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Servant Mindset – An Essential Leadership Attribute

Servant Mindset – An Essential Leadership Attribute
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Part II—Servant Mindset—of our series on the four essential attributes found in leaders of sustainably successful organizations.

As we share the four attributes of generative, successful leaders, the Servant Mindset is the why we live our life and the motivator for leading. The other three attributes—Curiosity, Authenticity, and Love—are guiding principles we use to demonstrate how we live our life and lead.

As Michigan Football Recruiting Coordinator for nine years, I had the opportunity to attract high-caliber high school talent with strong character. Under Head Coach Bo Schembechler’s tutelage, the joy of challenging these gifted people to become all they could be was rewarding. The Michigan football program was built with a Servant Mindset. It was never about you, except in terms of what you could do for others. The deep gratitude most of those players have today reflects how much they now appreciate being challenged to become all they could be.

Stage III Fulfillment – Benefiting Others

As we mature, we move through Four Stages of Fulfillment that motivate our deepest thoughts and actions. The Stages of Fulfillment are explained in more detail starting on page 41 of our book, The Shift from Me to Team, but here is a brief overview.

  • As infants, we are born with the Stage I Fulfillment desire for physical comfort. That joy does not last long, but it’s vital for survival.
  • Stage II Fulfillment comes in early adolescence and dominates our life to adulthood. It’s about comparing, competing, and winning. Stage II joy lasts a few months, like our picture in the paper.
  • Stage III Fulfillment surfaces in adulthood when we are motivated to help others on their journey. This joy lasts years if not decades.
  • Stage IV Fulfillment is based on the belief that we are making a deeply meaningful difference in the world, though we may not live to see the results. It is our legacy. The joy from Stage IV Fulfillment always remains with us and is deeply motivating.

Some of the Elements That Characterize the Servant Mindset


The best leaders listen and demonstrate that they care about our perspective and about where we are on our growth journey to becoming all we are meant to be. They are here to support us.

Once these leaders see our performance gaps, they coach and teach us to be more competent and effective in our efforts. In meetings with them, it is clear they will be giving us more than we will be giving them.

Appropriately Challenging

Leaders with our best future at heart possess the gift of great patience to listen to understand how much we have learned and where we are on our growth journey. At the same time, they see more in us than we see in ourselves and constantly challenge us to learn and grow to realize our potential. The pace may be uncomfortable, but we can trust the leader is acting in our best interest.

Creating Safety

Servant leaders make us feel safe. We can feel their desire for a greater future for us, one that may not be clear to us yet. The pace of the journey can feel like a stretch, but one that feels safe as we become more of the person we are meant to be. With safety, we can be more vulnerable with each other, knowing our backs are covered.

Taking Risks

Taking risks for the greater good of the team is a win-win proposition. If the risk is taken on behalf of the team and not the leader, beneficial outcomes will accrue to the team. Sometimes, the outcome is a great success that benefits both the team and the leader. Even mistakes become incredible team-building learning experiences. All of us get better as a result.

This is not the case when the risk is taken for the leader’s benefit. Sure, there may be a team benefit if it works. However, if the risk fails, the team loses, and the leader loses the team’s confidence.


The leader is responsible for the team’s results and must understand the responsibility to lead and coach their team to be all they can be. Ultimately, we all need to be responsible for what we produce. The best outcomes capitalize upon the collective mindset of the team for the best decision-making. Sometimes, we are wrong, but we did the best we could. When we take responsibility for our decisions and actions, what we learn from both successes and failures will inform our efforts moving forward.

I referenced my mentor Bo Schembechler as a leader with a Servant Mindset. Who are some of the leaders you feel exemplify the Servant Mindset?

The Servant Mindset Summarized

When the team wins, the team deserves the credit. If the team loses, the leader takes responsibility for not preparing the team to win.

#Leadership #Curiosity #ServantMindset #Authenticity #Love #ShiftFromMeToTeam #SustainableSuccess

November 9, 2023