Servant Leader.

January 2012


How does a leader best organize people to achieve a common goal?

What is it he or she possesses – certain intelligence, behavior, vision, values, power, or charisma – that inspires progress in fellow men? What is it in a force of personality that creates a solution? We know we can’t go at it alone – how do we succeed, together?

Is leadership innate? Can it be taught? Better yet, can it be learned? What leadership style works best? In which profession? And in which situation?

Do those that follow you appreciate consistency or appreciate your ability to adapt your leadership style to the situation?

Does it all depend?

I’m confused.

No matter the type of leader you are now, or your answers to the above, a nod must be given to the immutable law of learning…that is to say, it never stops. A leader never stops learning. This much I know.

My first rule of leadership was simple: never say ‘never’, never say ‘always.’

Or, better put by Everett Dirksen: “I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times.”

We had something we use to say in my last platoon that went beyond being flexible. We asked ourselves three questions from time to time and when we could and as often as we remembered – three simple questions meant to inspire us to live each day to our maximum potential and to remind ourselves we were leaders of men in austere conditions: Did I get stronger? Did I get smarter? Did I help someone?

Recently I realized I have not been asking myself those questions often enough and so I started on the second question – did I get smarter? – specifically as it relates to leadership.

I spent the weekend pouring over old notes from Annapolis, from lectures of the likes of Captain Bob Schoultz and others of his pedigree, and next thinking of scenarios from deployments or stories told by other mentors, teachers, fellow Marines and friends that I’ve known in my life. It was a brief exercise in an attempt to, well, get smarter.[1]

While rummaging through an old box of notes and papers and books I found a fascinating article from two professors at the University of Nebraska, John Barbuto and Daniel Wheeler. Their essay was entitled: “Becoming a Servant Leader: Do you Have What it Takes?”

The essay began with a series of questions that aimed to determine if you were a servant leader or not and went on to explain the composition of a such a leader…

-Calling. Do you believe that you are willing to sacrifice self-interest for the good of the group?

-Listening. Do you believe that you want to hear their ideas and will value them?

-Empathy. Do you believe that you will understand what is happening in their lives and how it affects them?

-Healing. Do people come to you when the chips are down or when something traumatic has happened in their lives?

-Awareness. Do others believe you have a strong awareness for what is going on?

-Persuasion. Do others follow your requests because they want to or because they believe they “have to?”

-Conceptualization. Do others communicate their ideas and vision for the organization when you are around?

-Foresight. Do others have confidence in your ability to anticipate the future and its consequences?

-Stewardship. Do others believe you are preparing the organization to make a positive difference in the world?

-Growth. Do people believe that you are committed to helping them develop and grow?

-Building community. Do people feel a strong sense of community in the organization you lead?

The ethics behind the ‘servant leader’ appeals to me. So much so that on the corner of the white board in my office I’ve written Dr. Albert Pierce’s points for “moral leadership” which are based on the leadership example of Admiral Stockdale. 1.) Set noble goals. 2.) Take active steps to pursue them. 3.) Pay a price yourself. 4.) Ask or order others to a pay a price as well.

I was taught that at Annapolis. They still teach that. It’s taught because it matters a great deal. More than anything else, I think.

Yes. This was the sort of leader I want to emulate. But can I? Am I capable of such a thing? I’m not sure. And I ended the weekend with the same two questions that I started with: Can I finish this move in two days? Perhaps. What is the best way to lead? I’m not sure. Not sure at all. But then again, as it goes with leadership, so it goes with life itself, if you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.



[1] To be fair, I actually spent most of the weekend moving apartments, but, whatever.

Posted by Alexander Martin in Marine Corps, Navy

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  • APM

    I recently heard of an Oncologist who advised a patient, “Confusion is part of the decision making process.”

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Nice article. One has to wonder whether the magnificent NCOs that lead those magnificent junior Marines haven’t given us the ultimate guideposts to shoot for. If we can make them, then all of the above is, by transitive property, true.


  • donna sauer

    Excellent article, Alex…damn…I could have been an Admiral if I had joined years ago!!! Glad it was on FB so I could read and now check out your others! Thanks for provoking my thought process…it sometimes gets stalled at this point in my life, now and then!

  • Tony Green

    Once again, another insightful and enjoyable read to provoke the desire for something greater. As always, your advise is taken into deep thought and consideration.

  • Benjamin Stafford

    Alex, I hope things are going well for you. Nice post here. To jog your memory, we were on USS DUB together for 15 MEU. I’m instructing at TBS and moving over to IOC in May. Ethical decision-making is, of course, an important topic, and we often debate over how to develop it and also how to evaluate it. Some question whether the latter can even be accomplished given the strong emotional element inherent in difficult, stressful decisions and situations. Adherents to this line of thought rely on developing a leader’s character and falling back on it in times of extreme duress. Others like the “quandary method” of putting people into bona fide dilemmas and evaluating their thought. Now, a leader who meets the traits you lay out has a solid foundation upon which to base decisions, but I’d like to know where do you come down on the topic of training and evaluating ethics, practically. Further, how did you train your Marines on such matters? Again, I hope this finds you well and look forward to hearing your thoughts.