader was this: “Do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

This is the right question to ask ourselves, whatever theory of leadership we hold. Do the people we lead—do the people we serve—become stronger, gain sharpness, grow in excellence and initiative, develop their own deep sense of worth and purpose as a result of our leadership? And just why is this the right question? It’s really quite simple: the people we lead (serve) do all the work. The more awesome they become, the more awesome their work—period. End of story.

Serve Others First

When Jim Collins went searching for the secret to company greatness, he told his researchers not to discover that the secret was leadership. He knew—and he was dead right about this—that greatness had to be the result of many people doing great things. There weren’t enough leaders in an enterprise to account for greatness. But Collins also discovered that he was dead wrong; leaders create the conditions for people to reach for greatness, or they create the opposite. Depending on your leadership, people will choose to give their all or they will choose to be miserly with their gifts.