Can You Serve And Lead At The Same Time?

Feb 08, 2018 1 Min Read
waiter serving
Are You Able to Serve While You Lead?

At a dinner table, a waiter comes up to you and takes your order. He ensures he gets your order right, your food arrives timely, and precisely – just the way you wanted the steak cooked. He pops by occasionally to ask if you are doing okay. Throughout the evening, he is there to serve patrons like you, and make you feel comfortable dining at the restaurant.

He is attentive to the sight of you raising your hand, which could mean you want to order desserts, complain about the food or pay the bill. The waiter becomes your ‘servant’ for the evening while you dine. With such great service and ‘wow’ experience, you would definitely come by again.

‘Serve me.’

In a dog-eat-dog corporate world, no one wants to become a ‘servant’. It’s considered a lowly position, sometimes even frowned upon. To guard our pride and preserve our status, we prefer to be served more than to serve others.
Being at the top, you find yourself being chauffeured around, whenever and wherever you want. You have people waiting for your arrival at important meetings. You have the tea lady making coffee for you every morning. You have many people serving your needs, whim and fancy.

Servant leadership in the marketplace

Historically, the modern servant leadership movement was launched by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970, when he published his essay, “The Servant as Leader”. He popularised the terms “servant-leader” and “servant leadership.”
Related post: Do You Have What It Takes To Become A Servant Leader?
Particularly in Asia, the concept of servant leadership is alien, and may even be a put-off, to many. We have the misconception that servant leadership is only reserved for leaders in religious establishments, social works or non-governmental organisations.

Many still wonder how servant leaders can thrive in a real business environment where emphasis is really about taking and grabbing (the power model) every opportunity out there, for themselves.

The face of a servant leader

Servant leaders are servants first, i.e. they want to serve in whichever capacity they can. It’s not about being doormats to please people, but about wanting to help others (the service model) by meeting the needs (not feelings) of colleagues, clients and communities, purposefully.

They are also good stewards of the people under their care, and will stand by their people when their aligned values are served by their actions.
This might interest you: Raise Your Game: Understanding The Principles Of Ownership And Stewardship
Servant leadership elevates a job into a calling, and acknowledges the way that businesses make life better for the community. Doesn’t it sound similar to Leaderonomics’ vision to grow people into leaders, build communities of love and transform the nation?

In a nutshell

Wanna guess whose business card this is?

An example of a servant leader in the marketplace is Square chief executive officer (CEO) Jack Dorsey (yes, the same guy behind Twitter) who picks up San Francisco trash on Fridays, as an extension of what this digital payments company does, i.e. to help small businesses grow, which then improves communities.

Closer to home, there is a leader I know who once printed a box of his business cards with his designation written as ‘Kuli‘ (coolie).

Was the person identifying himself as a servant leader? Judging from the seen and unseen work he does for people and the community, I would think so. Don’t worry, the business cards were never used for official business networking functions, nor were they abused internally, too.

Back to a serious question:

As business leaders in Malaysia, can you serve and lead at the same time?
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Lay Hsuan was part of the content curation team for, playing the role of a content gatekeeper as well as ensuring the integrity of stories that came in. She was an occasional writer for the team and was previously the caretaker for Leaderonomics social media channels. She is still happiest when you leave comments on the website, or subscribe to Leader's Digest, or share Leaderonomics content on social media.

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