Strengthen Your Servant Leadership Mindset

No doubt about it: we have a “me first” culture. My progress. My success. My actualization.

In this environment, servant leadership can be challenging. When you’re surrounded by messages telling you to put yourself first, how do you strengthen your mindset towards service?

Here are the four steps I take.

1. Acknowledge the elephant in the room.

While servant leadership runs counter to our social norms, it also contradicts our very nature. We’re all habitually self-centered. We all walk around thinking more about ourselves than others. It’s the human condition.

Serving others is a day by day – actually, hour by hour – intentional effort. One stressful moment can knock any one of us back into positional authority behaviors. That’s our default.

As you walk your path of servant leadership, it’s critical that you acknowledge you’re still the self-oriented person you always were, only with higher expectations.


2. Embrace your humanity.

There is nothing wrong with being a habitually self-oriented human. In fact, you can choose to view it as a blessing!

Consider the deep upwelling of joy you feel when you do think of others first and lift them up. It’s like the sun bursting through the clouds, isn’t it? You feel a surge of love and warmth spreading throughout your body. You feel lighter, but also nourished.

This joy would not be felt the same way if you were able to take serving for granted – if it was a “given” for you.

Embrace your humanity! Give thanks for it. Your inherent self-centeredness is a gift. Without it, you wouldn’t ever know the satisfaction of overcoming it.

3. Raise your awareness of what you do when you’re not serving.

When you’re not overcoming your innate self-centeredness, what are you doing? Yes, you’re thinking about yourself – but in what way, exactly?

If you’re like me, too often you’re not thinking about yourself in a way that’s productive. In fact, you’re not really thinking at all, which is the problem. You’re reacting. Especially when you’re stressed and overwhelmed, you’re falling back into knee-jerk, unproductive, self-soothing behaviors.

If you’re a parent, you’ve heard the term “self-soothing.” It’s a skill that children must learn to calm themselves down when they’re stressed and uncomfortable. At first, kids don’t self-sooth productively. They have to stop everything they’re doing and lean on emotional “props” to calm themselves down. Pacifiers. Favorite blankets. A parent.

As they grow up, kids (hopefully) learn how to self-sooth productively. They become able to calm themselves down by working through issues independently, making visible process on their projects and puzzles, and moving forward.

Consider . . .

How productive is your self-soothing? When you’re stressed, do you have emotional “props” that you reach for? Coffee? Another glass of wine? A shopping trip that you don’t really need? Obsessing over an obstacle you can’t ever change?

When you’re struggling, you may have habits you fall back into that are mildly (or even severely) destructive. Ask yourself, in the moments when you aren’t serving others, and you’re not focusing on yourself in a productive way, what are you doing with your time and energy?

4. Replace your unproductive self-soothing habits with service.

Imagine taking any harmful self-soothing behaviors you’ve allowed to linger in your life . . . and replacing them with service.

Instead of eating, drinking, buying, or thinking about something you really shouldn’t, you could take that moment to lift someone else up. You could send an encouraging email. Or ask a struggling teammate what help they need. Or spend ten minutes learning about your top performer’s goals for the future.

Instead of focusing on yourself, you could lift your head up, look around, and see where you can step in, serve, and heal.

If you did this, what would change for you?

How would your mindset toward service get stronger?

Try these steps out. Experiment with being honest about your humanity, embracing it, and consciously seeking out the joy of serving.

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