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Good Leaders Must Be Good Servants

Are you a good leader or a self-serving One?

December 2010 By Wes Friesen
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"Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve."

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Organizations and teams are crying out for effective leaders. The most effective and positive leaders are those that understand and practice the philosophy of "servant leadership." Servant leaders feel their role is to serve others—employees, customers and other key stakeholders.

If you think about the most respected and effective leaders you know, chances are they saw themselves as "serving leaders," not "self-serving leaders." Some of the most notable leaders in history (e.g. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela) have embraced the philosophy that anybody wanting to be the leader must first be the servant. If you want to lead you must serve.

One of my favorite definitions of leadership is: "the skill of influencing people to work enthusiastically towards goals that are identified as being for the common good." Do you want to be an influential leader? I suggest you learn and apply the following "SERVE" model (based on "The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do," by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller):

See the future
ngage and develop others
einvent continuously
alue results and relationships
mbody the values

What it Means to Serve

Seeing the future involves developing a compelling vision that stirs passion within you—and the people on your team. Invite participation from your team members about your team's purpose, values and goals. Consider how you can add value for your key stakeholders, such as customers, employees and shareholders/owners. Give serious thought to where you and the team would like to be several years in the future—then paint a picture of a better future that people can rally around.

Engaging and developing others involves having the right people in the right roles, fully engaged to achieve the future. Identify a person's strengths and find a role that leverages those strengths. I agree with Peter Drucker who said "the leader's objective is to leverage the strengths of people and make their weaknesses become irrelevant." We have many tools available to help develop people—including classes, cross training, special assignments and mentoring.

Reinvent continuously. Embrace the concepts of continuous learning and continuous improvement. Learning and improvement starts with us first—we need to read (including trade journals like this one), attend conferences (such as IPMA), be involved with professional organizations and model the behavior for team members. We need to regularly evaluate our systems and processes and keep asking "can we do it better, faster and for less money? Can we improve the quality of our products and services?"

About the author
Wes Friesen is the manager of Revenue Collection & Community Offices for Portland General Electric, a utility in Portland, Oregon, that serves more than 810,000 customers. Wes teaches university classes and is a featured speaker at national conferences like IPMA, MailCom, National Postal Forum and XPLOR. He manages the bill production and payment processing teams with the able assistance of supervisors Eric Houger, Tom Laszlo, Gil Rodriguez and Elyssia Lawrence. Wes can be contacted at


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