Serve to Lead: Your Transformational Twenty-First Century Leadership System

Human Resource Management International Digest

ISSN: 0967-0734

Article publication date: 12 January 2015



(2015), "Serve to Lead: Your Transformational Twenty-First Century Leadership System", Human Resource Management International Digest, Vol. 23 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Serve to Lead: Your Transformational Twenty-First Century Leadership System

Article Type: Suggested reading From: Human Resource Management International Digest, Volume 23, Issue 1

James M. Strock, 2010, Lead Press, ISBN: 9780984077403

James M. Strock’s Serve to Lead: Your Transformational Twenty-First Century Leadership System helps leaders at all levels to grow as servant leaders. It emphasizes the need to keep people before the profit.

The author lists ten principles of twenty-first century leadership: everyone can lead, because everyone can serve; the most valuable resource of any enterprise is its people; we are in transition from a transaction-based world to a relationship-based world; leadership is a relationship between empowered, consenting adults; leadership is a dynamic relationship; there is no universal leadership style; leadership roles are converging; a leader’s unique task is to imagine and advance a vision; love is the highest level of leadership relationship; and character is a competitive advantage.

The author observes that leaders who are effective over time are committed to learning. This is true in fields from sport to politics, from business to religion and from music to the military.

Every generation discovers insights overlooked by other generations; every generation overlooks insights discovered by previous generations.

In today’s relationship-based world, says the author, your single most important relationship is with your customers. To serve your customers effectively, you must serve your employees effectively. Successful military leaders – from Lord Nelson to George Washington and from Napoleon to Dwight D. Eisenhower – showed love those for whom they had responsibility. George Washington recognized that serving others in small ways could build and strengthen habits of thinking, putting others’ needs before your own. The result can be an instinctive inclination to serve that can be drawn upon at unforeseen moments, for the highest stakes.

The author maintains that a leadership style serving people well in one time and place may not work in another time and place, even when serving the same people. The appropriate leadership approach is the one that enables you to serve most effectively in the circumstances at hand.

Today, you can create market value by sharing and visibly advancing the personal values cherished by your customers. The relationship can be dramatically intensified if they see themselves as living their values by purchasing and using your products.

A company that lives by the transaction dies by the transaction. You should aim for a unique, durable relationship that a customer values beyond any particular transaction.

Whatever is the nature of your enterprise, your ultimate concern is to serve your customers. You should mobilize every resource – financial, intellectual, emotional and spiritual – to serve them effectively. Ultimately, the culture you create for customers is the culture you create for your employees and others with whom you collaborate.

As a manager, your ultimate task is to hire, motivate and develop leaders for your enterprise. You serve your enterprise – and your customers – most effectively by empowering your team members to unlock their potential, individually and in combination with others.

Employees increasingly can be fired at the whim of their employer. Yet, in today’s networked world, high-performing employees increasingly have the resources and opportunities to move on if they are dissatisfied.

Focusing on those you are serving rather than yourself, says the author, is the greatest single factor in effective communication. Everything else is built on this foundation. In preparing any written or spoken communication, do not hesitate to ask questions in advance to determine how you can best serve. Your audience, and those representing it, may have different ideas from what you would have anticipated. Collaborative preparation may result in a product more compelling than you or they independently envisioned.

Effective communication is central to leadership. Communication was all too often viewed as a support function in the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, with individuals empowered as never before, even the most powerful organizations no longer control communications, which affect their very existence. To be effective, organizations and individuals must make communication a core function that informs and drives strategy.

In the twentieth century, authority conferred credibility. Today, formal authority no longer gets the benefit of the doubt. More often than not, it labors under the burden of doubt. In the twenty-first century, credibility confers authority.

The author advises drafting a single sentence that you would like to express the essence of your life. Think of it as the one, memorable, apt line that you would have others summon up in looking back on your life. Make this your vision statement for leading your life.

Diplomas and degrees, says the author, are not emblems of entitlement; they are licences to learn. Over time, our day-to-day decisions determine our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual capacities as much or more than our inborn traits and gifts.

The worst day of a life led with courage, stresses the author, is better than the best day of a life cosseted for safety. The essence of courage is serving others with unconditional love.

James Strock concludes the book with a service map for eight weeks to convert your life into a masterpiece of service. He is a sage on servant leadership and provides plenty of useful information in this worthwhile book.

Reviewed by Professor M.S. Rao, available at:,

Related articles