Servant Leadership that Ticks

By IPDD Dr Wiliam Lau, DTM

Dr. William Lau, DTM. District 102 Director. 2018-2019.


Each year, numerous workshops, seminars and conferences are held to deliberate on various aspects of leadership in organizations. The costs run into millions of dollars.

Focus is often centred on power-based leadership styles; namely,
• Autocratic leadership,
• Democratic leadership, and,
• Free-rein leadership

These three leadership styles eventually gave birth to various “hybridized leadership styles”. Some of which may include aggressive, assertive, task-oriented, people-oriented leadership styles. There are many others that emerge out of these three broad categories of styles.

A leadership style that is often omitted from the discussion is Servant Leadership. This latter style is rarely applied in commercial organizations where optimal equity returns take priority. It is often viewed and regarded as ineffective and unproductive since it takes far too much interaction time.

Servant leadership, however when applied to non-profit service organizations like Toastmasters International, can be effective. Leaders in service organizations are not enumerated for their time, efforts and expertise. Service is practically voluntary. It is in voluntarism that poses great challenges to the servant leaders.

Despite the great challenges, numerous successes have been yearly reported by those who exercise servant leadership at club, area, division and district levels.

Servant leadership per se may sound weak and ineffective; but when exercised in conjunction with the following knowledge, skills and attributes, it can be a source of strength:
• Administrative knowledge, experience and skills;
• Person-oriented disposition
• Ethical code of conduct
• Humility, magnanimity and adaptability
• Patience, perseverance and a high degree of frustration tolerance.

In Toastmasters, time for success is the essence. They have only 12 months to prove their mettle. Hence, their actions and activities must be mission-focused and carried out within the limited budget allotted them by Toastmasters International during their term.

Leaders have one thing in common. It is their communication skill. This is the skill that undergirds their success. They communicate all the time – they listen, write and speak in order to convey their thoughts, ideas and goals to the masses so that they can carry out and work towards their goals and objectives.

Besides, they participate wherever possible in clubs or district functions. Participation is an effective way of showing support and moral encouragement to those to whom they are committed to serve.

The life of servant leaders can be challenging. They deal with human beings. Being human themselves, they have feelings like anyone else. Sometimes, situations make them sigh; but they have to put on a smile in order to suppress their temperament. They exercise patience and perseverance in trying to understand their members’ complaints, grouses or lamentations. Sometimes, because of policy matters, their freedom of actions is constrained. This is where the general membership needs to understand and bear with them.

The KPIs of servant leaders in Toastmasters are pre-determined at each and every level. Toastmasters International encourages all its clubs, areas, divisions and districts to attain their highest level of achievement each year; that is, President’s Distinguished Target. The achievers can derive great self-fulfilment and realization when their successes are recognized.

To be leaders, It is imperative to realize that they must have also accepted the role of followership. Leadership and followership are both complementary and mutually reinforcing. It is through this synergy that service quality, harmony, mutual understanding and effective teamwork are fostered and built. This, in turn, brings about happiness, joy and satisfaction in serving communities or associations.

For success and self-actualization, do try out servant leadership. Do give yourself a chance to practice it. Initially, you may find this leadership style a bit difficult to exercise. But, through constant practice, failures, learning and relearning, success can soon be attained at the other end of the rewarding tunnel.