In a narcissistic Western culture, the idea of serving others is often painted as selling out, not being true to yourself, or being “codependent.” While independence is important, we’ve forgotten the value of service.
Sometimes, yes, we can put other people’s needs above our own in ways that aren’t totally healthy. But that’s not what servant leadership is about. Servant leadership doesn’t come out of a place of need or desperation to make someone else love us. Nor is it about “fixing” another person who doesn’t want our help.
What differentiates codependency vs. servant leadership is in part the target. Codependency is usually related to clinging emotionally to people close to us. Servant leadership sees a bigger picture – helping humanity.
Much of self-help literature involves visualizing what is best for the individual: A new house, or a financial windfall. “Manifest your dreams!” they say.
Servant leadership doesn’t negate following your passion or achieving your own personal success. However, the idea behind servant leadership is that you build your life around the idea of serving others. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to give up everything and go move to a third world country to help the poor.
You might have the same corporate job, with a good salary, but when you view that job from the lens of servant leadership, your focus is on helping others rather than just climbing the ladder of success. Your customers are people you are helping with your products, not just dollar signs to be taken advantage of.
Servant leadership can be done in small ways. Have you ever gone into a bathroom with paper towels all over the floor? Maybe you could pick up the paper towels, rather than leaving them there for the janitor to get later.
Servant leadership can be inspiring and motivating. It gives you a much bigger “why” than just doing things for your own self-gratification.