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Servant Leaders: Superheroes that Change the World


I love superheroes. There are so many to choose from. Let’s hear a shout out for Wonder Woman who kicks serious butt. Her character and costume are empowering and bad-ass. However, I digress, let’s do a quick check on superhero characteristics and who they are:

  • Some live ordinary lives and had something extraordinary happen that gave them superpowers (think Peter Parker a/k/a Spiderman).

  • Some have gone through transformations that make them realize the awesome responsibility of their power (think Tony Stark a/k/a Ironman)

  • Some are born with superpowers that make them amazing (think Clark Kent a/k/a Superman)

  • Some are regular Joes that save the world (think Peter Quill a/k/a Star Lord - Guardians of the Galaxy)

  • Some were felonious evil-doers turned into do-gooders that we have come to love (think Gru, Despicable Me).

While these characters are in stories and movies and they do amazing deeds; we dream of them. Superheroes provide an escape. They become someone we dream of being. In reality, you probably know some real superheroes that are servant leaders.

1. Some live ordinary lives and experienced something that changed them to do extraordinary things.

Mother Teresa: Through her faith, Mother Teresa dedicated her life to serving other people. Like other servant leaders, she had her critics from time to time, but there was no one who could question her motives behind her desire to help others. Also, she never sought personal recognition, though she insisted on significant changes and was not afraid to express opinions that others would hesitate to say. Eventually, many call her to become a saint, with a life that many people consider as a miracle.

2. Some have gone through transformations that bring a higher level of consciousness to their thinking (throwback to Maslow’s hierarchy level 5)

Martin Luther King: King did not always want to be the leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the US, but he just knew that there was a need for equality. By putting other people’s needs first, he was able to leave a lasting legacy, which proves that anyone can make a difference through a humble and serving perspective. Until today, some of King’s speeches are still listened to regularly, as people see them as having a ring of truth.

Cheryl Bachelder: When Cheryl Bachelder started at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, the struggling restaurant chain needed help. Its stock had sunk from a peak of $34 per share in 2002 to just $13 when she took over as CEO in 2007. In her new book, "Dare to Serve: How To Drive Superior Results While Serving Others," Bachelder describes how becoming a "servant leader" helped her achieve a dramatic turnaround at Popeyes, which now has a market cap of $1.4 billion. By executing an aggressive growth plan and aiming to serve the interests of the franchise owners, average restaurant sales jumped 25%, profitability improved, market share increased, and the stock is now trading in the $60 range.

3. Some are born into greatness and some marry well.

Princess Diana: Her legacy is best manifested in her campaigns against the use of landmines and helping those suffering from AIDS. Risking her life to help those in need, she set the example of what selflessness truly is. During the 1980’s, it was believed AIDS was a disease transmitted through casual contact. Thanks to Princess Diana, the common belief was soon cleared as a video of her holding the hand of an AIDS victim was broadcasted. More so, during her campaign against land mine use, another video of her walking through a field where land mines could have been placed was exposed. Even as these videos set uproars throughout the public, she inspired many to give more of themselves for the sake of others, no matter the cost. Her sons, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry constantly take part in large charity events, presenting their mother’s legacy.

4. Some are regular Joes that make sacrifices to serve us (think our military, fire and police departments)

Robert Neuschel shared a story in his book, The Servant Leader: Unleashing the Power of Your People, about Commanding General Lear (Second Army) speaking to several hundred newly commissioned second lieutenants, of which I was one. His words are still fresh in my mind even after the fifty-seven years since our graduation ceremony. The general quickly and simply stated his leadership philosophy: “Always serve your troops first that you may command them better.” He went on to challenge us to always “Feed your troops and they will fight like hell for you. And when I say feed, I don’t mean just the bell, but that is important. I also mean to feed the mind, the heart, and the spirit. In fact, grow the total soldier.”

Nick Lebredo, PhD CPA shared this snippet in his article about “the well-known business best seller from 2001, Good to Great, author Jim Collins offered persuasive research to show that servant leaders are also capable of achieving exceptional results. According to Collins, “level five” or servant-type leaders tend to have greater success precisely because they subordinate themselves to the task at hand. No matter how accomplished they become, they do not become complacent. They, remarkably, possess humility and always appreciate that there is room for improvement. They obtain greater satisfaction from solving problems and helping others rather than seeking the limelight or the glory.”

5. Some were felons and do good to change the world for the better (think Frank Abagnale and Charles Colson)

Frank Abagnale: Between the ages of 16 and 21, Abagnale wrote $2.5 million in fraudulent checks and successfully posed as an airline pilot, doctor, lawyer and college professor. He was later apprehended by the French police and served five years in prison. Abagnale was released early under the conditions that he'd work with the U.S. government. According to his firm's Web site, he works with consulting financial institutions, corporations, and law enforcement agencies on fraud and security. To date, he has serviced more than 14,000 companies. His story was made into the film "Catch Me If You Can," which was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.

Charles Colson: After pleading guilty to obstruction of justice and serving time in prison, Colson started Prison Fellowship, currently the world's largest prison outreach organization. According to its site, the fellowship was founded because Colson "could not forget those he had left behind prison walls." Colson recently passed away on March 31, 2012.

Servant leadership is about people first. That is one of the greatest things about superheroes, they serve the needs of others first. Do you have these superhero servant leader qualities?

  • Superheroes and servant leaders focus on humanity and want to do things that matter and reveal the hidden greatness in others.

  • The word serve is an action verb. Superheroes and servant leaders look for opportunities to lead and make the workplace, environment, and community better.

  • Superheroes and servant leaders consider the whole person by focusing on brilliance and opportunities in situations and the people around them.

  • Superheroes work well in teams and have a league. Servant leaders connect people and achieve remarkable results.

  • Purpose, superheroes have purpose, so do servant leaders. The Purpose Driven Life will help you find that purpose.

  • They sacrifice, warning--this is not for weenies. This requires focus, willingness to wait, and patience. This is the ultimate superhero power for Servant Leaders.

I look forward to hearing what superpowers servant leaders around you exhibited by servant leaders you know. Please share this article,, share your thoughts, and share your stories.

Contact Isabella at Pivot Business Consulting to find out how to bring servant leadership into your organization.

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