Loren Lahav

What Does It Take to Be a Great Leader?

When you think of a great leader, what comes to mind?

Someone who commands any room they walk into?

Someone who gives rousing, inspiring speeches?

Someone with a lot of power or status?

It doesn’t take supernatural charisma, a way with words or power to be a great leader.

All it takes is the desire to serve.

There is one type of leadership and that is servant leadership. All great servant leaders are motivated by the desire to help others above all else.

This week, we’re honoring one of the greatest servant leaders of all time: Martin Luther King, Jr. He fought for equality and justice for all not because he wanted the praise and recognition, but because he was called to serve.

Two months before he died, King delivered a sermon where he requested that he not be remembered for his many awards, but for serving others:

“I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.

I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say.”

There’s no doubt that MLK was truly one of a kind. But we all have the ability to be great leaders—and it starts with making a commitment to serve.

Here are 5 things that great servant leaders do. If you can incorporate these into how you lead, you will become a better leader:

1. Listen carefully to others.

When you’re with someone, are you really listening to what they are saying? Are you asking the right questions to get to the bottom of what they need? Or are you just waiting for your turn to talk?

When having a conversation (especially with someone you are trying to help), focus all of your attention on what they are saying. Don’t pay attention to your phone or what else is going on around you. Ask questions to fully understand what they need and how you can help.

2. Be authentic.

Remember who you are and what you stand for—and then be that person, no matter who is around you. Don’t be the type of person who changes their story depending on who they are around.

Remember, you’re never going to please everyone. All you can do is be honest, even if you need to deliver some bad news or tough love. Great leaders are always honest and are willing to do what needs to be done or say what needs to be said—even when it’s hard.                  

As MLK said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”                           

3. Work to achieve goals for your community—not just for yourself.  

Yes, we all have personal goals that we want to achieve, and that’s awesome! But being a great servant leader means striving to achieve goals for the greater good of your community, not just your own personal goals.

What is one goal you can achieve for the community or group of people that you are serving?

4. Work well with others.

Great leaders know that to achieve something big they can’t do it all on their own. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Form a committee, find a partner who shares your passion or work with an existing group or service. Walk into any situation with the attitude of “How can I help”?

5. Strive to help others above all else.

The most powerful servant leaders lead because their greatest desire is to help others. It’s not because they want power, money, connections, recognition or some other personal gain. If you can make helping others your #1 goal, you will become an effective and impactful leader.

What do you think makes a great leader? What changes will you make to improve your leadership style? Leave me a comment and let me know!

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” Martin Luther King, Jr.