Project Management

Born to be a...(Servant) Leader

From the Servant Leadership: Serve to Be Great Blog
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This blog is about leadership as it applies to projects and project management, but also as it applies to society in general. The bloggers here manage projects and lead teams in both business and volunteer environments, and are all graduates of PMI's Leadership Institute Master Class. We hope to bring insight into the challenges we all experience in our projects and in our day-to-day work, providing helpful tidbits to inspire you to take action to improve—whether in your personal life, your business/work life or on your projects. Read, comment and share your experiences as we share ours. Let’s make the pie bigger! Grab a slice!

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Cameron McGaughy
Catalin Dogaru
Mike Frenette
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Tolga Özel
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Parents have great dreams for their children. As soon as we hold our child, for the first time, it seems that an unbeatable “contract” is signed: parents - the “supplier” - will offer all available resources for the child - the “client” - to succeed. It is an “open-ended” contract as it doesn’t have clear targets, goals, ambitions, or even desires. Parents don’t know if they “raise” a doctor, a fireman or a project manager. But, with few exceptions, they know their child will be a fantastic or a great - doctor, fireman etc.. She or he has to be fantastic or great since we - the parents, the “supplier” - are all in. We offer everything and we don’t expect anything but success.

And how do we know that he or she will be great? Or that our full-of-uncertainty endeavor will be successful?

Again, with few exceptions, parents will make the supreme argument - in a magnificent, but really concerning, consensus: that we raise them to be leaders. No matter the area, field, range, territory of operations, our kids will be leaders and will do great.

In plain and simple “contract” terms, in this situation, “being a leader” translates into: get above the others, acquire and utilize your amazing competencies that some others may have also, but they cannot “use” them as you do.  You need to show the path to others, but always be “number one”. In a nutshell, be a leader first and we - as parents - can guarantee a big rate of success.

I don’t want to fight this wrong (in my opinion) attitude. Every parent has the right to dream big for his or her child. And, at the same time, he or she has the right to try to fulfill this dream in his or her own manner.

However, following “the leader first” logic in a Servant Leadership context, I was wondering:

How can we teach Servant Leadership to our children?

This question arises almost in every discussion/webinar/conference on the Servant Leadership. The whole philosophy of Servant Leadership is based on “Serve First”. A Servant Leader is a leader but without being “number one”. He or she will exercise a “paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will” (Jim Collins) in order to engage and develop others. “Get above the others” means, in a Servant Leadership context, to find the right and correct way to serve “the others” in order to become a great leader. 

Coming back to the unbeatable “contract” and its expectations, a Servant Leadership approach seems to contradict the “big dream” path. It suspiciously “reduces” personal visibility and promotes humility instead of (supposedly, a more penetrating) aggressiveness. Most of all, it rules out the power-positioned leadership (based on coercion, force and position) for an authority-situated one. Personal influence and trust are the most important currencies “traded” in this latter approach. They replace the former final and recurrent argument “I am your appointed boss”. Instead of an almighty position to make people do my will, I - the doctor, the lawyer, the project manager, etc…, will influence them to get the job done willingly. It doesn’t sound fantastic or great anymore, does it?

For me, it sounds...amazing. To have my daughter leading people to work enthusiastically toward goals identified as being for the common good is something I would be happy to promote. I am all in for helping her learn how to be “others-focused” (Jim Collins) and how to become a strong professional that will do the right thing for her people and for her organization. This way, for sure, she will build great character traits and be a...fantastic Servant Leader.       

You shouldn’t worry, the infamous question from above hasn’t been forgotten. Addressed again, but more personalized, it will be:

How can I teach Servant Leadership to my child?

Actually, paradoxically, I can’t! She has to see if this is the right journey for her. I will present her the “available” options from out-there and offer all my help (based on my experiences). And all of these (again) so she can choose the leader she wants to be. I will be a true Servant Leader for her. It is tougher this way. But - for me - it seems the right way to do it in order to leave the choice for her life to the rightful owner – my daughter.

Are you ready, as a “supplier”, to do the same in both your personal and professional life?

Posted by Catalin Dogaru on: January 14, 2016 07:06 AM | Permalink

Comments (15)

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If a children is taught the moral values from Parents, school and society, this virtue automatically develop.

Thank you for the comment Pankaj.
But what are the "moral values"? I am afraid there was a "depreciation" on the moral backbone. It might prove to be difficult to find the correct and complete set nowadays.

Leaders can be made through inspiration and self motivation. Every leader has developed this quality with influence of someone. If we want our children to learn this we have to adapt it in our life. It is difficult but not impossible. But with time we are losing these values so now you see more selfish leaders but no servant leader.

What a great article Catalin - Leadership is born with you, it comes delivered with the package so your parents help you grow it in the right path and you have to be wise enough to use it in a Servant Manner !

Children learn what they see - that which you practice. If they see you lend a helping hand, so will they. If they see you use your hand in anger, so will they. If they observe you being kind in you, so will they be kind. If they see you growing leaders, so they will grow leaders. I always tell my children that life is all about good relationships with people, not about things.

A few quotes I like by those far wiser than I:

"The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the greatest intention."
-Kahlil Gibran

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
–John Quincy Adams

and .... a tongue in cheek one...

“You don’t lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership.”
–Dwight Eisenhower

I just read a very interesting book by Zig Ziglar ( on this topic (leadership, ethics, moral values and the future of our organisations). Totally agree! Great post, thanks for sharing.

The funny thing about leadership in your children is that you will likely see them do it with other people, before they will do it with you. I see my children all the times helping others and I'm wondering why they didn't do it at home.

Leader is Leader , nothing else.

Great post Catalin, thank you.
to develop leadership of kids, the parents can support socialization of the kids. This can be achieved in several ways such as project work at school, participating sport teams, just enjoying spare times in friend circles and communicating with extended family, etc. The biggest obstacle is iPad and the equivalents. :))

Nice quotes, thanks Mike!
I will have a look at the book - thank you Mario!

Stephane - it's interesting - I see at my daughter (now) the same behaviour in and outside our home - still willing to help etc. Maybe, it's related to age.

Thanks Tolga :) for the comment. IPAD must be stow away :)) I agree.

Wonderful article. Thank you for sharing.

Dear Catalin
Interesting is your perspective on the theme: "Born to be a ... (Servant) Leader"

Thanks for sharing

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