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The Biggest Obstacle to Improving Your Leadership Can Be Removed by Asking This 1 Question

What does it take to be a truly great leader? Ask yourself another, much more important question.

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BY Marcel Schwantes - 01 Dec 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

If you're in management, you've probably sat through a workshop or two or read plenty of books on how to lead others. For the most part, the focus is to change unwanted behaviors and the methods employed are external and "flavor of the month."

Yet to learn lasting and effective principles of leadership that will move mountains, change starts on the inside because leadership is a heart matter. Truth is, if the heart is not right, your leadership isn't going to be right.

So what does the heart of a true leader look like on the inside? Well, to answer that question, let me pose you the question you came here for, the one question that should be the catalyst for elevating your leadership skills moving forward:

Are you a self-serving leader or a servant leader?

The reason I'm asking the question is because, when you answer it with brutal honesty, it will reveal your true intent as a leader.

The Clear Difference

The difference between the two should be plainly obvious, but here are a few hints to put the nail on the coffin of your uncertainty.

The former has a heart motivated by self-interest, where status, position, profit/money, agenda, results, recognition, power, actions and decisions are "all about me." The latter has a heart motivated by "other"-interest, where other people's needs are placed ahead of his or her own because "it's not about me."

One is driven by ego and the overarching life philosophy of "he who dies with the most toys wins." The other is driven by service and the overarching life philosophy of "how many lives can I impact for the better before I die?"

One will protect his or her own cause and promote ambitions that only benefit him or her. The other protects the mission and values of the business or organization, and is inspired by a calling or higher purpose that benefits others and makes the world a better place.

3 Current Hallmarks of the Servant Leader

OK, I think you get the picture by now, philosophically speaking. But in practicality, if you're bringing this down to ground level and making direct applications for your own leadership, there are three distinct hallmarks that separate the servant leader from the self-serving leader.

1. The Way Feedback is Viewed and Handled

Because self-serving leaders spend the majority of their time protecting their image, assets or reputation, and advancing their selfish ambitions, feedback is deemed a threat to their power, self-worth and position, especially if it's the negative type. That's why you'll see such leaders vehemently in opposition, denial, or reacting fearfully and defensively, as is often the case with the current POTUS.

Servant leaders, on the other hand, view feedback as a gift to improve upon their leadership so they can serve others and their mission better. They value truth and honesty and diverse perspectives for bettering themselves, their businesses, and the causes they are stewarding. Even when feedback is negative, it prompts an exercise in curious exploration to find out where things went wrong, so that it doesn't happen again.

2. The Passing of the Torch

Self-serving leaders have no reference point when it comes to building up other leaders to take over and move the organization forward in their absence. Because their only motive is the protection and promotion of self during their season of glory, they fail miserably in grooming other leaders to take their place or the business forward.

Servant leaders are looking into the future to sustain the business or mission by asking, "Whom on my team do I need to identify and develop as future leaders to carry the torch after my season of leadership is over?" They ensure that a successor generation is in place, equipped and ready to roll when seasons change.

3. The Way to Handle People and Emotions

Self serving leaders are too busy reacting to people and caught up situational dramas where they're typically the main character. Since toxic fear/insecurity and false pride operate in tandem to protect their own self-interest, it hijacks their thinking and potential for healthy relationships.

Servant leaders don't react to people or situations, they respond to them. They respond by being quick to listen and understand, slow to anger, and even slower to judge. When things go south fast, servant leaders apply self-awareness and won't get riled up or let their emotions sabotage their thought-process; they take a step back, assess what happened, and get clarity before their next move. Whatever that next move is, integrity dictates it's out of a desire to end conflict, help others and restore things back to its peaceful, productive state.