career development

How can serving others help you become a better leader?


Valeria IgnatievaOct 15, 2018

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?

  • Martin Luther King

My working life began at 14, when I eagerly quit school to pursue a promising career at Hungry Jack's. Not sure if anyone remembers the tiny but busy Hungry Jack's on Flinders Street Station in Melbourne, now long gone…

Hungry Jack's had a strict policy on how long a burger could remain on the shelf before being sold. The limit was a few minutes and I made it my personal crusade to “rescue” each disqualified burger.

Oh to have that kind of metabolism again!!

Following that bold career move, I progressed to the Golden Arches. During my brief stint there, I was constantly berated for “not mopping the floor properly”.

This lead to a move to a five star restaurant, where I claimed to be 16 years old to get the job.

However, after spilling red wine on a white tablecloth at a function and dropping a plate into someone’s lap in one day, I quit in a flood of traumatised tears.

My teenage mind rationalised the situation in the following manner:

Working in hospitality= serving people who are really mean when you mess up = I quit!

Later on, at 15, I was hired as a trainee in the HR department of the Coles Myer Head Office. This opened up my eyes to the corporate world and a different kind of “serving”.

Fast forward almost two decades and I’ve now come to the conclusion that serving can be looked at in so many different ways.

It also doesn’t stop the higher you climb the ladder. In fact, it can be a catalyst for better performance and leadership.

In his book Leadership from the Inside out, Kevin Cashman wrote:

Ultimately a leader is not judged by how well he or she leads, but by how well he or she serves. All value and contribution is achieved through service.

I find the notion of serving others is more about treating others as you’d like to be treated. To me, it means treating each and every person I come across with respect.

It doesn’t matter if they are mopping the floor or are the king of a small country.

The TV series ‘Undercover Boss’ is a great example of how much closer to the business senior leaders can get when undercover.

The thing is, truly great leaders get that kind of engagement and loyalty from their staff while donning the power suit, too.

Another aspect of serving is paying it forward; doing things for people without expecting anything in return, and looking to be of service in every interaction.

I’ve worked for managers who took the intimidation approach and for ones who led by inspiration, from a place of genuinely caring about others.

Just the other day, I was drawing on those experiences while explaining to my son the concept of “attracting more bees with honey than with a stick”.

Well actually, I think that was a mash up of the bees/honey and carrot/stick proverbs but what the hey, he got the point.

Human nature dictates that we put ourselves first, which is perfectly normal.

However, the more you can focus on what you can do for others, the more effective you will be as a team member and leader.

The nice feeling is a bonus.


About the author

Valeria Ignatieva

Co-founder & CEO of WORK180


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