Becoming a Service-based Leader


Developing leadership skills is not memorizing a list of things to do or not to do, though such lists are useful in helping students learn.  Leadership is not the accumulation of managerial abilities, such as budgeting, computer skills, or the specific work skills of a particular industry, though such aptitudes will certainly enhance your overall skill set and add to your competence.  Leadership is not a position or a title.

Successful leadership depends on the quality of relationships between a leader and followers.  As such it entails relationship skills – the personal characteristics and abilities to connect with and inspire the enthusiastic efforts of a diverse group of people toward a common goal.

True leadership requires an understanding of what makes people tick – individually and in group settings.  It requires sensitivity to the needs and desires of others, even when they may not be able to adequately define or communicate these themselves.  It requires openness and accessibility so followers are comfortable bringing their concerns and issues to the leader.  It requires a person who is self-analytical, who examines every less-than-optimum outcome for improvement, often discovering a better way to interact with followers.  It requires a person who puts the needs of the enterprise ahead of personal ambition, who recognizes that tending to the group welfare in a disciplined way will ultimately bring about better performance.

Finally, learning leadership skills is not a one-time event.  Just as different endeavors and levels of organizations require different skill sets for managerial success, leadership skills must expand and develop as the individual moves up to higher levels of responsibility.  Satisfactory leadership skills in a front line supervisory position are clearly inadequate for the challenges of a general manager, division manager, or president of a company.  But the skills learned in the early years of one’s career will be the foundation for the broader skills necessary when one takes on greater responsibilities, particularly if you understand that true leadership is a lifelong journey, not a destination.

The Single Most Important Requirement to Becoming a Service-Based Leader

Becoming a Service-Based Leader is a transformative process; it’s about personal growth.  The student must be prepared to challenge ingrained attitudes and beliefs about self and others.  It requires a willingness to closely examine motivations and habits.  The emerging leader must also be willing to accept personal responsibility for his or her life and decisions.  But most of all it requires a great deal of personal honesty.  Self-delusion and denial are the committed enemies of personal growth.


As you progress through The Workbook, make a promise to yourself.  Promise that you will search the depths of your being to get to and understand your deepest motivations, not those that you glibly repeat because you have so often heard others say them and think they’re the norm.  True leadership is not the norm, and becoming an effective leader will require you to step outside your comfort zone and confront the beliefs and attitudes you hold, not from conviction but from unexamined habit.

The Rewards of Service-Based Leadership

Developing the skills of a Service-Based Leader will reward you in a variety of ways.  First and foremost, I believe the foundation of Service-Based Leadership and a recognition of the value of people in all you do, can, over the course of a career, lead you to the Level 5 Leadership that Jim Collins found at the top of all Good to Great companies.

Second, because Service-Based Leadership is all about developing successful relationships, it can bring success to other parts of your life – your family relationships, your friendships, and the way you interact with people wherever you meet them.

Lastly, Service-Based Leadership will help you develop the self-analytical skills to examine life’s challenges and better understand how you react to them.  Ultimately, it will help you to grow as a person and learn to face difficulties with greater equanimity and purpose.

Excerpted from Leadership on the Line – The Workbook, Ed Rehkopf, Clarity Publications, 2009

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking managers throughout the country and around the world.

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