Servant Leadership: How Your Identity Keeps You On Mission

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Recently I had the opportunity to lead a two-hour session with a group of local leaders on servant leadership.


It was a ton of fun.


We started with a definition taken from episode #15 of the podcast.


“A Servant Leader is someone who uses their authority and influence for the benefit of those who are under their authority and influence”



With that definition in mind, we worked through two marks of a servant leader; listening and foresight.


One area where we paused as a group was around the topic of how to balance listening and frustration when in difficult situations.


The Role of Identity

A friend of mine was in a disagreement with someone we both deeply respect. I happened to be in the room when it took place. (I wrote about it here)


Both guys handled themselves with grace and resolve; it was beautiful to see. Neither of them backed down, and neither went for cheap shots.


A week later or so, I told my friend how great I thought it was to see that in action.

He said, “thanks, man, that means a lot. I’ve found that you have to hold tightly to identity and hold loosely to ideas.”

(ohhhhhh that's good right there)


I shared the above story and phrase during the session with those leaders. Then asked, “what does that mean practically?”


Know Yourself

As servant leaders, we should be secure in who we are, producing stability in those under our care. But we also need to remain open to being wrong.


Secure, Stable & Open.


Some ideas to help in this area:


Know who you are and/or what your organization stands for. Stand firm in those things.
If you are drawing a blank on either--start there. 


Know the Mission

The question we should always be asking is, “what’s best for the organization?”. No one person trumps the mission, including the head authority.


Knowing the mission gives us a long view of why the current issue matters. Or doesn’t.


As one of my mentors put it, the mission serves to “arrest our thoughts and emotions.” If we’re not thinking bigger than right now, we’re going to hit a wall or blow up a relationship.


Stay On Topic

Identity grounds us so that we can keep from being character assassins when emotions are swirling.


Does this mean we should just go along to get along? No.

Does this mean we should just steamroll and do what we want? No.


Think “Productive Debate”.

  • A discussion on a particular matter where opposing arguments are put forward, yielding good, useful results.


There’s more at stake than the immediate conversation

When the spotlight shifts to character qualities or definitive statements -- pause before responding.


Know who you are. Know the mission.

Steady on.



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