January 18, 2018

Servant Leadership: The difference between “Service” and “Serve Us!”

Dave Kelly - Pitching in at Limestone College

Dave Kelly pitching in at Limestone College

After doing three service-oriented training programs over the past few weeks, two things that I keep encountering prompted me to write this post:

1. One of the advisors told me… “I just trained my orientation leaders on Monday and when I mentioned the term ‘servant leadership,’ none of them knew what it meant!”

2. “When we talk to students about getting involved as a student leader, the question we hear most often is ‘What’s in it for me?'” — I hear this one from student advisors all over the country – the classic WIIFM!

So what is servant leadership and why do we want our student leaders to be ‘servant leaders’ instead of just running our campus organizations? In my opinion, campus leadership is not asking yourself “What’s in it for me?” but asking “What’s in it for everybody else?” It’s about working with others and helping them to develop their abilities and talents through service.

A servant leader is simply someone who serves first, and is recognized as a leader by others either formally or informally. By taking this approach, you’ll find that people are willing to let you lead them because you have served them first. It’s an approach that works a lot better than “Okay guys, I’m in charge!” That’s the difference between SERVICE – where it’s about serving others – and SERVE US – where you think it’s about serving you!

I don’t just preach this, I practice it as well. If there’s a service project going on on the campuses I visit, I always try to roll up my sleeves and pitch in BEFORE my training session. I’m there to show not just tell. The student leaders then graciously allow me to lead them in the training – because they know I cared enough to serve them first.

In doing my leadership training with students and advisors all across the country, I’ve come up with about 14 key attributes of a good servant leader that I like to share with them. Here are three of them that everyone considering a leadership role should take into account.

1. Be a good listener

As a servant leader you have to be interested in what other peole have to say. They will tell you their dreams, their ideas, their goals, their fears and many more things that you can respond to in an effort to serve them. By really listening to the people you lead you can encourage them to take on risks and responsibilities, and execute ideas and projects that they might not have otherwise because they are afraid to fail. The reality is that they will make mistakes and have failures among their successes – and you can encourage them to step up anyway and learn from it all. We’ve all heard that often you have to learn to “read between the lines” but as a good servant leader you should learn to “hear between the words!” People are often saying much more than you can hear – unless you listen with a servant’s ear.

2. Put others above yourself

When you begin to think and lead from the perspective of getting others what they want before getting what you want you’ll find that your team and your organization will be more successful. You’ll also find that as a leader you’ll get more support from all sides because everyone involved will realize that it’s not just all about one person. It’s about the group, the team, the membership and the people you were put in charge to serve.

3. Be a responsible steward

As a student leader, you have been give stewardship over more than you might think – your position, the resources of the organization and even of your school, the people you are charged to lead and benefit, the places and things associated with you organization’s activities,and even the history and legacy of your organization and its programs. They have all been entrusted to you to lead with integrity and with a servants heart and in a way that will best serve the needs of everyone. I encourage you to take that charge very seriously and be a good steward of everything that is given to you as a leader.

Dave Kelly serving at Cuyahoga Community College


About the Author: Dave "Gonzo" Kelly (64 Posts)

Dave Kelly is the leading authority on student leadership and community service on college campuses today. As a professional trainer, motivator, and servant leader, Dave is an expert on all aspects of running and leading campus organizations and developing the character of a servant leader. Dave has 20+ years training leaders and advisors from student government associations, campus activities boards and campus clubs of every kind on organizational leadership and community service projects. He has trained students and advisors at more than 150 different colleges and universities and is the national coordinator for the APCA Serves! Initiative by the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities.

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  1. Katie Jones says:

    This is an interesting article with great advice.

These people are talking about us...

  1. […] service. So I found this article on a blog about what service is. The title of the article is The difference between “Service” and “Serve Us!”. It is a short article, but it has some good stuff. The first topic he talks about is that the […]

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