When I was in primary school, I really wanted to be on the school’s leadership team. I dreamed of it. I looked up to the leaders and I knew it was the best job. There were so many perks. You could sit up the front on the stage when everyone else sat on the wooden floor. You got to speak in front of the whole school, which I knew proved you were really important. And best of all, you got to skip some of class to set up the chairs in the hall for assembly. I knew that getting to set up those chairs would mean that I’d made it, that I would officially be one of the coolest and luckiest kids in school.
My ideas around leadership have evolved quite a bit since I was ten. And one of the biggest things I’ve leant and been learning is the concept that leadership isn’t actually about me. That was a bit hard for me to grasp. Of course, I would have always said that I wanted to lead to make the world a better place. And I probably believed it too. But deep down, leadership has always been about me. Making me feel important and special, putting me in a position of power, getting to be part of the exclusive crowd, having my voice heard, having meaning and work to do.
True leadership is pretty much the opposite of what I thought. Deep down, I was always me-focused. But leadership is actually others-focused. Putting others above yourself, desiring the best for them rather than yourself. That is called servant leadership.
So what does a servant leader actually do?
They put other people’s needs as highest priority. They listen, they help, they find ways to benefit everyone around them. Find out where you can do good, what matters to people. If I had understood this in primary school, I would have wanted to be a leader not so to have fun and feel important, but so I could better support the other students around me. So look around. How can you put someone else’s needs first today?
You know what your priority is by what your mind thinks about. When you think of leadership, do you think of yourself? How it might make you look, feel, the experiences you might have? Or do you think about people, about the world, about things that can be improved or need to be changed?
Now I try to stop myself every time I start to get excited about a position of power. I try to use my time and energy to help those around me. We all have the opportunity to be true leaders, to be others-focused.