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Servant Leader vs. Selfish Leader – and Why It Matters

Leaders are driven to succeed.  It’s a necessary quality that moves society forward, finds solutions to problems, and improves our quality of life.  However, as with anything, that drive can be too extreme and too self-focused.  That’s what we want to examine.  Who are you serving in your drive to succeed?

Your Motives Determine Your Leadership Style

If you are achieving great success you may feel your motives are irrelevant.  What difference does it make if your success is self-focused or others-focused? From a distance, the results may look the same, but to those who are close to you, the chasm is enormous.

Personal experiences and lots of research has shown that motives make a huge difference in finding fulfillment in your success. At a recent leadership conference, many of the speakers shared their personal stories of how they managed business as a selfish leader versus how they operated as a servant leader.  Once they shifted to a servant mind-set, they had no desire to go back.  The fulfillment is so much greater as a leader who is focused on everyone’s success and not just their own.

Drawing from common themes heard throughout the conference, I put together a few statements that will help you  examine where you fall on the spectrum of selfish leader vs. servant leader.


Servant leaders motivate winning teams.

Selfish Leader:
I regularly break personal commitments if it means I can get ahead. My family and friends know work always comes first.

Servant Leader:
I try hard not to break a personal commitment with unexpected work.  If it happens, I make sure to spend time with the people affected and catch up as soon as possible.

Selfish Leader:
I hold a grudge against people who don’t treat me with the respect I deserve. People should recognize how critical I am to the organization/committee/team.

Servant Leader:
I recognize that each person in our organization/committee/team is important and I want to be sure they know it.

Selfish Leader:
It’s very important that I live in an upper-class neighborhood and drive a luxury car.  Even though my personal funds are tight, it’s worth the expense of nice things.

Servant Leader:
I want to live within my means, be generous with my money, and have nice things when it’s prudent.

Selfish Leader:
I don’t mind cutting corners if it will bring greater success. I can overlook a few, minor ethical issues if the end result is good for the bottom line.

Servant Leader:
I take a stand for integrity and make certain my character is not tainted by my drive for success.

Selfish Leader:
It’s important that my name is associated with successful projects that I’ve contributed to in some way. However, if a project has failed, I’m quick to point out who is to blame.

Servant Leader:
I recognize that success is a team effort and I want to be sure the whole team receives proper praise.  If the project is not a success, I evaluate the weakness and find solutions to ensure success the next time.

The examples could go on and on. And let’s be honest, we can find some degree of these selfish attitudes in each of us.  However, if you found yourself aligning more with a Selfish Leader’s philosophy, consider it a red flag in your leadership style. If your focus is consumed by you, you’re leaving a lot of damage in your wake.

Why Be a Servant Leader?

The purpose of being a servant leader isn’t to wear the badge of ‘nice person’. Your effectiveness and your fulfillment are closely tied to how much you are serving others.

Inc. has a great article (also linked to above) that shares some very compelling reasons why servant leadership just makes great business sense.  The article also shares some great data and videos, but here’s a short list why the author found servant leadership to be a winner:

  • Teams are pumped with confidence, which leads to high-performance
  • Employees are more helpful and creative
  • Job satisfaction is greater
  • Many successful (really successful) businesses are lead by servant leaders.

So rather then grabbing all the gusto for yourself, consider how you can help people around you.  You’ll find there’s plenty of ‘gusto’ to go around and it’s a lot more fun.

Here are a few more articles you may find helpful, but we’d love to hear what you think as well:

7 Secrets of Servant Leadership that Will Lead You to Success
How to Become a Servant Leader
Read Mark Whitacre’s story of his journey from selfish leader to servant leader. It’s his story that the movie The Informant is based off of.

Centennial is an Executive Search Firm that strives to create unified, powerful leadership teams.  We believe servant-leadership is a key part of the best teams.