‘When we grow old, there can be only one regret, not to have given enough of ourselves.’
~ Eleonora Duse
In a world where everyone is looking to get ahead, the attitude of servitude is not only hard to come by, but might sound like a concept straight off an Adam Sander movie.
But this is not to mean we have meaner people today than there were in the past. Rather, it is because we do not allow this attribute to flourish in what has become an increasingly competitive world.
As with many other long-lost values, however, adopting the attitude of a slave can only be to the benefit of not just ourselves, but the society as a whole.
The Christian Bible encourages it. The Muslim Quran advocates for it. And the business world is calling for it – so much so that Servant Leadership is a main talking point at the Harvard Business School.
Matter of fact, it is a great model that has been pushed by everyone from Lao-Tzu in the 5th Century BC to modern-day CEO’s like the late Max De Pree or current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, from whom we can draw important lessons.
Servant leadership is basically a style or philosophy of leadership in which those at the top of the corporate ladder view themselves in service to those below them.
Rather than viewing or using their position of power as a tool to control outcomes and people, servant leaders look at their position as an opportunity to serve not just their organisation, but their employees as well.
If you have been paying attention, you might have noticed the recent upturn of fortunes for the tech company that is Microsoft. Only a few years ago, the software giant had managed to carve a reputation for itself as a lumbering has-been in the fast-paced world of tech.
Sure, it was still big and raking in the profits. But Microsoft had lost its appeal and was beginning to lag behind with regard to future markets like cloud computing, online advertising, search and mobile.
Fast forward a few years later and it is a totally different story today.
As we speak, Microsoft has managed to become one of the most attractive companies and is rivalling the likes of Apple and Amazon for the title of most valuable company in the world (by market value).
So, what has led to the change in fortunes for Microsoft?
Drawing from the Nadella Playbook
Well, many things. One of the notable reasons was the move by Microsoft to build on its own strengths while avoiding being entrapped in its own past.
The company has achieved this through a renewed focus on cloud technology, swallowing its pride and giving up on the wild goose chase that was the smartphone foray, and reverting to its roots as a tech supplier to business customers.
The strategy was laid out by Satya Nadella when he became CEO in 2014.
Beyond these reasons, and more pertinent to our discussion, was a shift in organisational culture from the top. Deep down, Nadella is a firm believer of servant leadership, ideals he has demonstrated since his younger days in Hyderabad, India before he moved to the United States aged 21.
Unlike his predecessor, Steve Ballmer, who had coined a reputation for being notoriously combative, Nadella has placed more emphasis on collaboration. He has encouraged a shift in philosophy from Microsoft’s historical ‘know-it-all’ to what he likes to call a ‘learn-it-all’ culture.
He demonstrates humility and empathy from the very top, down to the junior ranks. He believes in empowering employees at every level and demonstrates empathy by recognising that the perspectives of his co-leaders and employees is real and important to them.
Has it made a difference?
Well, for one, employees are allowed room to be creative without the fear of being wrong. Managers are encouraged to adopt a coaching style of leadership in which subordinates are not looked down upon. And divergent opinions are very much welcome.
It is not much of a surprise thus to know Nadella loves to take up a seat among the audience whenever it allows.
He notes in his book that remaining humble is all about questioning ourselves and the organisation each day. This way, we are able to keep the door of possibility open while shunning the ego, which can interfere with actual problem-solving.
Employing The Attitude of a Slave in our Day-to-Day
While savvy businesses are increasingly recognising the benefits of servant leadership, a servitude attitude can also go a long way not just in our communities, but also on a personal level.
For instance, did you know it is possible to find abundance through serving? That’s right. By adopting a slave mind-set, you discover the things that matter most in life are not things at all. Rather, it is an array of resources such as time, attention and presence – all of which are at your disposal.
By learning this, you begin to understand that the ability to give comes from a state of mind and heart – a beautiful place that the world of material cannot match.
Over time, this shifts the attitude from a ‘me’ to a ‘we’ mind-set and you no longer look at things from a ‘what’s in it for me perspective’. In doing so, you find that, paradoxically, your cup fills with abundance and you no longer operate from a place of scarcity.
Giveand it will be given unto you, Christians are always reminded.
An attitude of service also promotes gratitude in our lives. Can you recall the last time you saw someone opening the door for a stranger or giving food or clothing to a homeless person? How did it make you feel?
Each day presents us with a choice that propels us more towards love or fear. When we make the conscious decision to love through helping others, it fills us with gratitude. In other words, helping those in need of our help has a very positive impact in our own lives.
And not just through gratitude. Many studies have linked a servitude attitude to improved health. The servitude in this case could be through volunteering or providing social support to those who need it.
Service to others also brings people closer together. Acts of kindness and generosity lead us to have a more positive and charitable perception of others.
And it is contagious. The act of giving encourages others to practice the same, multiplying out its effect.
Having the attitude of a slave might sound reductive in nature, but it is anything but. There can only be gains on a personal and communal level when we take the time to develop this mind-set.
However, we should remember to do it selflessly without expecting any rewards. Because when all is said and done, it is the inner motivation behind our action that really matters. The rewards will follow by themselves.