servant leader

Would those you lead say this about you?

My good friend Kris Bowers is the president of the Indiana chapter of the Kiwanis Club. A few weeks ago she asked me to be the keynote speaker at their annual convention. I was honored to be asked by Kris, who is a classmate of mine from graduate school and a person who exudes servant leadership. Kris and I had the opportunity to talk over the phone about her organization and the goals for my talk prior to the event. As I was taking notes on what Kris was saying about Kiwanis and the direction the service organization was headed, one theme rang through loud and clear. According to Kris, this organization will thrive based upon the leadership that is exhibited.

Perhaps this is not a shocking revelation to you. I know so many of you who follow these musings truly believe that organizations rise and fall based upon their leadership.

And yet, how many of us fall into the leadership fallacies of:

  • Leader has the best view.
  • Leader is the smartest person in the room.
  • Leader means power position.
  • I got this far, I won’t fail.
  • My experience is valid, so I am better grounded than anyone else.

I have to admit that I have to check myself often to guard against these traps. Just the other day I was talking with my staff about a product we are excited about rolling out in 2017. In the middle of the discussion, I had a moment of self-awareness. It was not an out of body experience or anything like that, however, I found myself both talking with the staff and observing their behavior at the same time. I realized I had been droning on for about 5 minutes with all my knowledge, wisdom, and experience about what we should do and how we should do it.

It was kind of surreal.

In the moment, my mind took me back to the keynote I had done for Kris and the Kiwanis Leaders of Indiana. You see, I had asked these leaders to think of a leader they admired the most, then to write down the leadership quality that was most admirable about that leader.

In a very brave technology moment for me, I had the 300 or so participants text the leadership quality that they admired most about the leader they were thinking of to my PollEverywhere account. The results of their work were shown instantly on the screen.

Here is the actual result of that poll:


Nowhere on this list of most admirable qualities is: Smartest in the room, Most Experienced, Can’t fail, All-powerfull.

As I studied the graphic, I found almost the exact opposite:

  • Listener
  • Compassionate
  • Selfless
  • Humble
  • Positive

If we asked those who follow you to name the one attribute they admire most about your leadership, what word would they pick? What would your word cloud look like that would describe your leadership?


Spend some time in reflection on the last time you were with your team. Ask yourself, did you listen to them more than you tried to position your agenda? Did you really care what they had to say or did you just hold the time until you could exert your power? Were you able to remain positive even in the face of adversity? What does it mean for you to be humble and how does this attribute affect your leadership?

Top 3 Leadership Reasons Leeza Gibbons Won Celebrity Apprentice

Two distinct leadership styles were pit against each other in the finals of this year’s Celebrity Apprentice.

Character one is Geraldo Rivera, the egotistical, self-made, self-reliant leader. Geraldo made it into the finals of the competition with a style of being hard-working and very well-connected, making sure that everyone in his circle of influence knew how powerful he was. He is smart and full of talent and very egocentric.


Character two is Leeza Gibbons, the selfless, humble, follower-centric leader. Leeza made it into the finals of the competition with hard work and high levels of self-awareness. Her ability to listen to others and encourage those on her team was really a classic study in leader-follower interaction. The way she attracted followers was captivating.

Donald Trump, the Boss of the show, asked contestants who had been “fired" in prior episodes who they thought would win. Those who chose Geraldo thought he would win because of his power. Those who thought Leeza would win said it would be because she had such a positive influence.

The TV drama was really interesting from a leadership perspective. A classic battle between two types of influence. The dictator who leads with power and intimidation versus the servant who leads with compassion and caring. Even the Boss, Donald, was amazed when he told Leeza that he could not believe she had made it this far with that kind of leadership style.

As followers, you have to ask yourself, “Which type of leader would I rather follow?". You have to decide which type of leader you're going to be. It's hard to live in both worlds.

Leeza Gibbons was triumphant with her servant leader style. Her leadership style cut out the crazy and dropped the drama some followers brought to the task. She got along well with people.  Geraldo got fired because he couldn’t play nice with others. It was really that simple.

Leeza  successfully employed 3 core leadership principles for the win:

  1. Know Where You Are Going Leeza provided a clear vision and direction for her team. We have a lot of clutter in our world. Leaders must be clear and consistent. As a leader do not get distracted from your core message and your vision.
  2. Be Passionate As the leader, the level of passion will be established by you.  Err on the side of “no one cares as much about this as you do”.  It does not matter if their lives depend upon it, the level of passion and commitment of the group will never exceed that of the leader. EVER!!!
  3. Have Zero Ego In his book Humble Inquiry, noted organizational leadership scholar Edgar Schein shares the premise that many organizations lack a safe environment for lower-level employees to engage or bring up issues.  Leeza Gibbons won Celebrity Apprentice because she established a climate in which all followers felt safe and she made the team better.
Questions to ask yourself as a Leader:
  1. Do you know where you are going and is your vision clear? DO NOT assume because you said it once a year ago that followers get it. Repeat! Repeat! Repeat!
  2. Are you the most passionate person in your organization for your vision? If you are lacking passion, what do you need to get back on track?
  3. Am I willing to let go of my ego and make my success about others and not myself?

For more information on this topic, Edgar Schein has written a really great book on how to start: Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling. Check it out and let me know what you think.

[reminder]Did you watch this season of Celebrity Apprentice? What was your biggest takeaway? [/reminder]