The Minimalist Leader: Servant Leadership

The human instinct is to gain power – and keep it. In the striving for power, and fighting to maintain it, leaders often forget what the main purpose of leadership is. Servant Leadership is the minimalist approach to leadership; the only guidelines are as follows:

Leadership isn’t about gaining and holding power, except as it helps the people who follow them.

The only thing that separates the servant leader from a follower is that concept. The leader leads, and the follower follows – pretty much everyone does both, in varying levels at some point in their life, and the prevailing principle is that:

1. The leader has a goal that is common to the followers: He has either already achieved that goal, or is further along the path than the rest.
2. The followers follow because the leader is able to help them achieve the goal that they share: Once this is realized as the primary purpose of leadership, it becomes easier to understand why the characteristics of Servant Leadership are so effective.

5 Attributes of Servant Leadership

Source: David Spender on Flickr.

King Arthur’s Round Table: A Great Example of Servant Leadership. Source: David Spender on Flickr.

The 5 main attributes of servant leadership are:

1. Selflessness: The primary goal is to serve others first. The moment the servant leader serves themselves first, they are operating under a different code that falls far outside of the principles of Servant Leadership.
2. Effective Listening: Every type of leader knows that listening is important, but the way they listen is what distinguishes servant leadership from other styles. They listen with the goal of a servant: to help, assist, and actualize. When servant leaders listen, they hear problems that they want to help the people solve, and once that problem or issue is defined, they set out to help resolve it.
3. Strong Communication: Because the servant leader’s goal is not to promote their own selfish agenda, the natural response to their communication is favorable and effective. When they communicate, they reveal their empathy for their followers, and keep their focus on developing their ability to achieve their goals.
4. Ability to Encourage: An effective servant leader understands the power of motivation and morale. In the helping and development of their followers, they allocate time to encouraging the people in their activity, ensuring they stay far from discouragement, which is one of the primary inhibitors of productivity.
5. Accountability: The goals of these leaders are to encourage, promote, develop, build up the skills of their followers, so there is shifting of blame or responsibility to save face. They are able to take full accountability for their actions and the actions of the team.

Each of the leadership attributes above are vital to this style of leadership, and the merging of the 5 characteristics help answer the question, “What is servant leadership?”

But how does Servant Leadership tie into the more heavily researched leadership styles mentioned in the overview? Does Servant Leadership fit into the modern styles of leadership?

Servant Leadership in the Modern World

Although it can be easy for many to assume that Servant Leadership is the only style of leadership that should be pursued, the fact is:

Every modern style of leadership can be conducted under the overall principles of Servant Leadership. It has more to do with the mindset of the leader than anything.

If a leader puts his or her own agenda ahead of the followers, the mindset is not that of a servant leader. If the main focus is putting the group/team first – that is servant leadership. When a leader operates without the above characteristics, they are pursuing an agenda entirely separate from the goal of the servant leader.

So the transactional leader is just as able as the transformational leader to operate in servant leadership, and the autocratic as much as the participative, and the laissez faire as much as the others.

The determining factor is the leader’s prevailing mindset in response to the following question:

“Is my focus on helping myself, or others?”

The key word in the question above is focus. The question is not “Am I helping my self, or others?” because there is relationship between the servant leader and his or her followers, and the most important factor of a relationship is that it is mutually beneficial.

So one point I want to make sure I don’t leave out is that the servant leader typically receives a benefit equal to our greater than what he or she gives, despite of (and because of) their selfless mindset. The received benefits vary, and often include personal fulfillment, recognition, achievement of personal goals (usually as they line up with their follower’s goals), and many others.

The goal of the Servant Leader is highly minimalistic: To help others achieve their full potential.

Although Servant Leadership is a relatively underrated style of leadership, I believe that it’s by far the best, and really is the only true form of leadership – everything else is just management.


Leadership vs Management: What is a Leader, Really?


What is Leadership?

Are you good at something? Gather a tribe of like-minded people and help them realize their potential in that area you excel in.

We all need to be a part of some form of community; it’s woven into our genes and coiled into the strings of our DNA.

Should everyone try to lead their community? No, not everyone wants to, and not everyone is able to be a leader – but everyone should  lead at some point or an other (We’ll revisit this later).

The Devolving of Lifestyle and Leadership

Over the course of time leadership has devolved in a sense. The rich and fulfilling lifestyle of variety and craftsmanship (think Leonardo da Vinci and other Renaissance Men) has devolved into the insect-like specialization of assembly lines, factory work, and mouse-poking, cubicle-bound, nerdanderthals (see what I did there?).

Simultaneously, leadership has taken a similar course, devolving from the dynamic, transformational leadership of the past to the primordial, monkey-like operations of the modern manager. Am I saying there are no true leaders today? Kind of.  Think about it, how many bosses have you had that you can say without a doubt in your mind were great leaders? I can count on one finger the number of bosses that I considered a great leader. But more importantly, why is this true?

Leadership vs Management – What’s the Difference?

The typical modern leader is a transactional manager. They say ‘Do this, and that’ and people do it because they respect their title. And that is one of the fundamental differences between the manager and a true leader – the manager manages transaction, and the leader transforms people after earning respect.

Leaders earn their position (Note: when I say position I am referring to the position of respect they earn, not their given title) by:

1.     Excelling in a skill or in multiple arenas, thus earning the respect of potential followers.

2.     Sharing what they know to help others gain their ability.

3.     Leading the followers toward a common goal during the process.

Look at every great leader from the past and you notice that trend – they gathered people who wanted to go where they were going, and get what they were getting.

They were able to do this by excelling at something.

Generals were respected and followed because of strategic brilliance. Peaceful leaders were respected and followed for their irreproachable morals and noble ideals. Revolutionary leaders (and often dictators) solidified their position through brave demonstration and courageous acts that helped deliver an oppressed group of people. All leaders excel at something, and help others with their abilities.


Image Credit (Originally uploaded by rajkumar1220)

Human Capital Management: Thomas Edison


Case Study: Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison was a genius in the realm of human capital management. His team of muckers - case and point.

Source: Cea on Flickr

Thomas Edison,  Human Capital Genius

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

Thomas Edison is regarded by many as a remarkable inventor, having produced massive volumes of the most innovative creations science had ever seen at the time. He broke the world record for patents, holding 1,093 patents. Although his most well known accomplishments are of course, the electric light bulb and the phonogram, he also invented the electrical vote recorder, carbon microphone, electricity distribution system, stock ticker, kinetoscope, kinetograph, light sockets, safety fuses, and a host of other break-through inventions.

What many people don’t know is that he never would have broken the patent record, and would not likely have seen any success if it wasn’t for the work of the people he gathered around him.  His genius was not in his remarkable ability to invent and create, but in his eye for talent, and his ability to exploit the talent that others had looked over.

Source: ellenm1 on Flickr


Edison’s Human Capital: The Muckers

“We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work”

By 1876, the 29 year old Edison had gathered a group of bright young inventors, many of them fresh out of college. He called them “Muckers”, a term of endearment some would say, although the term was generally used to describe people who did the dirty work – the hard labor, tedious research, or the weeks and months of invention testing they conducted for menial wages.

Edison depended on this team to develop ideas – some from him, and most from them – the most notable of the team being the Serbian mastermind Nikola Tesla. The Muckers worked long and back breaking hours – 50 to 60 hours a week, with only Sunday off. These hours were often extended if Edison needed work finished by a certain deadline.

Despite being a harsh and sarcastic taskmaster, Edison typically worked the same hours as the rest of them, and often took on more.

Edison was able to increase his status to permanence through the work of his young and undervalued team of Muckers – by managing multiple teams of talented inventors, he was able to duplicate himself many times over. This team of Muckers was able to work on several inventions simultaneously, unlike the other inventors of his day, who labored alone on one invention at a time.

The duplication process helps you strengthen your ability through proper human management and  the power of numbers.

Source: YIM Hafiz on Flickr


Duplicate Yourself by Gathering Extensions of Yourself

“Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”

While Edison would probably have put himself in the ‘five percent’, he was far from the first person to think to duplicate himself.

Every great leader in history has relied heavily on the people they surrounded themselves with. Think about the man who conquered the world. How much of the world would Alexander the Great have conquered without his soldiers? How far in his campaign would he have ridden with no army behind him?

So the question is not whether or not to duplicate yourself, but how to:

1.    Duplicate yourself with an undervalued team: You need to provide something of value to gather talent; nothing is ever free. Edison knew that hiring proven talent would cost him dearly – fresh and unproven inventors would be honored to work for an already established inventor for next to nothing. Learn to spot talent in the crowd of undervalued, unproven people. They’re everywhere – in colleges, universities, in third world countries – the list goes on, but the key is to separate value from average.

2.    Work in the way you expect your followers to: Edison worked at least as much as his employees did. In his own words: “Personally, I enjoy working about 18 hours a day. Besides the short catnaps I take each day, I average about four to five hours of sleep per night.” It’s nearly impossible for people work harder than their leader, and they will look to you for the benchmark. Pursue personal excellence before you expect it from others.

3.    Use other people’s talent to cover your weak spots: Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Be sure to flaunt your strengths, but in the areas you are weak, find people who can make up for that flaw, and set the standards high – as long as they see that quality of work in you’re area of expertise, it doesn’t matter that they are better than you in their specific skill. Edison had many weaknesses. He had little education, poor financial acumen, and was actually considered quite dull by all of his schoolteachers. He covered over these weaknesses by finding business partners who knew how to handle money, hiring highly educated inventors straight out of college, and working harder and longer than the rest in his own capacities.

4.    Take most of the credit: No one likes when someone else gets the credit they deserve, but it has become an accepted part of our culture. Make sure to give each person credit where it’s due, but do this internally (within your organization). Externally you need to take the credit, after all it was you who gathered the talent and organized it to begin with. People are happy with recognition within the organization, especially when it translates into some form of external value (something they can put on a resume, a “High Excellence and Achievement Award” for example). Just make sure most of the external credit is heaped on you. This is what set Edison apart from the rest – he organized the Muckers and demanded excellence. When they gave it, he took the credit.

The main concept we can learn from Edison is how to duplicate our efforts through the use of human capital. According to Karl Marx, this is what set the Elite of society apart from the Common – their exploitation of human capital for their own benefit – the Proletariat masses support the success and riches of the Bourgeois; the Elite.  It’s a harsh example that can be implemented in less of a cruel mindset, but it’s an essential truth about power that’s hard to deny.

Transformational Leadership: Hannibal Barca


Case Study: The Transformational Leadership of Hannibal Barca

General Hannibal Barca, a Transformational Leader

“I will either find a way, or make one.”

Hannibal Barca was a Carthaginian General known for the ingenuity of his military strategy, and the effect of transformational leadership he had on his men. Despite a vastly outnumbered army, he consistently defeated Rome at its peak of power, throughout the stages of the second Punic War, remaining undefeated until the Battle of Zama.

At the Battle of Cannae he decimated over 70,000 of Rome’s elite, taking the rest captive. In this battle his small mercenary army was half the size of Rome’s.

Modern military strategists still marvel at Hannibal’s leadership and strategy; his name litters ancient texts and he’s regarded as one of the greatest generals who ever lived. But what was his secret? What ability did he have that propelled him to the pinnacle of leadership?


“Brainwash” Yourself to Fulfill Your Vision

“Many things which nature makes difficult become easy to the man who uses his brains.”

Hannibal’s father passionately hated Rome, to the point that he made his son swear an oath on an altar to hate Rome and to use steel and fire to destroy it. This was the beginning of his cult-like mindset.

Individuals like Hannibal – Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Nicola Tesla – anyone who ever achieved anything of lasting importance – were staunch extremists. They were uncompromising, unbreakable, and overachieving.

And it all started in their minds – they literally brainwashed themselves into believing in their own personal vision. They brainwashed themselves – and some of them, like Hannibal, were taught to be zealots from an early age.

Hannibal had a life calling, and after 17 years of military training, he set out to accomplish his giant vision to conquer Rome. During these years he filled his mind with strategy, thoughts, emotions, and goals that revolved around the annihilation of Rome. He literally brainwashed himself.

Hannibal had direction. He had guts, strength of mind, and determination. But there are a lot of people with determination and direction – but how many of them can say that they were able to win the minds of thousands, and convince them that their vision was worth risking their life for?

How did he command so much respect from these men? How did he convince them to share his vision and pursue it with their lives?

He believed in his vision, and was able to help them realize their own vision through his own.

The men he commanded were mercenaries. Nations rarely hire mercenaries these days because they lack loyalty – they fight for money, not for their country, or their organization. They don’t fight because of patriotism or for valor – they fight for themselves, and when push comes to bullets whizzing by their heads, many of them resort to self-preservation. It’s clear that mercenary troops can be used effectively, but not without leaders like Hannibal. He inspired them. He instilled an undying loyalty in their hearts and minds.

They followed him across the sea, and through the nearly impassable mountain trails of the Alps, to risk their lives against the most elite and powerful  army of that age.

They followed him against armies twice their size – and they won.


Use Your Vision to Gather a Loyal Following

“I am endeavoring that others, in their turn, will be obliged to yield to my good fortune, and my valor.”

Humans are hardwired to belong to a community, and have an innate desire to believe in something or someone.

Like Hannibal, if you have a life vision you will inevitably attract a group of loyal followers, and in order to maintain your following, you have to integrate these tactics for success:

  1. Brainwash yourself: You have to believe your message. Dogs smell fear and humans sense deceit. Some people can be tricked into believing a lie, but the best and the brightest only follow what they sense is truth. Learn more about brainwashing yourself, and the importance of memory in the process.
  2. Share your vision properly: If you believe in your goals without doubting, and share those goals with people to show your purpose and direction, they will follow. But the vision you share should be different from your own personal vision. People have their own goals and purpose – they will only follow you if they can fulfill those goals through your goals. Don’t lie about your goal, but only voice the goals within your vision that are relevant to your followers.
  3. Live and act exactly how you want your following to: Hannibal didn’t just talk about his vision – he lived it. He slept in the dirt with his soldiers, wore the same clothes that they did, and ate the same food.
  4. Do more than your followers: People can only take orders for so long. They want to follow leaders that are going somewhere they want to be. Be careful to perform to a higher standard you’re your followers; if you’re unable to do this, at very least make the impression that you are. Either way they need to see that the person they have chosen to follow is more dedicated than they are – otherwise they’ll follow someone else. For the mercenary soldiers this would have meant following the comfort of a different route – the route back home to safety, women, and luxury.
  5. Get off your high horse: Hannibal not only slept in the same field and ate the same food as his men – he made a point of wearing clothes that put him on the same level as his men. He didn’t wear a crown, or a rank insignia – he communicated to his followers that he was taking part in their vision. If your goal in leading is to gain power or recognition that you can hold over those around you, get a grip on yourself and understand that no one will follow this type of mindset. Don’t push your vision, instead show that you are a vital part of their vision. The most powerful key of leadership is in this subtle form of communication. People don’t want to be controlled – the more the horse feels the bit, the more he wants to spit it out.

The main takeaway of this case study is to develop your own vision to the point that you can believe nothing else, then gather a following of like-minded people who can fulfill their own purpose through yours. In leading this group, you must be able to demonstrate your value as a leader by showing that you’re vital in the fulfillment of their vision – and that you’re willing to do everything they do and more to accomplish those goals – without getting on a high horse and playing chief; that’s what transformational leaders do.


Like Hannibal’s Leadership? Read his thoughts and sayings in “Quotes of Hannibal Barca”!

How to Build a Community Around Yourself: Best Practices


Community Building 101

You can call it a network, organization, union, or whatever resounds best in your head – but in the end they’re all some form of community. Man has always formed communities. Some become power-mongering ruthless nations of war, and some become centers of enlightenment and peace.

Some communities grow into nations with governments, constitutions, and political parties, while others operate with little structure or law, still maintaining a clear voice and powerful agenda. The more secretive communities and subcultures prefer to operate in silence, keeping their motives and actions in the dark.

Humans are clearly at the top of the chain, but somehow, wolves are able to maintain a stronger  sense of community, we’ll discuss that later on in this article.

Whatever your style is, if you want to build a community, there are a few things you should keep in mind.


Formulate Your Personal Vision

  • Create a goal: Not a set of tasks, but a life goal, a vision. It should reflect a universal, comprehensive purpose. What is your purpose?
  • Give it clear structure: This structure is for your own organization, which is powerful. Don’t push this structure onto your followers or they will resent you. Instead guide them subtly by your own actions. If they agree with your destination, they will follow.
  • Believe in it: The vision is the foundation, if it’s weak, it’ll crumble and take down everything else with it. You have to believe and build your own source of motivation – read more about that in “The Science of Motivation”.


Get Their Attention

  • Words are powerful: Use them sparingly and wisely. Simply leading by example doesn’t cut it – you have to communicate that you want to help. Pay attention to the wording – you want to help. That’s what people are looking for. Not a manager, not a CEO, not a business executive. Those are for profit building companies, not communities.
  • Make your vision relevant: People don’t follow other people’s visions, they follow their own. Keep your personal vision specific, but in communication, make it vague enough for individuals to form their own vision within the format you lay out.
  • Give direction: That doesn’t mean bark orders. Leaders are like maps, people look to them to get where they want to go. Find people who want to go where you are going, then show them how to get there.
  • Make a Promise: Promises need to be fulfilled, or your community will become disillusioned. Start with small, clear promises that you know you can follow through on, and do it. Each fulfilled promise will build trust and credibility.


Be Authentic and Show it Through Action

  • Communicate simply, but with passion: Don’t try to impress people, that will come off inhuman and unauthentic – speak like you are in a normal conversation with your friends, and speak what you know is the truth.
  • Respond: To questions, concerns, and feedback they have for you quickly and genuinely. This shows that you think they are important (As well you should, they’re your community).
  • Above all, take action: to accomplish your communities goals, and make sure everyone sees it.


Be Vulnerable

Being vulnerable is a hard thing for some of us. But very necessary. Think about a pack of wolves – their community is tightly knit. It is impenetrable, dutifully loyal, and ordered. They have stronger communities than humans because of the vulnerability they show. Think about it. When a wolf rolls on its back to submit to the Alpha, it is exposing its most vital parts – its belly, its groin, its throat. Its saying ‘I’m trusting you with my life – you can kill me easily right now, but I trust you not to’. And when the other wolf refrains from doing the other wolf in, a vital reinforcement of trust and loyalty takes place.

You can only receive the level of vulnerability you show. That’s not necessarily to say you need to entrust your life to people, unless that’s what you expect from them. Vulnerability breeds trust. Trust and Loyalty is the glue that holds your community together.