Why Servant Leadership Misses the Mark

Last week I received a revelation in leadership. For 30+ years, I’ve spoken on, written numerous books, coached, and advised both business and ministry professionals around the world on the fundamentals of great leadership including the ever-popular Servant Leadership.

I now realize Servant Leadership misses the mark. There is something more fundamental, a prerequisite which is not taught or discussed.

Misses the mark

Here is why servant leadership misses the mark and where we should start.

Servant Followership

Just minutes prior to Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, He taught the disciples how to be first and foremost a Servant Follower.

“But Jesus answered them, saying, ‘The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.’” John 12:23-26

The underlying theme throughout this passage is based upon the Greek word, diakoneo, which means “personal service.” There is great Biblical precedent to first live in diakoneo before ascending into any leadership position.

  • Moses personally served Jethro by shepherding his herds.
  • Joshua personally served Moses before leading the people into the Promised Land.
  • Elisha personally served Elijah before receiving a double portion of Spirit.
  • David personally served Saul even after Saul repeatedly tried to kill him!

Jesus was first and foremost a SERVANT FOLLOWER (John 5:30) – not a servant leader!

The 3-Part Process 

Jesus called for a willingness for his disciples to:

  1. Die for Him, (“…but if it dies, it produces much grain.”)
  2. Follow Him, (“…let him follow Me.”)
  3. Serve Him. (“If anyone serves Me…”)

This is indeed a tall order, especially for 2%ers as we battle in a marketplace ruled by the enemy. Yet to become a Servant Follower, we must willingly die to the marketplace, follow him wherever He leads, and serve Him totally.

Even if you have ascended into a Servant Leader position before being a true Servant Follower, step back and ask yourself:

  1. Am I willing to die for Jesus NOW in my marketplace, even to let the business close if He leads me another way?
  2. Am I willing to follow Him NOW even if it means losing customers, marketshare, employees or more?
  3. Am I willing to serve Him totally NOW, not bowing to marketplace or competitors pressures, only and always doing only what He desires?

The Eternal Reward

Now for the good part – the reward! If we become Servant Follows, then “…My father will honor.”

Every 2%er I know lives to one day hear from the Father, while standing before the throne, “Well done good and faithful SERVANT” (Matthew 25:21 & 23) – NOT “Well done good and faithful LEADER!”

Servant Followership: A Radical New Approach

Are you first and foremost a leader who serves (Servant Leadership) or a servant that follows (Servant Followership)?

Jesus desires you first to be a Servant Follower, and in due season, He will elevate you into a Servant Leader.

Now it’s your turn – tell me what you think about the concept of Servant F0llowership!

About Dr. Jim

Dr. Jim Harris serves executive teams who desire a breakthrough in strategy, innovation and teamwork. He has delivered hundreds of keynotes and business presentations around the world and is the author of numerous award-winning business books including Our Unfair Advantage: Unleash the Power of the Holy Spirit in Your Business, The Impacter: A Parable on Transformational Leadership and Finding and Keeping Great Employees.


  • Steve says:

    Dr. Jim, That is good! It’s all about serving Jesus first. He himself said serving Him is serving others.

  • Russ Swaim says:

    I think a better term for the type of leadership Jesus was both teaching and emulating to those around him, including his disciples is what I call Sacrificial Leadership. But Sacrificial Leadership isn’t going to sale many books. I guess what I am saying, “We shouldn’t be asking ‘Am I willing to die?’ but we should die daily to our selfish ambition and desire and love others by helping them to attain their needs and desires.

  • Every invitation that I have received to lead came as a result of someone observing how I follow.

    • drjimharris says:

      Very cool observation Ricardo! Many of the great leaders in the Bible were first faithful followers and “earned” the right to become a leader (Philip, Timothy, etc).

  • Steve says:

    I like your insight here Jim. It hits the nail on the head for me. I’ve always felt the best leaders were led by The Best. The trouble comes when they think that’s them (1 Cor 11:1).

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