Interview with David McCuistion of Vanguard Organizational Leadership (VOL)

David McCuistion is a Modern Servant Leader subscriber and fellow Servant Leadership advocate. When I heard of his military background, Servant Leadership experience and his platform in Vanguard Organizational Leadership, I asked him for an interview. He kindly obliged, below…

David McCuistion from Vanguard Organizational LeadershipServant Leadership Questions and Answers

1. How do you define Servant Leadership?
2. Why do you advocate Servant Leadership?
3. What is the greatest objection to Servant Leadership you encounter?
4. What are the greatest challenges facing Servant leaders?
5. What are the greatest opportunities facing Servant leaders?
6. How did you learn of Servant Leadership?

Vanguard Organizational Leadership Questions and Answers

7. Tell me about Vanguard Organizational Leadership.
8. Your Tagline at VOL is “Putting a SPARK in Your Leaders.” Do you believe leaders today lack a Spark? What role does servant leadership play in creating that spark?
9. You call out the ability for Servant Leadership to promote growth that is sustainable for years. How is Servant Leadership different from other forms of leadership in this regard?
10. I noticed you have an interest in the Revolutionary War. What do you believe leaders today can learn from the Revolutionary War?
11. What has been your greatest challenge in convincing others of the benefits of servant leadership?
12. Are there any other questions you wish I’d asked?


David is a retired Navy Officer whose last job was managing and supervising Custodians and Security Monitors in the Custodial Services division of the Mukilteo School District in Everett, Washington.

David’s practiced servant leadership principles for over 20 years. As a teacher/instructor and public speaker, David has been conducting seminars on followership, leadership, goal-setting, creating vision, and mission and motto statements.

I especially like how David summarized his observations of servant leadership:

“McCuistion has observed and studied various leadership philosophies… finally resolving that Servant Leadership is the only method that improves the individual and the organization, elevating both to higher levels of achievement and growth—growth that is sustainable for years.”

Thank you, David, for your service to our country. Thank you for advocating servant leadership. And, of course, thank you for taking time to answer our questions.


1. How do you define Servant Leadership?

I define Servant Leadership as the practice of placing others before self in the organization. Servant Leaders, in the process of achieving organizational goals and objectives, recognize the value of all employees, who themselves are leaders in their organization. Servant Leaders focus on improving people under their charge as a means of improving the organization as a whole. Additionally, Servant Leaders lead from a moral base, establishing a moral authority upon which trust and confidence is built. Lastly, Servant Leadership involves a mentoring process to improve not only performance, but also the individual team member under the leaders mentorship. Following Servant Leadership practices as you build relationships with those you lead helps make them more autonomous, better employees and citizens, and empowers them to being more proactive in their work.

2. Why do you advocate Servant Leadership?

Servant Leadership provides the most “intrinsic worth” of all leadership methods. As Greenleaf wrote, there is a healing in the process of serving others. That healing is realized not only by the leader, but also by the led who feel that they are valued and respected as a person, and are valued for their professional expertise and contribution to the organization. In the process the self-esteem of the follower is enhanced.

Furthermore, my own personal experiences using Servant Leadership practices while in the Navy, while a high school teacher and from listening to school principals tell me about their servant approach in their schools has proven to me that it is the most effective leadership approach that is most productive in any organizational environment.

When I read about a Navy Captain and SEAL-team leader, which I also use in my presentations, stating that “the best leaders are Servant Leaders”, I am convinced it is the premier leadership approach.

On a recent flight on Southwest Airlines, I read in their magazine an article by the current CEO of Southwest, who stated they make it a practice of hiring people with a “Servants Heart.” What greater testimony to the greatness of Servant Leadership than from the leading airline company in business today, as well as from a leader in the most elite combat organization in the world.

3. What is the greatest objection to Servant Leadership?

Let me answer this with a story. I recently watched a daytime TV show in which one of the hosts read a letter written by New York Jets Quarterback and Christian Tim Tebow, who was describing some characteristics of an ideal wife. One of the characteristics he listed was a willingness to serve. The co-host responded with, “Oh, he wants a Hooter-girl”, which brought a huge laugh from the audience.

I think people object to the word Servant in Servant Leadership, mainly because they don’t understand the concept. I have also read that many CEOs don’t like the word Servant as a leadership style. My spouse tells me I need to call it something else. Coach Tony Dungy calls it “Mentor Leadership” and I think this is another way of looking at it.

When I do presentations at seminars and conferences, I always use a PowerPoint slide to explain what Servant Leadership isn’t, which means it is not servile behavior.

4. What are the greatest challenges facing Servant leaders?

I think the greatest challenge facing the adoption of Servant Leadership as your personal leadership focus is that one has to take the “ego” out of their positional authority and put others first. In my seminars I tell people, “It’s not about you” in your leadership, it’s about others and the organization.” People have to accept humility first, to become good Servant Leaders.

5. What are the greatest opportunities facing Servant leaders?

There are many of course. One of the “greatest” I feel is that Servant Leadership makes a difference in the lives of people. It makes them better personally, improves their loyalty to the organization because they feel they are valued as employees, and it reduces attrition, which in turn saves companies money.

6. How did you learn of Servant Leadership?

I first learned and heard the term “Servant Leadership” while finishing my Masters’ Degree in Organizational Leadership through Chapman University. One of the texts was Robert Greenleaf’s booklet The Servant Leader. I was hooked on the concept after reading his book. Then I read the book by Herman Hesse, Journey to the East, which is where Greenleaf first got his ideal of Servant Leadership. As I read those books, I realized that I had been practicing many of Greenleaf’s principles for many years, which extended back to my latter years in the Navy. I have over 25 leadership books in my library, some by Christian authors, and probably over one-third of them talk about various aspects of Servant Leadership.

7. Tell me about Vanguard Organizational Leadership.

Vanguard was not my first idea for a name for what I have planned. However, when searching for a website name, Vision to Reality Leadership was already in use in a lot of other sectors.

From my Navy experience and Navy Junior ROTC teaching, Vanguard came to mind. If you are at the vanguard of your organization, you are out front, in the lead of the rest of your group. Since I talk about subjects other than straight Servant Leadership, I added Organizational Leadership. Hence, Vanguard Organizational Leadership (VOL) became the identity for my pursuits.

8. Your Tagline at VOL is “Putting a SPARK in Your Leaders.” Do you believe leaders today lack a Spark? What role does servant leadership play in creating that spark?

I think many leaders have become stagnant in their leadership philosophy. I have been blessed after my seminars with many requests for my PowerPoint slides and my extended bibliography of leadership books so that they can further research the concept. I believe leaders want to do more than just lead, they want to make a difference in the lives of those and the organization in which they work. Servant Leadership is about “caring” and this provides the “Spark” they need to help show they care more than just through lip service. If I inspire someone to research Servant Leadership practices, who then adopt the practice, then I have fulfilled my mission.

I am not the only one attempting to “fire up” people about Servant Leadership, as you well know. And when I read statements that say, “Had I known about Servant Leadership before now, I would not have done some …………..” and similar phrases about their past leadership method and practices, I know I am doing the right thing.

9. You call out the ability for Servant Leadership to promote growth that is sustainable for years. How is Servant Leadership different from other forms of leadership in this regard?

No other form of leadership that I have observed, read about and seen in action — even Transformational Leadership — has the positive affect on people as does Servant Leadership. As stated previously, Servant Leadership is about people, about building relationships with people, about intrinsically valuing people to the extent of giving them the latitude and empowerment to make decisions in an organization. No other leadership philosophy involves employees in the policy-making process as does Servant Leadership. If followed from the heart, these qualities make it sustainable over the long-haul because they build loyalty in people who, through their being able to contribute and make a difference, take ownership in their company or organization.

Here are a couple examples:

A. At Mukilteo School District, I asked my custodial leadership for examples of a vision statement we could adopt for Custodial Services. I gave them the District Mission Statement to use in developing a vision statement. I received about ten inputs from my leadership. I did the same thing regarding a mission statement. After I received all their input, I called a meeting of my Head Custodian. Our quest was to establish a vision and mission statement for Custodial Services. After about two hours of discussion, we had developed as good Vision and Mission Statement. We also collectively approved the motto I had been using on all my supervisory correspondence, which says “Customer Service is Our Purpose, Quality Service is Our Goal.”

B. One of my Head Custodians asked to use one of my PowerPoint lessons to hold leadership training of her crew of nine custodians. Several others used some of the practices I exhibited in leading them.

This is what sustainability is about — your team adopting your leadership practices in their own leadership.

10. I noticed you have an interest in the Revolutionary War. What do you believe leaders today can learn from the Revolutionary War?

It is not so much that leaders can learn from the Revolutionary War as they can learn from the leadership of the Founding Fathers creating the United States upon the ideal of Liberty. No other country in the history of the world has been created using liberty as its foundational ideal.

I am a member of an organization called The Heroes of ’76, who foster and promote this ideal of liberty, the American Creed and our form of Government. We wear the Revolutionary War Uniform of many of the leaders during the Revolutionary — Washington, Adams, John Paul Jones, Samuel Adams and many others — when we do our Flag Building Programs, which talks about the History of the American Flag and its symbolic meanings of courage and valor (red), integrity and purity (white), and loyalty and reverence to God (blue).

The leaders during the Revolutionary War wanted to make Washington “King of the Colonies.” He refused because he said, “The “cause” was more important to him than becoming a King.” That “cause” was on the minds of our Founding Fathers and their “caring leadership” drove them to continue.

Having said all of the above, the lesson from the Revolutionary War for leaders could be that once you agree on a vision and/or mission (for the Founders it was a collaborative decision), keep the quest alive (which is another of my favorite sayings) and don’t let anything sway you from your intended purpose. Our Founding Fathers never faltered in this regard.

11. What has been your greatest challenge in convincing others of the benefits of servant leadership?

I would guess the major challenge was to get them to understand from my perspective through my teaching ability and enthusiasm about what I am teaching, that I have made it work in several environments over the past years of my career. While this seemed easy among those who knew me, at conferences it seemed more challenging. However, as I said above, the feedback I get, the many requests for more information, and the positive comments on critiques about my seminars insured me that my fears were unfounded.

My vision on all my seminars is that the members of the audience will seek out more information about Servant Leadership and the benefits from the use of the principles.

12. Are there any other questions you wish I’d asked?

At the end of my lessons, I also point out some of the practitioners of Servant Leadership, which adds some credibility. I intend to do further research on these companies to increase the number of examples in my presentations.

You didn’t ask, but the issue of morality and ethics is another area I broach in my lessons. I ask the audience who was the person who set the Servant Leadership example most? I always hear, “Jesus.” I talk about Plato, Immanuel Kant (Categorical Imperative), both of whom expressed the moralistic idea of doing what is right and best for the populace.


Picture of Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

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