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“Our leaders' power centered authoritarian leadership style no longer seems to be working. I think we are in a leadership crisis. I feel I should do something! How do I relate the values of servant leadership to inspire our organization? ” ~ Judy Madison**

In fact Robert Greenleaf stewed with this sentiment for 11 years before publishing seminal essays on this very subject. In his essay "Essentials of Servant Leadership" he writes, "The servant-leader is servant first... Becoming a servant-leader begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first... The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant first to make sure that other people's highest priority needs are being served."

Jack Killion has a true story about servant leadship and some practical recommendations about how to foster this type of leadership that gets others into the spotlight and enables the necessary growth of "leaders in waiting". Here's Jack.

I was at an event recently where the founder & CEO of a 25 year old, mid-size  PR firm was openly expressing her frustration at the fact that all of her clients want her to service their accounts personally. As a result she was being unsuccessful growing and increasing the value of her business. Being 60, this was becoming a real issue as she starts to think about selling her firm.

Her practice is primarily East Coast based but, at the high end, her accounts include Fortune 50 companies as well as some countries for example. I asked her if she had ever heard the term “servant leadership” and had ever thought about deliberately stepping outside the spot light. She said no.


The very best leaders I have ever witnessed consistently and methodically keep pushing their best people into the spotlight where they are clearly visible in a key, active leadership role among other employees, clients, suppliers, advisors and other strategic alliances.

Exceptional leaders know they do not have to be in the spotlight most or all of the time. They know one of their core responsibilities is to develop a winning team operating in a winning culture. “One man bands” seldom have a long life cycle.

How do you get others into the spotlight?

Here are few suggestions:


  • Take them to all or nearly all meetings with key clients and potential clients. Obviously prepare them ahead of time to take a leadership role in these meetings. It’s not enough that others come with you to these meetings. They have to actively participate in the agenda.
  • Have them handle the follow up with you being included with a CC.
  • Have them send proposals out under their name or jointly with your name.
  • Prepare the people who should be in the spotlight with the right training and coaching. Do they know how to network effectively, deliver high impact presentations, write compelling proposals and messages?
  • Help and encourage them to build their own leadership brand. Get them writing for leading publications, joining key industry organizations in a leadership role, delivering high visibility keynote addresses, having a rock solid Linkedin profile, joining high visibility boards (particularly with leading charities).


  • Include them in key internal meetings and give them a clear leadership role in the discussions.
  • Have them run some internal meetings that you miss on purpose.
  • Copy them clearly on important message that you send out.
  • Give them clear, visible responsibility for a big piece of the revenue and profit streams.
  • In multiple location organizations have them spend quality time visiting, learning their unique challenges and sharing best practices at all the locations.

Sharing the spotlight does not mean sharing it with just one or two people. In mid to large size organizations it means providing the opportunity to be in the spotlight with several people, all important members of the leadership team.

One caveat before you go making an effort to share the spotlight with others, make certain they want the spotlight. In a few cases I learned the person or people I wanted to position in this way just didn’t want that type of responsibility and pressure. They were good performers doing ”their job” but did not want to take on more of a leadership role.

The impact on the culture of an organization with a minimal ego leader willing to share the spotlight with the next generation of leaders in an organization can be powerful.

A good book to read regarding servant leadership is Dare to Serve – How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others by Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc.

The valuation of the company since Cheryl took over speaks for the power of servant leadership.



A message from the PeopleProductive team:

We're thrilled to have your interest in our work and we invite you to join our mission of creating work places where the people as well as the company, both flourish. We welcome your support and participation. To find out more about this just reach out to us here!"

**Judy Madison is a fictitious character that helps us think through challenges of HR transformation. Any resemblance of any HR professional is purely coincidental.


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