C-Suite Network™

Servant Leadership is Good Business

Serving others is essentially setting people up for success.

My experience is that there are two kinds of leaders.  Those that get it that our job as leaders is to SERVE our people, teams, and customers.  The second kind of leader is one that serves themselves.  You can see it in their behaviors.  They are focused on their own success, their own career path, their own compensation, their own advancement, or only the bottom line.  Both kinds of leaders are easy to spot.  Most of us have worked with both, so we KNOW the difference.

Earlier in my career, I worked as a Senior Vice President for a global business.   Our CEO, Phil, as everyone called him, really got it.  Our workforce was made up of several thousand skilled technicians that worked in our customers’  facilities.  Phil gave regular lunch-time talks to technicians who were in the headquarters for technical training.  His talks always included some version of this conversation.  “You (technicians) are the most important people in the company.  You take care of our customers and to them, you are the face of the company.  You are at the top of the company pyramid.  I am at the bottom because my job is to support you and help you be great.”  The inverted pyramid above would be a representation of Phil’s perspective.

Similarly, when Phil addressed our leadership meetings, he often said, “Our jobs as leaders is to help people be great at their jobs.”  Under Phil’s leadership, the company averaged about 10% year-over- year growth over a 15 year period and had over 50 consecutive profitable quarters in a very competitive industry.  Because of my first hand experience with Phil’s leadership, along with seeing contrasting styles, it became clear to me that a servant leadership model is good business and can be practiced at all levels.  In Gallup’s 2019 Engagement Survey of 25,000 people across 20 industries, they reported the #1 factor that predicts performance is the level of support provided by managers.

Further support of this approach is the United States Marine Corps, who has a saying, “Officers eat last.”  Literally, enlisted men and women are at the front of the chow line, and the officers are at the back.  It is a symbolic way of showing that officers’ primary function was to serve the needs of their people – first.  Simon Sinek’s best-selling book, “Leaders Eat Last” was inspired by a conversation with a Marine Corps General, dispelling the old myth that servant leadership is soft.  Think about servant leadership as a two-sided coin.  One side is supporting people.  The other side is holding them accountable for performance.  Practicing both sides of the coin sets people up for success.  To be clear, mature leaders have a few styles of leadership they use in the right situation.  Phil, like the Marine Corps, could be very directive in the right situation.  There is a time and place for a leader to say, “This is what we are doing (and why) and I expect everyone to get on board.” Times of crisis, when safety is at risk, and urgent matters can be such times when a directive approach is needed.

In your role as a leader at any level, if you buy into the concept that our jobs are to help people be great, then its a good bet your teams perform at a high-level.  In my leadership workshops, I ask participants “What are the essential things you must do to set your people and teams up for success?”  Then I ask them (and now you) to create a list of ten of those essentials and then grade themselves on how well they are performing each of them.  Most lists include providing the right tools for the job, training and coaching, reviewing the company’s purpose and core values, and communicating clear expectations. It’s a great starting point to increase your leadership impact. Serving others goes a long way to building trust.  As discussed in a previous article called Building Trust-The Key to Agility ( https://c-suitenetwork.com/advisors/building-trust-the-key-to-organizational-agility/), high-trust cultures outperform low-trust cultures all day long.  I have experienced this truth first-hand.

Let’s think about leadership in the context of today.   Research shows that today’s workforce wants four things from their jobs – a fulfilling job, better bosses, teams they like being a part of,  a company they believe in.  The servant-leader will thrive with today’s workforce.  The self-serving leader will struggle with attracting and retaining talent and achieving engagement and sustained performance.  If we take the conversation up to the organization level, self-serving, command and control leadership cultures have a distinct disadvantage during these challenging times.

Know this, your leadership matters. Keep learning, growing and developing your leaders!


Dr. Mark Hinderliter works with clients to develop a people strategy that aligns with their current business strategy.  His experience as a Senior Vice President for a billion-dollar global enterprise along with a PhD in Organization and Management are a unique fusion of real-world experience and academic credentials.

Mark is a Veteran-owned Business Owner and the host of the bi-weekly LinkedIn Live event called, “The Great Retention.”

You can follow Mark on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/markhinderliter/



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