Non-Profit Leadership: On Being a Servant Leader

Two happy business colleagues at meeting in modern office interior. Successful african boss in a conversation with young employee in boardroom. Marketing team of two businessmen discussing strategy.

It is always interesting to see how individuals perceive leaders. For some there is often a level of distrust because of difficult past experiences or perceptions about those who have provided leadership in their lives. Leaders who are caught up in their own hierarchy and/or authority can appear distant and non-caring.

Those perceptions can make it very hard for leaders to earn trust in the eyes of the people they lead. It adds to the disparity between leaders and those that are in their organizations. In addition, the COVID pandemic has added weight to this level of struggle and distrust as we all strive to overcome a pandemic that has taken the lives of one million people in our country.

How does a leader turn the tide on this type of perception in their own sphere of influence?  There isn’t one answer, but a helpful leadership posture is one that is willing to serve those around them. At Lakeside we have placed this character of leadership in our core values. We emphasize and desire that quality in our leaders that they be willing to serve the staff that they lead.

It may feel compromising at times to lead while serving others. However, I can attest to the fact that creating the values of servanthood from the top down sets momentum for staff to care. Our leaders are willing to step into each other’s difficult spaces and walk with individuals as they resolve personal struggles, solve difficult problems and handle the ordinary issues of life. This truly emphasizes our leaders’ character and concern for those they lead. 

Happy business leader clapping hands standing in office with team of her employees

In one of my past posts, I have written about compassion being defined as empathy in action.  Another aspect of this is when leaders come into the lives of others and sacrifice their time, resources and abilities to serve staff with humility and sensitivity. It could be some benevolence for a financial need, a willingness to listen to a life crisis, sympathy for a loss, providing practical help, giving support in a medical crisis, expressing a simple word of encouragement or just helping someone move something too heavy to lift. I have even helped by running an errand for someone when they did not have time or the ability to do it themselves.

This is the kindness and willingness to serve that moves people to replicate these actions in ways that can be positively contagious. Every leader may do this differently but when we step into the world of those we serve and offer our genuine hands-on help it leaves a lasting impression that builds trust and an exceptional culture of care.  

Leaders who are transparent, vulnerable, who have humility and who genuinely provide help and support are clear that they care in tangible ways. The actions of that kind of leader builds genuine relational integrity and sets the stage for an environment where staff needs are seen as important and worth sacrificing for. What a great environment to establish and work from in order to partner with each other on behalf of our mission!

Gerry Vassar


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