Servant Leadership – Greetings from the Front Desk!


Over the years, I have learned never to assume that a person is what their professional title reflects.

What has been most fascinating, I must say, has been the experience of learning from those in the business world who are typically characterized as a…shall I say…”second class citizens.” Although they may seem to be as “functional” necessities, many are the stongest leaders found in an organization.

I am referring to the wonderful people who greet you at the door of their organization.

Real Talk

When was the last time you sincerely conversed with your receptionist(s), executive assistant, secretary, and/or office manager who greets you and your guest everyday and who ensures that all are well cared for?  Or better yet, when did you last take that influential person out to lunch for casual conversation?

Think About This

Did you ever stop and consider that these servant leaders often know more about the inner-workings of the office and/or business than their esteemed counterparts found in the corner office or behind the mahogany desks at your office? Did you ever consider that these “interchangeable” people might actually be the very source of power and influence at your organization and you never even thought about this/

They listen, assist, teach, and influence many people everyday. These behaviors, and not their positions, are what makes them so influential in your workplace.

Attractive Leaders

The frontline people who greet your employees, guests, and customer often times decide how easily the schedule flows each day by “greasing the wheels” and maintaining strong relationships with other people in the roles of receptionist, executive assistant, and/or office manager at various other firms.

They often come in early and/or stay late to make sure the coffee is made, documents are ready and presentation materials/equipment are all set for the next day.

Whether on email, or by phone, or in person, they provide empathy, healing, and awareness to anyone they meet. They gently persuade, conceptualize, express foresight, engage in stewardship, illustrate their commitment to the growth of others, and build community to help serve.

Wow! That is an attractive leader! That is who I want to be around!”

But Rather…

But rather than receive high accolades, honors, or recognition, these highly influential people often get overlooked for the true value and influence they provide for their organization. Many people who are decorated with advanced degrees in education, awards in performance, or high in positional authority often simply walk by and give little love and attention to the people of true influence.

And in doing this, they are not only short-changing the people for whom they owe much, they are robbing themselves of the honor, dignity, and strength they receive back when they first “show up as a giver” to others.

Yet, I have both been, and seen, these diligent, hard workers passed over with little more than a “hello” when visitors come in. I have noticed the lack of sincerity in the greeting to them. I also know some of these servant leaders (including me)  have advanced degrees, extensive training and are hard workers.

They are people. And at times, they too would like some recognition, respect and attention, just as those in more “elevated” positions.

Servant Leadership

Jane T. Wadell of Regent University (2006) writes this about servant leadership:

Greenleaf (1991) explains that the servant-leader is servant first, which begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Following the desire to serve may be a conscious choice that brings one to aspire to lead. The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types of leaders with the servant-first leader taking care to make sure other people’s highest priority needs are being served.”

These servant leaders focus on identifying and meeting the needs of others rather than trying to acquire more power, wealth, or any kind of “fame” for themselves. These “others-focused” people are working with their eyes as wide open as their hearts to help people every day, all day. Just because they are doing this doesn’t mean that they should be “dismissed.”

On the contrary: They should be appreciate and shown gratitude!

As you interact with these who willingly serve so many so often, think of this: Some work in these roles because they like what they do. And others are just “biding their time” until their talents, skills, and interests are noticed.

No matter what their intentions, to be in this role servant leadership is often a part of their core personality – or they wouldn’t have been content for long. Once their gifts and talents are truly recognized, and the person determines they would like a change, how does one elevate a servant leader into a more strategic role in the organization?

A greater understanding comes from the summary of Servant-Leadership Characteristics In Organizational Life,

“Servant-Leadership is about creating the right organizational environment to get the best out of people. It is about organizational effectiveness to unleash the true potential of employees, which is especially needed at the middle-management level of organizations. Today’s highly competitive global marketplace requires leaders to realign their organizational structures, systems, and management styles in order to empower their employees to survive and thrive in their changing organizations.”

Don’t Try This At Home

As you enter your workplace tomorrow, schedule some time for lunch with your receptionist(s), executive assistant, and/or office manager.

  1. Truly engage the person(s) in conversation about their professional and personal life goals. Find out what their aspirations are and discuss how you can best provide them with opportunities for future growth within the company.  Make yourself available.
  2. Set up monthly appointments with them for mentorship or offer and allow opportunities for them to meet with a mentor of their own choosing. Introduce them to those whom you feel would be wonderful assets to them in their desires for growth. Allow the person(s) into your network.
  3. During your time with them, help them develop a professional growth plan.  If more training/education is needed, be an advocate.  If possible, offer financial support.  If that isn’t possible, again, open up your network to help support their needs.
  4. Don’t be afraid to express your concerns as an employer – the fear of losing good/talented people once their goals are met; the desire to assist, but not get “abused” in the process.  Be open and genuine.

This show of concern will likely be a surprise for your servant leader, But what a welcomed and refreshing surprise it will be in the end!  Loyalty will be gained in more substantive form by those who reach out.

Remember, this is truly about talent management, not just shifting a person’s role.  The best laid plans for your talent can create a more sustainable, competitive enterprise!

So when you come in tomorrow, try to get on their calendar.

What are you doing to increase the potential of your Executive Assistant? Have you been a mentor to the person at your “front desk?” What kind of relationship do you have with those who work to serve your needs and your client’s needs each day? What strategies have you used to help develop your “front desk” talent? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Kilby Watson is a Learning and Development Professional
She leads change through education, professional and organizational development

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3 responses to “Servant Leadership – Greetings from the Front Desk!

  1. A truly powerful idea.

    And I’d like to suggest that we expand the notion more broadly to extend random acts of kindness, appreciation, or just plain acknowledgement to those with whom we interact on a regular or even periodic basis. The parking lot attendant, the server at your favourite coffee place.

    I’m not suggesting that we take them for lunch, but simply communicate that we “see” them and appreciated their contribution to our well-being.

    Many years ago (when I was new to computers, and seemed to spend part of every day on the phone with tech support people) I decided that I would just start making an effort to catch the tech’s name when they answered my call, and say, “hi Bill/Jane, how are you today?”

    Well, I was stunned at the immediate change in tone of voice and interest in my problem that that simple “intervention” evoked in the person on the other end of the line.

    Since then I’ve replicated this strategy thousands of times with all manner of “strangers” with whom I’ve come in contact, with vitually always the same response — an instantaneous transformation from the emotionless, “this is Jim, how can I help you?” to “I’M FINE THANKS HOW ARE YOU — HOW CAN I HELP YOU TODAY? (it’s hard to communicate emotion through type.)

    Anyway, my two cents.

  2. Pingback: WANTED: An Un-Corruptible (Servant) Leader « Linked 2 Leadership·

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