The Trouble With Servant Leaders

“I’ve failed.” Mark’s voice shook as we met to discuss next steps for Lisa, his troubled employee. He’d tried everything to help Lisa succeed. She’d get better for a while, but then her old habits would surface. Lisa was impacting the team and results. It was time for her to find something new. “I can’t believe I couldn’t help her, I’m usually better than this.” Mark kept shaking his head. This servant leader was filled with compassion for Lisa, but had none left over for himself.

I know that feeling. Seeing such potential, investing everything you have to help, and then watching the backwards slide. The truth is humans are complex. Most of the time we can help a great deal, and sometimes what we have to give is just not enough. You bring in reinforcements, and they still struggle. When they fail you feel like you’ve failed. It’s hard to let it go.

Servant leaders have such compassion for others, that often they have little left for themselves. They forgive others when they struggle, but don’t offer themselves that same latitude. Servant leaders don’t want to let anyone down in their serving. They hold themselves to a higher standard, and feel depressed when they can’t be everything they hope to the people who need them.

Words I’ve heard from some of the best servant leaders I know, this week:

  • “My team’s working so hard, I’m doing everything I can to help them… I just feel so bad for them.”
  • “I know he’s got issues outside of work, but I should have made a bigger impact.”
  • “I’m so sorry, I couldn’t pick up your phone call, I was taking my son to school.”
  • I feel so guilty, I just haven’t had enough time for my kids this week.”
  • “I’m sorry to let you down (she hadn’t), I’ll do better next time”
  • “I just wish I could do more.”
  • “I’m so tired.”

My Wish for You

  • Give yourself the same compassion and understanding you give those you lead.
  • Know that sometimes people will take too much, you don’t need to serve takers
  • Know that tomorrow’s challenges bring more opportunities to serve.
  • Know others appreciate you more than they say.
  • Know that you’re more helpful than you think.
  • Know that others are wrestling too.
  •  Know you will fail, and that’s okay.
  • Know you can’t help everybody.
  • Know that your best is enough.
  • Know that you’re not perfect.
  • Know that life has seasons.
  • Know that it’s okay to rest.

* Photo by Larry Kohlenstein