Aim Higher: Servant Leaders Put Others First

put others first

Put Others First



One of the traits of a servant leader is the ability to think, “you, not me.”

Now, obviously, this doesn’t mean that you discount yourself at all costs. I like to think about the speech that we hear on airplanes all the time. About how, in the event of an emergency, you put on your own oxygen mask first. Like anyone, a leader has a responsibility for self-care. Perhaps even more than others, a good leader needs to take care of his or her own physical, spiritual, emotional and family needs. You can’t be a great servant leader if you are not healthy yourself. So do what you need to do in that regard.

But once you’ve taken care of your own needs, how do you think about others first? How do you think, “you, not me”? And where does that stop? Who is the “you” in this scenario? As in so many other leadership exercises, I think stories are incredibly helpful. So let’s start with one that we discuss in the podcast that seems very simple on the surface, but can unlock some powerful ideas.



My Trip to the Grocery Store

I’m sure this has happened to you. I was in line at the store on a simple grocery run. Less than ten items. But one of those items rang up as 17 cents more than what was on the label. I was about to say, “Don’t worry about it,” but the clerk pushed the button for the manager, and we were off to the races. You know how that goes. The other people in line staring at me like I was holding up their day for a mere 17 cents. The clerk looking like, “It’s not my fault!” because, you know, it really wasn’t. The manager looking hassled.

You get the picture. Nobody wins in that scenario.



So where was the breakdown? Someone—a leader in the organization well above that manager—was not thinking “you, not me.” And if the store was the “me,” who was the “you” in that scenario? I’d say there’s more than one:

  • The customer making the purchase
  • The other customers in line
  • The clerk
  • The manager
  • Probably the clerk who rang the wrong price in the first place


There was a breakdown in this process that caused a negative customer experience.

How could the owner empower the manager and clerks to be more flexible with pricing during the check-out process? How could they “think like a customer” about what to do when there’s a momentary hold-up in line? Is there even a way to think about sale pricing that doesn’t require a difference in how items are scanned vs. posted pricing?

I don’t know. But a creative process that involves the owner, manager and staff (and invites customer feedback) might uncover some really interesting process improvements.

The point is – and our newest podcast panelist, Rebekah Kilzer makes it very clearly – empowerment requires planning.

You can tell someone, “I’m giving you authority” all day long. But if you don’t have guidelines for that, all you’ll do is terrify them.

So spend some time with our panel and hear what they have to say about “you, not me.” They’ve got some great ideas about making this real every day. It’s important if you want to be a servant leader. And it’s important if you want to create a culture of empowerment, rather than an environment of micromanagement.



or Listen to the episode on Apple podcasts here.


Do you have micro-goals and micro-dreams? No? Then don’t be a micro-manager! Small minds think they know everything. Small hearts don’t trust others. Small leaders try to do everything. Think about others first, and you’ll empower a culture of success beyond anything you can possibly imagine.





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