Leadership is a Service not a Privilege

Larger than life, charismatic leaders who demand respect and lash out against dissent have an allure to them. We are attracted, in some sense, to these power wielders, and – at the same time – we are turned off by their approach to leadership.

The 1920s defined leadership by how well a person could impose their will on another person. The 40s viewed leadership as power derived from an office or position. During the 60s, leadership was a behavior that influenced the actions of others. When the turn of the century was upon us, leadership had reached a level of complexity that one definition did not suffice.

Leadership was understood as a relationship, and the actions of a leader were defined by their style.

To summarize where leadership scholars are today, we can say that leadership is the way one person intentionally interacts with people to influence their behavior toward the desired outcome.


In our culture of individualized self-awareness, you will find it difficult to lead people effectively using the methods of the early to mid 20th century. If, however, you are willing to accept that leadership isn’t about the leader, then you have the potential to not only lead effectively but significantly.

Let me help you reframe your leadership worldview for a moment. In the Marine Corps, Marines can fill one of hundreds of different jobs. I can tell you that despite the many hundreds of jobs available for a Marine to do, Marines’ fulfill one of two roles: grunt and Marines who support grunts. In other words, you are either on the front line fighting or supporting those who do.

In your business, you should see it as the people on the front accomplishing the mission or the people supporting their operation. In your field, you have people who are responsible for the work your organization does. That means that every role not directly engaged in that work supports that work. That also means that the most important person in your organization is the person on the front line, not the leader behind the wall.

Practically, what does that look like?

Your leadership structure should be an upside-down pyramid:

Front-line leaders exist to support front-line workers, middle managers ensure front-line leaders have what they need to support their workers, and senior leaders provide a culture, the training, and the direction the middle managers need to resource the front-line leaders to support the front-line workers.

That is what we do as leaders. We serve those in our organization one-step above us to ensure those getting the job done have what they need and can do what is expected of them.


Question: What are some ways you approach leadership as a servant rather than a master? You can leave a comment by clicking here.



I am an author, speaker, and leader with a passion for developing people into practical leaders who put their principles into practice. I am the co-author of the acclaimed book Faith Acts with best-selling author Dillon Burroughs, the Chief Operations Officer at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, and an independent leadership consultant to up and coming leaders and start up nonprofit organizations. My greatest joy, however, is serving Christ and his Church. I am the proud husband of Shay and father of two great boys. We live in Chattanooga, TN. #NoogaStrong

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, off-topic, or downright annoying.

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