Servant Leadership: Elevating People Above Causes

In the world of leadership, where ambition and success often take centre stage, it’s crucial to pause and reflect on what it truly means to lead. A recent experience shared by a friend* serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of Servant Leadership – a leadership style that places others’ well-being and growth at the forefront.

My friend found themselves in a distressing situation after participating in an event led by a leadership team. What should have been an opportunity for growth and collaboration turned into a nightmare when they became the target of unwarranted bullying and harassment. The catalyst for this toxic behaviour was a personal vendetta held by one of the leadership team members. This individual manipulated the entire team to gang up and attack my friend, who was now facing a daunting lineup of six people, all at once.

In the midst of this ordeal, my friend reached out to me, overwhelmed and vulnerable, not knowing what to do. It was a heart-wrenching experience to witness someone feeling trapped and let down by the very people who were supposed to lead with integrity and empathy and help my friend and everyone else to grow and thrive. However, amidst the chaos, one specific sentence stood out to me. My friend recounted how one of the leaders expressed deep sadness, not because of the harm inflicted but because my friend’s situation had disrupted what that leader wanted to prove to others – their personal achievement took precedence over the well-being of one of the people they were supposed to serve.

This sentence served as a stark reminder that, unfortunately, many leaders step into positions of authority not to serve others but to advance their own agendas. It raises a crucial question for anyone considering leadership: Why do you want to lead?

The answer to this question sometimes revolves around a shiny cause so the leaders might think that they must be practising “Servant leadership”. However,  in the realm of leadership, a common dilemma arises when leaders believe they are serving a noble cause while inadvertently harming the people within that cause. This delicate distinction between serving a cause and serving the individuals who constitute it is where Servant Leadership truly shines. Let’s delve deeper into this complex issue to understand the critical difference.

Imagine a leader passionately advocating for a noble cause, be it environmental conservation, social justice, or humanitarian aid. They wholeheartedly believe in the cause and are driven by an unwavering commitment to see it succeed. However, amidst their fervour for the cause, they might inadvertently lose sight of the individuals who are instrumental in making it a reality.

This is where the challenge lies. Leaders who solely focus on the cause can become so engrossed in their vision that they neglect the well-being, growth, and dignity of those who share their passion. They may adopt an overly rigid, relentless, or even coercive approach in the name of the cause. In their quest to implement their vision, they can inadvertently harm, demoralise, or alienate the very individuals who are essential to its success.

Servant Leadership provides a transformative perspective by placing people at the centre of the equation. It emphasises that the cause, no matter how noble, is ultimately built, championed, and achieved through the collective efforts of individuals. 

Servant Leadership, as exemplified by leaders who prioritise the needs and growth of the people they lead, stands in stark contrast to self-serving leadership. The fundamental distinction lies in whether you want to lead to make your people serve your vision or to lead to make yourself serve your people and their vision.

Leaders who practice Servant Leadership understand that their role is not about wielding power but about empowering others. They recognise that the success of their vision is intricately tied to the well-being and success of the people they lead. Here are some key principles of Servant Leadership:

1- People-Centric Approach: Servant Leaders understand that people are not merely tools to achieve a cause; they are the heart and soul of the cause. They prioritise the well-being and growth of the people they lead, recognising that it is the collective dedication and passion of these individuals that drive meaningful change.

2- Humility & Empowerment Over Control: Instead of rigidly dictating the path to the cause’s success, Servant Leaders empower the people they lead to contribute their unique skills, ideas, and perspectives. They create an environment where innovation and collaboration thrive. Servant Leaders are humble in their approach. They don’t seek the spotlight or credit for themselves but rather shine it on their people’s achievements. They acknowledge their mistakes and take responsibility for them.

3- Open Dialogue & Empathy: Servant Leaders maintain open and honest communication with the people they lead. They actively seek feedback, listen to concerns, and address them constructively. This fosters a culture of trust and transparency. They approach challenges with empathy, offering support and guidance rather than criticism.

4- Collaboration & Adaptability: They foster a culture of collaboration and inclusivity, valuing diverse perspectives and ideas. Servant Leaders create an environment where everyone feels heard and valued. They understand that the journey toward any cause is rarely linear or predictable. Servant Leaders are flexible and adaptable, willing to adjust their strategies based on evolving circumstances and insights from the people they lead.

5- Long-term Vision & Sustainability: Rather than chasing short-term gains, Servant Leaders focus on long-term success and sustainability. They understand that building a strong, motivated network of people around them leads to enduring achievements. While they remain dedicated to the cause, Servant Leaders also prioritise the long-term sustainability of their efforts. They recognise that burnout, demotivation, or resentment among the people they lead can ultimately hinder the cause’s progress.

6- Mentorship & Humanising Leadership: Servant Leadership humanises the leadership role. It encourages leaders to connect on a personal level with the people they lead, recognising their strengths, challenges, and aspirations. They view their leadership role as an opportunity to mentor and develop the people they lead. Servant Leaders invest in the growth and professional development of their people, helping them achieve their full potential.

In a world where self-serving leadership can sometimes overshadow the true essence of leadership, it’s essential to pause and reflect on your motivations. Servant Leadership is not just about achieving personal success; it’s about creating a positive and empowering environment where everyone can thrive.

Leaders should ask themselves: What legacy do I want to leave behind? Do I want to be remembered for my individual accomplishments, or do I want to be celebrated for the positive impact I had on the lives and careers of others? Servant Leadership, emphasising humility, empathy, and collaboration, offers a path to leadership that genuinely serves others and their visions. It’s a path that not only brings personal fulfilment but also inspires and uplifts those who follow, creating a brighter and more compassionate future for all.

In essence, Servant Leadership bridges the gap between serving a cause and serving the people within it. It ensures that the cause remains a noble and worthwhile endeavor, while also enriching the lives of those who contribute to it. It’s a reminder that leadership is not just about achieving a mission; it’s about nurturing the human spirit within that mission.

Aspiring leaders, passionate about making a difference in the world, should introspect on their leadership approach. Are they genuinely prioritising the well-being and dignity of the individuals who share their cause? 

Servant Leadership offers a path to create positive change without sacrificing the very essence of humanity within a cause. It is a call to elevate people over causes, knowing that in doing so, we empower them to achieve extraordinary feats and leave a lasting legacy of compassion and unity. As Simon Sinek says: 

“Leadership is not a rank or a position to be attained. Leadership is a service to be given.”

Ready to bring this conversation to your organisation or community? Reach out to me at

*This blog post was published with the friend’s consent
Photo Credit: @ReemAssil

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