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Why ‘Servant Leadership’ Is What the World Needs Right Now

Why ‘Servant Leadership’ Is What the World Needs Right Now
Photo shows “Lead Like Jesus” international president Rick Pickering during one of his talks regarding the “Heart of a Leader.”

As far as leadership philosophies go, “servant leadership” remains the best, and it is what the world needs right now, according to Rick Pickering, the current international president of the “Lead Like Jesus” (LLJ) movement, who is visiting the Philippines to spread the word about shaping “The Heart of a Leader.”

Pickering offered some of his leadership insights when he appeared on the most recent episode of “Breakthrough with Boris Joaquin,” which was streamed live Tuesday evening (Oct. 31) on the official Facebook pages of The Philippine STAR and CareerGuide.

He described “servant leadership” as something that seeks to influence people in a positive way. It must not be construed as having like a “doormat” personality trait, where you become too submissive that you allow others to dominate you.

“People of other faiths and even no faiths look at the leadership model that Jesus left, and at the core of that leadership model was servant leadership... Not being a doormat that people would walk all over (you)… A servant leader is a leader that serves the people they influence,” Pickering said.

“We define leadership as anybody who influences someone else. Whether you’re influencing them good or bad, you really are a leader, people are following your example and people are paying attention, especially if you’re a servant leader,” he added.

Joaquin acknowledged the soundness of this approach, calling it a “brave, bold and courageous type of leadership that actually puts others at the front and center,” serving them in the process. Yet somehow, a lot of people in leadership positions often find it difficult to practice. Why?

Pickering posited a number of possible reasons, among them include some leaders’ propensity to lean on leadership “formulas” that they learned along the way, such as the “Machiavellian” style in which one tries to “win at all costs” – something that the LLJ chief does not necessarily agree with.

“There are other types of formulas, and there are some good formulas out there like planning, organizing, evaluating, budgeting, directing, vision-casting – but they’re all very external… What ‘Lead Like Jesus' looks at is the internal heart: how you think about people,” he said.

This boils down to how a leader deals with and treats the people who work for a particular cause or organization. Pickering connected it to his ideal definition of success, where one sees the value of people and tries to lift them as well on his or her way up.

“It’s the people around you, it’s your family, it’s the people in your community, it’s the people you work with. You don’t become successful unless you help them be successful,” the leadership expert said, adding that an essential aspect of this principle is the concept of accountability.

“Part of that is you admit your mistakes. But it also means you’ve got enough self-confidence that you’re willing to make a mistake, a calculated mistake, and... you don’t punish the people around you. You don’t place the blame on them. I would rather fix a problem than fix the blame,” he noted.

Pickering reminded that leaders are there to develop people, and let them grow into individuals that others can respect and rely upon, too. Consequently, winning does not always have to be a zero-sum game, where someone else has to lose or fall behind just for you to get ahead in life.

“There are many definitions of success. Some definitions, I don’t necessarily subscribe to. I would argue and say somebody who has made a lot of money isn’t successful. But I would also say, you know, part of being successful is being happy; being happy with how you became successful,” he elaborated.

Investing in people matters

Pickering echoed the same principles espoused by the LLJ co-founders, Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, about investing in people because this is what Jesus Christ did to His 12 apostles, whom He transformed into leaders in their own right.

For servant leaders, success is counted sweetest by neither fortune nor fame, but how they made a positive impact in the lives of others. “When you can find a person that is happy with the way they’ve treated people, many times they will say somebody treated them well, too, on their way up.”

“Somebody gave them a break, somebody encouraged them, somebody saw a spark in them and helped and coached them to do things and go forward and to be successful… So, it (servant leadership) really is about investing in other people,” Pickering said.

To him, this makes the journey towards success even more meaningful. He is aware of stories of some successful people, who eventually had to confront loneliness, family troubles, or health issues because “climbing the ladder” took such a heavy toll on the other equally important aspects of their lives.

“The definition of success, I think, goes back to: are you at peace in your heart? Are you at peace with the people around you? And, in our case, are you at peace with your God?” Pickering noted, underscoring the importance of having peace of mind.

The LLJ president hopes business leaders today would continue investing in other people, especially those who are younger and have new ideas to share. He also encouraged them to keep sharpening their skills, so they can become better leaders for their respective organizations.

“I think if you’re sustaining that success, I want to thank you that you’re investing in other people, because you realize that your goal is to be able to hand that leadership mantle off to the people that are coming up behind you,” Pickering said.

He extended the same message to political leaders, having worked very closely with elected officials in the past, when Pickering served in various boards and organizations across the state of California, his hometown, in the United States of America.

Pickering understood the level of responsibility that people who chose to enter public service are dealing with on a daily basis, as they have to balance competing interests, and there’s only so much resources to tap at their disposal in response to enormous demands.

“Continue to rely upon the people around you for wisdom and good advice. I’d say that goes for all leaders, not just elected officials, but I love to talk to newly elected people and hear their heart for just the people that put them into office,” he said.

“The more seasoned elected officials know how to get things done, and they’re always looking for the younger elected and the more energetic people to come alongside them… You’re getting new ideas, fresh blood, and you need both… So, just continue to seek, to sharpen your saw, too,” Pickering added.

Servant leaders know when to ask for help

Meanwhile, for church leaders or those who work for faith-based organizations, Pickering highly encouraged them to pay close attention to their family life, too. It is important to keep that in mind while also fulfilling the mission of their ministry.

“It’s a tough job to be a pastor, to be in ministry,” the LLJ leader said. “Because so many times, the call on our heart is to go serve others, and the real people that get left behind are the people setting the dinner table without us because we’re out saving the world yet losing our family,” he explained.

To avoid this, Pickering advised pastors or people who serve in non-government organizations (NGO) to work with individuals that complement their weak suits or help them overcome their blind spots, so to speak, “and then trust the people that you surround yourself with.”

“I got to tell you, I sleep much better at night knowing that I have a board that trusts me and there are board members that I trust… You have to be willing to ask for help, too. Every leader needs to be able to ask for help,” the LLJ chief noted.

To the younger generations, Pickering said it warms his heart, knowing that many of them are open to the idea of servant leadership and are actually looking for ways to contribute or give back to society and help people in less fortunate circumstances.

“There’s so much knowledge and information out there and it excites me to see young people, [who] want to serve others that are saying, you know, it’s not all about them, it’s not all about making money or being famous,” he noted.

“It’s more about having an experience and life alongside other people and experiencing life in a positive way… Because that’s really what Jesus was about. He came to serve and He came to love and He came to save… So, to see young people out there with a heart for other people, it’s wonderful,” Pickering said.

Citing his experience, Pickering shared that younger people appreciate it when those who are much older would extend genuine care about them as they navigate their own journey in life. This is what his wife Dawn, a college professor and LLJ ambassador, often does when she interacts with her students.

“No matter how many students she (Dawn) has, she likes to have a cup of coffee with them in the cafeteria one at a time, and she asks them about their life, where they’re at in their life… They respond to that so incredibly well just like you and I would,” the leadership expert told Joaquin.

“So, sit down and take interest in young people around you, and they really are smart. They are paying attention… When they realize that you care about them, they’ll follow you almost anywhere because too many people don’t care, and they can sense that immediately,” Pickering advised.

LLJ as a global organization that provides leadership training opportunities for people of all ages incorporates the same approach. At the core of its mission is to create a “cascading effect” on the benefits of servant leadership.

“We work with private companies, NGOs, ministry organizations. We come alongside and our goal is not to take anybody over… Our goal is to train you, so that you can work with your people and be more productive, have a happier workforce, and pull in the same direction,” Pickering said.

Pickering is currently in Manila to conduct a learning session under “The Heart of a Leader” program this Thursday, Nov. 2, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the office of the Breakthrough Leadership Management Consultancy, Inc. in Makati City.

The event is part of the 20th anniversary celebration of the LLJ movement in the Philippines. To stay updated and informed about other related activities of the organization, you may follow the LLJ Philippines on Facebook.

Watch the full episode of “Breakthrough with Boris Joaquin” here: