Top 7 Servant Leadership Summit Takeaways


Posted by David Marshall - 13 December, 2017

SEVEN SERVES: My Top 7 Servant Leadership Online Training Summit Learnings & Takeaways

Since the Servant Leadership Online Training Summit concluded in late October, I’ve been thinking about what I learned and how to apply these takeaways to my own practice. I’m sure you’ve been thinking about this, too. Between 40 inspiring talks and over 30 bonus gifts, I gained hundreds of insights over the 10-day conference. Choosing a short list was not easy.

I was born on the seventh of the month, and seven has always been my lucky number. I’ve also heard that AT&T picked seven for phone numbers because how many digits most people could remember at any one time. So in that spirit, here’s my top 7 list:

1. Set vision, then flip the pyramid.

Ken Blanchard, author of the forthcoming book Servant Leadership in Actionlaid this out in his opening talk, and Jesse Stoner,  author ofFull Steam Ahead, emphasized it as well. In the traditional hierarchical pyramid structure whereby leaders are on the top and the biggest segment of employees are on the bottom, Ken said that leaders still needs to set the vision and ensure everybody buys in, but then once that is done, they need to get out to the way and focus on serving the employees. When the pyramid flips upside down, the leaders are now on the bottom. They focus on helping the employees reach their goals.

2. Balance relationships and results.

Cheryl Bachelder and Mark Miller both dispelled the myth that embracing servant leadership means you must sacrifice results for relationships. Cheryl instilled servant leadership at Popeye’s, leading to spectacular financial results. She shares details on her approach in her book Dare to Serve. Mark Miller, author of Leaders Made Here, did the same at Chick-fil-A. Mark said, “When you find a way to release that energy by focusing on results and relationships, you actually get better results. If you focus exclusively on results, you will sub-optimize results, and if you focus exclusively on relationships, you will certainly sub-optimize results. The path to superior results is both.” Jim Ferrell, cofounder of The Arbinger Institute, spoke about the transformation that happens once leaders stop seeing the world only from an inward mindset and start putting themselves in the shoes of others with an outward mindset. Relationships improve, and so does performance.

3. Freedom and self-accountability.

Peter Block, bestselling author of Stewardship, was asked: "if the number one value of a manager is control, what are the values of a servant leader or a steward?"

He answered: “I would say connection. Relationships replace control. Confronting people with their freedom, replaces making sure they do the right thing…. Confronting with freedom is also an act of love…. What would it mean if people chose to be accountable instead of are held accountable?.... If we can create a culture where I can trust you and it has some order; there is a place for the manager. Then in the act of choosing, I become accountable. Now I may not do it, but then my peers are going to come after me. It’s easy to fool your boss; we’ve done that all our lives. The boss gives us a hard time and we say, thank you for the feedback. I’m working on it. We can’t manipulate peers. So chosen accountability is peer-driven culture, but it’s very hard to implement, because people mistake peer connectedness as softness.”

4. Valuing character and competence.

Ken Mittelstaedt, CEO of Waste Connections (16,000 employees), said they made a major breakthrough when they optimized hiring practices to select for character over of skills.“So we focus heavily on character and alignment with our cultural values. We test people; it can be a simplistic test or a complicated test, depending on the position, but the test is not a competency test, it’s a values-based test. It gives us a little insight about who the person is what is the likelihood that this person will be a cultural fit in our organization. Now if they also have the competency for the job, well that’s a home run.”

5. Action, not words.

Art Barter, author of The Servant Leadership Journal and CEO of Datron World Communications—which grew from $10 million revenues to $200 million in six years using servant leadership principles—said that people don’t care what you say as a leader, they only care what you do. That struck home to me. Berrett-Koehler’s mission statement is “connecting people and ideas to create a world that works for all,” but if I if I stop focusing on connecting people and ideas with new ideas for positive change each and every week, then my own company words ring hollow.

6. Daily practice.

Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, said he sends out a voicemail every today to all employees and global partners, with a message about what they really stand for, which is not selling lubricating oil, but “creating positive, lasting memories in all our relationships.” Art Barter, CEO of Datron, takes 15 minutes each day for reflection (computers and smartphones turned off) on his purpose, and whether he is practicing the nine servant leadership behaviors his company encourages. Rico Maranto, “Guardian of the Culture & Servant Leadership Evangelist” at Waste Connections, shared the Servant Leaders Game Plan his company uses to keep it fresh. These three examples embolden me to create rituals I can insert in my weekly schedule to ensure my commitment to servant leadership doesn’t go stale.

7. Identify and nuture allies.

Many of us are not in executive or manager positions to establish servant leadership principles on our companies. What helps me is sharing with others on the same journey, both within my company, and in many other organizations and industries. Since the Summit, I’ve heard from people around the world saying how much they enjoyed both learning from these 40 thought leaders and connecting with fellow attendees, both in the comments section during the daily broadcasts, and now on the Servant Leadership Facebook Group. Communicating with kindred spirits helps me keep my practice alive.

The Summit was full of much more wisdom and practices than expressed here, but I had to start somewhere.

What’s your top-7 list? You can comment on this article below, email me at, or share your thoughts on the Servant Leadership Facebook Group.

Serve, don’t be served,


Topics: Leadership, Servant Leadership, Servant Leadership Online Training Summit

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