The 5th law from John Maxwell’s classic book ‘The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership’ states that leaders add value by serving others. That sounds so obvious and simple, but in a world that emphasises titles and position,  it is so easily overlooked.

helping-hand4 2Service itself is a widely used word in society. Unfortunately, because it is so widely used there can be a degree of cynicism about it. Can leaders really be guided by principles of service and not just self-interest? Where do I find the inner strength and resources to serve others and not be self-seeking?

If we are serious about making a difference in our endeavours , then the key issue is not how far we advance ourselves, but rather how far we can help others move forward in their lives. Or to put it even more bluntly, are you making things better or worse for the people around you? It is not something that we very often consciously think about, but if you cannot give some evidence of making things better for those around you, then you are probably not doing so and are likely to be actually subtracting from them in some way.

Ways to bring about change through others include:

Force –  the person has no choice.

Intimidation – the person is pushed.

Manipulation – the person is coerced.

Exchange – the person trades something for something else.

Persuasion – the person is convinced.

Motivation – the person willingly wants to act.

Honour – the person is honoured by the leader and so responds accordingly.

The first 3 ways (force, intimidation and manipulation) are self-seeking. Exchange, which in most cases is in the form of a pay cheque, has its place, but will only go so far. As someone has said, you can buy someone’s hand, but not their heart. It is true service that ultimately persuades, motivates and gives honour. We use the phrase servant leader to describe such a person.

Here is how Martin Luther King put it:

“Everybody can be great…. because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

So how do we practically serve others by adding value?

1. By truly valuing others in the first place.

Unless I see you as intrinsically valuable  I will not want to serve you. How can I ensure I am nor faking this or being insincere? This is not about making others feeling they are important as much as believing in your heart that they are important. As a disciple of Christ I am continually reminded that because of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice every individual has intrinsic worth. (For more on this see the post entitled A Day that Changed the World.)

2. By making ourselves more valuable to others.

The simple truth is that you cannot give what you do not have. What do you have in terms of skills and experience that can be of benefit to others? If it is something that has cost you in terms of time or resources or even pain or difficulty, that can be of enormous service to others. The more intentional you are about this then the more you will have to offer others.

3. By knowing and relating to what others value.

How can I know what you value? Only by getting along side you and listening to you. I need to see the world through your eyes and your frame of reference and not just my own. We talked about that in the post on 5 levels of listening.

4. By doing things that God values.

If I truly see you and the world the way God does (with compassion and your ultimate good in mind) then I will be less preoccupied with my own self-interest and selfish desires. One powerful way to develop that is to make it a habit to secretly do small acts of service for others.

In many ways it is much easier to talk about a servant attitude than to live with such an attitude. In church circles it is often thought a complement to be called ‘a servant of Christ’. However, when I am really treated like a servant, when I am told to do something that seems beneath me or trivial, when I am  overlooked or ignored then my true attitude comes out! Being called a servant does not feel as nice as actually being treated like one!

A question for self-reflection: in situations where you are required to serve others needs, how do you respond?

How does the law of addition impact your life?

What suggestions do you have for adding value to others through service?

Please add your suggestions and comments below.