egoThe following is excerpted from their book, The Serving Leader. In this excerpt, Mike, who has been called to help his dying father’s leadership project, goes to visit a company whose leadership style has been an influential part of his father’s project. His guide, Ali, is his father’s colleague. The company he is visiting helps prepare students for job readiness after high school. It is one of many stops along the way in Mike’s journey to understand what being a “Serving Leader” means. Through this journey, the fictional story, based on real people and organizations, provides a practical guide for how to inspire greatness by putting the needs of others first – a rare approach today.

“Dorothy is fantastically focused on business results, but at the same time, she was persistent in pointing out the individual contributions of each person. Except in the case of herself.”

“Right,” said Ali. “I really wanted you to notice that. A defining characteristic of a Serving Leader that you will see again and again around here involves the issue of ego. You saw it with Dorothy, and I think you’ll see it in every one of our leaders. They direct the credit to others. Dorothy is constantly getting her ego out of the way and building up others.”

“So people end up feeling good about themselves.”

“Well, that’s true. But it’s not the most important point. Self-esteem is very important because it sets up a powerful cycle of personal growth, willingness to take risks, persistence, and results. But getting your ego out of the way has an even deeper organizational impact.”

I wasn’t sure what Ali was getting at, but I was definitely listening.

“The Serving Leader handles his or her own ego,” Ali continued, “because the best results come from genuine teamwork. The leader turns the pyramid onto its head in order to serve others. When a leader keeps personal ego in check—and builds the confidence and self-esteem of others—it is then possible for the team to work together.”

“You’re saying that if a leader models the importance of building up others and doesn’t care about getting the credit for the achievement, other members of the team will do the same thing.”

“Exactly,” Ali said. “By putting others first in this way, the Serving Leader is able to catalyze the creation of high performance teams.”


“I can see why you love this place,” I said to Ali as we walked back to the parking lot. “Their accomplishments are remarkable. How do they pull it off?”

“Hold the analysis for just a second,” Ali interrupted. “What did you feel here?”

I stopped in my tracks and raised my hands, palms facing forward toward the factory building. I closed my eyes. “I feel the power,” I said, poking fun just a little bit at the question.

Ali laughed good-naturedly. “Seriously. Tell me what you felt in there.”

“I felt a little puzzled. The leaders seem to—I don’t know what else to call it but love—they seem to love their students. And yet this isn’t a soft love. They mean business!”

“Strictly speaking, ‘puzzled’ isn’t a feeling,” Ali chided, his face kind. “But I’m going to accept your answer. You felt the love. You saw the toughness. And your mind is puzzling over the apparent contradiction of these things.”

Okay, so Ali’s going to play shrink, too. Fair enough. I’m not famous for trafficking in the realm of feelings. “You’re right. I felt the love, and I’m a little confused about what I saw.”

“Which means you’re going to get it. It’s great stuff, isn’t it?” he added, grinning broadly at my look of uncertainty.

Kenneth R. Jennings is a best-selling author, speaker, and active consultant in organizational leadership, serving as Chairman of Third River Partners. John Stahl-Wert is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and expert in growing great leaders, serving as Director of the Center for Serving Leadership. Together they co-authored The Serving Leader – now revised and updated for the 10th Anniversary Edition and available on Amazon

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