Family Business Series: What Is a Servant Leader?
- Mark Deterding of Triune Leadership Services, CEO
Jamie asks guest and leadership expert, Mark Deterding, to share his definition of a servant leader and the keys to becoming a great one. Mark explains how great leaders create energy, drive performance, build relationships, and ensure that their actions line up with the business’ foundation of mission, vision and values.
Episode 38.2 | 9 min
Mark Deterding is the founder and principal of Triune Leadership Services. His goal with Triune is to build up servant leaders and transform organizational cultures.
After working in executive positions in nationally known corporations for 35 years, he understands that servant leadership is the only way to lead people and teams to fulfill their God-given potential. As a trusted expert in servant leadership, he has successfully navigated industry-leading companies through culture change — not only as an organizational leader but also as a coach and consultant. Through his “boots on the ground” experiences and training, he brings an effective blend of actionable processes, proven tools, and expertise to guide executives and emerging leaders onto a path of servant leadership; a path that leads to success and significance.
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Hi. Welcome back to The Water Table Podcast. Today, we are visiting with Mark Deterding from Triune Leadership Services.
You know, I mentioned it in your bio, and you mentioned it a couple of times, this phrase servant leadership. And let’s just back up a minute. And for those that’s listening, maybe that’s a new term. Or they think they know what it is, but they haven’t really ever talked to anybody that does lead with servant leadership.
And maybe they’ll find out they actually do lead that way. But why don’t you just describe a little bit, what is servant leadership?
Yeah, for sure. And again, this isn’t servant leadership by Mark Deterding. I certainly have had the opportunity to lead for many, many years and to try a lot of things out. And through that, really, through my study of who I consider the master sort of a leader, which is Jesus, I really put together a model that I feel that he really emulated throughout his life.
And again, no matter what your faith is, if you just take a look at the individual Jesus, taking a senior leadership team of 12 people and working with those 12 leaders for basically, three years. And then taking that and growing this following to what is call it 2.3 to 2.5 billion today, that takes some significant leadership.
And I really looked at that model and said, “You know what? That’s true servant leadership.” And here’s how I come out on that as far as what he was really telling us. One is, build a foundation. Make sure you got that foundation just rock solid, articulate, just like we said. What’s our purpose? What’s our vision? What’s our values?
From there, then we want to build energy with the team. We should hear the term engagement with our team members and so forth. It’s the whole idea of getting people’s brains in the game, and not just their hands and feet. The more we can get people’s brains activated and engaged in what we’re doing, energized about what we’re doing, that’s what servant leadership’s all about.
And there’s any number of great ways to do that. One of the ones that I just love to always highlight that’s the best thing that any of us can do as leaders is to be the biggest cheerleader on the team, right? Is to recognize people for the great work that they’re doing day in and day out.
Lift them up. Be grateful for them. Let them know how important their work is, and they’ll just bring all kinds of great energy to the table.
After that, the third one is one that often, when people hear the term servant leadership, they seem to forget. And it’s performance. We need to build performance.
As leaders, we need to be making sure that we are improving every day. Both personally in our own skills, are we getting better from a leadership standpoint? Are we getting better from a technical standpoint? But also, as an organization.
What are we doing organizationally every day to be better tomorrow than what we were today? If we don’t do that as leaders, if we don’t create that unrest, all of a sudden status quo becomes okay. Everybody starts settling in, and guess what our competition’s doing? They’re blowing right by us, because they are improving every day.
So, it’s up to us as leaders to be driving that performance, driving that improvement, every day. The fourth piece of being a servant leader is all about building relationships. That we need to be intentional about building relationships.
We don’t do business, we don’t do life in a vacuum all by ourselves. And the better we are at building relationships, the more influence that we’ll have. And so, that all comes into are you a good listener? I mean, were you really listening to people because you care about them and want to know what they have to say?
Do you truly mutually respect each and every person in the organization? That nobody is any better than anybody else? And the other, it’s those things that absolutely will drive you towards wanting to build a relationship. And the biggest key in that is this four letter word of love.
And you know, often times I say, I’ll be at schools and universities talking to their business classes, their MBA programs about leadership. And I’ll say, “How many times have you heard the word love in your time at this school or university?”
And nobody raises their hand. It’s like, okay, well, obviously they’ve learned lots of great things about inventory, turn over, balance sheets, income statements, return on investment. All the things you need to know to run a business. But they haven’t learned anything about leadership.
Because that’s really it. It’s leadership, servant leadership specifically, is all about what’s in your heart. Do you truly care about people at the core? And I lean on First Corinthians, Chapter 13, Verse 4 through 7 on this. It’s where Paul’s talking to the church of Corinth, and basically is outlining what love is. We’ve all heard it at weddings, love is patient, love is kind, it doesn’t envy.
You know, those types of things. I view this as the greatest leadership passages that there are. And what Paul is talking about there is not the feelings of love or the intimacy of love. What he’s talking about is the behaviors of love. We have a choice to step into being patient or not. Kind or not. Humble or not. Respectful or not. Selfless or not. Honest or not. Forgiving or not. And committed or not.
It’s really those eight behaviors that he’s talking about in those passages that the more we, as leaders, step into each of those behaviors, the more our relationships are going to go north. People are going to want to be around us. And it’s a total choice. It has nothing to do with how we feel about this individual. Am I going to be patient today or not? Am I going to be kind or not? Humble?
So, that’s a big part of servant leadership, too. And people can see that when you are really work … We’re never going to be perfect. But we can sure, certainly be working towards that.
And then lastly, the whole key on servant leadership, Jamie, is this whole aspect of character. And when I set up the model, I basically put character on top for the model, and for this reason.
Because if we aren’t people of high character, if we aren’t a leader that people can trust, guess what? We’re going to look over our shoulder, and nobody’s going to be behind us. Nobody’s going to want to follow somebody that they can’t trust, that isn’t of high character, high integrity.
And you know, we do that in any number of ways by lifting people up, by being that true individual that we say we’re going to do. And most importantly, really walking the talk.
I mean, our own actions lining up with what we’re saying. We’ve got these values that we set through the organization. Are we a picture of those values in how we’re operating each and every day? And that’s character.
And so, it’s all those things put together. It’s not, you can’t pick and choose and so forth. It’s not real … The only linear aspect of it is getting that foundation put in place. But after that, building that energy, building performance, building relationships, and being a person of high character, that’s the summary in my mind of what servant leadership is.
Well, thanks for joining us today, Mark, on the Water Table Podcast. If our listeners would like to hear the full conversation with Mark, you can find that at watertable.Ag/business.