You Must Serve to be Great

You don’t have to be great to serve, but you must serve to be great. -Jon Gordon

Jon Gordon speaking - You don't have to be great to serve, but you have to serve to be great

If you want to be a great leader, you must serve. Jon Gordon got it right when he said this at the World LEADERS Conference. Service comes before greatness, but greatness is not a requirement to serve. I’ve said time and again, to lead you must serve because if you’re not serving others, you are self-serving and that’s not leadership.

Why Greatness Requires Service

Jon takes that view a step further: greatness requires service. How right that is. Here’s why:

1. Great results are achieved through the efforts of many. Nobody will follow you unless you serve.

2. People will go further, faster, harder and achieve more when they know you care. They know you care by your service.

3. Anything achieved for oneself is meaningful only to that person. Achievements for many are great to many. Achievements for many are only done through service.

Ways you can serve

So if greatness requires service, where do you begin? Here are some ideas:

1. Listen more: Hold more meetings for the team, fewer for yourself. Let them set the tone and raise issues that matter to them.

2. Be available: An open door policy from a leader who has no time is meaningless. Schedule time to get work done – not just for meetings. If necessary, schedule time to simply be there for your team. “Office hours” from college professors are a great example to consider.

3. Know your people: If you’re only interested in their professional results, they won’t be interested in your mission. Get to know your team on a more personal level – no, I’m not talking harassment. I mean, who they are outside of work, what are their passions, family interests and other activities?

Jon got it right and reminded us of another great leader, who once said:

Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve.  -Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Quote - Everybody can be great because anybody can serve

Question: What other ways do you serve your team and achieve great results?


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

2 thoughts on “You Must Serve to be Great”

  1. Great article Ben. Well said.

    I especially liked your point about listening more. One of the ways I serve my team is by actively working to relieve pain points they bring up during listening sessions. It is one thing to listen to frustrations, it is another thing to try and alleviate those frustrations. I believe as leaders we can help our team achieve great results by stepping in and removing blockades that are pointed out to us.

  2. Enjoyed your post. You wrote on ideas that I have thought about in my own blog. I believe one of the best ways a leader can serve is by just being a people person. Listening to others and allowing them to collaborate is an excellent way to promote an organization. Check out some of my ideas at my service learning blog for Carson-Newman University.

    Thank you,
    Stephen P

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