Tag Archives: servant-leadership

There’s Plenty of Room in this Market

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

-Charles Dickens

Last Thursday, I spoke as part of a panel discussion at the Association of Government Accountants (AGA) conference. I spoke about the role of leadership in management and my colleague, Dr. Maxwell Rollins, spoke about Servant Leadership. After we spoke, someone in the audience asked us to identify well-known servant leaders that everyone would recognize. That was tough. We could offer very few examples of well-known servant leaders. This question got me thinking.

On Saturday, I took my kids to church. They spent the morning making Christmas ornaments out of popsicle sticks and glitter. Then they put on a Christmas play for the senior citizens of the church. The play was exactly what you would expect from children. The acting was bad, the costumes were makeshift, and the sound was terrible, but the senior citizens in the audience loved it.

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After the Christmas play, we went caroling to shut-ins who could not get out to the Christmas luncheon to see the performance. All of the seniors, at Church or at their homes, received Christmas ornaments that the children created that morning.

It was Covey’s Win/Win scenario. The kids learned to serve; the seniors enjoyed the performance. More importantly, to the kids, service was enjoyable. They made crafts, they got to perform, and many talked about what a good feeling they had when they served others. My oldest daughter said that it felt like she got to be a missionary for a day.

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My Daughter’s Place of Service

Everyone could find a way to serve. My 5-year old was the youngest child in attendance. She was not the best ornament maker, and she did not have a speaking part in the play, but she found her place of service. Before I describe her place of service, let me describe her. If she was a movie character, she would be a minion. If she were a song, she would be Happy by Pharrell. If she was a color, she would be yellow. If she was made of food, she would be popcorn. If she were a puppy, she would be a Chihuahua. You get the picture.

She couldn’t do some of the jobs the older kids could do, but she was stationed as the first child to greet the senior citizens when they arrived at the Christmas Luncheon. Her job was to shout: “Welcome to the Christmas Party!” or “Merry Christmas!” when the seniors arrived. I don’t believe that any of the other children could do that job as effectively as she did. In spite of being the shortest child with the worst hand-eye coordination for crafts, she found a place where she could shine.

My Place of Service

I hate arts and crafts. I recognize that some people like them, and that is fine, but I could feel my batteries drain every time I stepped into the room where 22 kids were painting ornaments. So, I did my best to avoid the arts and crafts room, not by running away, but by serving every other need that was imaginable. I got more chairs when more kids unexpectedly showed up. I got glue from the supply cabinet when it was needed. I washed paint out of paint brushes, much to the relief of the instructor. I helped set up for the Christmas play. It was great. I completely avoided what I didn’t want to do by self-deploying into service.

It made me think about Jimmy Collins, the former president of Chick-Fil-A who succeeded the founder, Truett Cathy. In his book, Creative Followership, Collins explained:

My initial strategy when I went to work for Truett Cathy went something like this: ‘If I do the things Truett does not like to do, there might not be a limit to what he would be willing to pay me!’ Getting ahead means doing what the boss does not like to do.[i]

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That was it. I was doing things that needed to be done. In my context, there were people who were interested in working on arts and crafts (and God bless those people). I don’t care to compete with them. I struck out on my own to stake out a place where I could serve on my own terms.

Your Place of Service

And herein lies the lesson. While others are jockeying for position, elbowing each other for the plum assignments, the field of service is not crowded. There is plenty of room for those who make it their ambition to serve. In addition, you can often customize your service, focusing on your natural strengths. You can write your own ticket, serving in a way that suits you. And, in a ironic way, those who truly focus on service are often noticed for their willingness to step into the breach.

What About You?

It does not matter if we are talking about servant-leadership, servant-marketing, servant-customer service, servant-selling, or servant-shouting: “Welcome to the Christmas Party!” What is important is that you focus yourself on serving others. How can you serve others in ways not yet imagined?


[i] Collins, J. L. S. (2013). Creative followership: In the shadow of greatness. Decatur, GA: Looking Glass Books, Inc. (pp. 16-17).


-Darin Gerdes



Dr. Darin Gerdes is an Associate Professor of management in the School of Business at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on www.daringerdes.com are his own.

This post was originally created for Great Business Networking (GBN), a networking organization for business professionals where Dr. Gerdes is the Director of Education.


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The Key to Effective Teamwork

Do you remember when you had group projects in college?

Why You Hate Teamwork

You probably hated it because a number of your teammates coasted while you did all the work. Worse, all received the same grade for your efforts. You probably thought your teammates were just lazy or irresponsible, but this is a common phenomenon called social loafing in the business literature. In economics, it is called the free rider problem.


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Some students worked hard as others doodled. A couple found group project meetings to be the perfect opportunity to flirt with someone new. A few never even showed up to the group meeting. You remember. This is why you still don’t like teamwork.

In my textbook I discussed the phenomenon as follows:

“Social loafing is treason against the group, and the loafer is a leech who drains the group of resources without returning equivalent to the group.  In a classroom setting, a social loafer ought to receive no mercy from his professor or the group he lets down.”

-(The Bottom Line in Leadership and Management)

These strongly worded  lines were a warning to my students to play nice with others, but I have since found a better way.

Why You Will Love Teamwork Again

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know that I teach graduate students at Charleston Southern University. Last week I had one of those AHA moments that I relish.

After completing a particularly challenging class project, a student in her final semester mentioned in passing that this was her “best group project experience to date.” Remember, she was just about to graduate and she said that this was the best group experience she had.

Intrigued by the remark, I gave it some considerable thought.  Later and I suggested that “it was because you all came to it with the right attitude and spirit.” It was really that simple.

What was the Difference?

This was a class entitled Fundamentals of Leadership, and the very nature of the course forced students to think deeply about their motivations and attitudes. The were individually thinking about becoming the kind of leaders that others would want to follow. When they came together with servant-leadership foremost in their minds, they acted accordingly.

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

The “all chiefs and no indians” attitude disappeared. No one tried to play CEO of Group Project, Inc. Everyone showed up and pulled their own weight. They served  voluntarily, without cajoling each other to get the work done. A number of students even described the experience as “enjoyable.”

The parameters of the class project were no different than in other classes. Moreover, it was not because they were focused on the mission. There was no conscious effort on the part of anyone in the class to rally around a mission. The difference was that they each aspired to become the kind of  leader that they know they should be.

What about you? In your project teams, do your colleagues come to serve the group or do they try to do the least they can to get by? 

Wouldn’t this kind of attitude be refreshing in your office?

-Darin Gerdes

PS – There is no magic to this process. As the professor, I mold the discussion, but the core of this thinking comes from the books students read for class: Lead Like Jesus, The Steward Leader, The Leadership Challenge, and Leadership and Self-Deception. Incidentally, these are 4 of my Top Ten Leadership books.

Want to read more about excellence in teamwork? Read the related post:  What Navy SEALS Can Teach Us About Teamwork.


Dr. Gerdes is the Director of Graduate Programs in the School of Business at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on www.daringerdes.com are his own.


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