Oct 26 2021| Leadership | leaders | crisis

Serve to Lead

October Business Brief

by Phil Eyre Leaders' Founder

In his latest Business Brief article, Leaders’ Founder Phil Eyre talks about our chance to mitigate the climate disaster, emphasising that global leadership needs to support and see the opportunity beyond the immediate deal. This ‘serve to lead’ type of leadership can be identified through three key hallmarks.


We face an enormous challenge this decade, one that will dwarf Covid-19 and impact lives globally in ways we can’t yet imagine. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a highly credible scientific body, issued their latest report in August, making for sobering reading.

The report was deliberately published ahead of the COP 2026 Climate Summit. It demonstrates clearly that human activity has impacted the climate so much that droughts, floods and extreme heatwaves will become increasingly normal, with devastating effect. We have a chance to mitigate disaster, but only if high-impact action is taken urgently. We need action that will change the way that many millions of people work and live.

Global leadership is needed, in ways that we’ve yet to observe. It’s the type of leadership in government, large businesses, small businesses, third sectors and homes, that places others at the centre and is not self-serving. It’s leadership that supports and sees opportunity beyond the immediate deal rather than grabbing what are perceived as ‘scarce resources’ without a care for those who might need them the most.

This type of leadership is not new. Ancient wisdom ranging from biblical proverbs to Buddhist teaching expounds humble, selfless leadership. The Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst has had as its motto ‘Serve to Lead’ for over 70 years.

Whether you agree that there is a climate crisis or not, what can you learn from a serve-to-lead attitude? These are the three key hallmarks:


Relentless optimism

When facing a major challenge, human nature can too easily focus on what can’t be done rather than what can. Leaders who are compelled by improving other people’s lives and the world are orientated to find solutions, work through struggles, overcome obstacles and innovate different approaches to achieve the aims. Overcoming a defeatist mindset is essential for any leader who wants to lead change and achieve meaningful outcomes.

Ignoring an issue, quickly accepting defeat and giving up because it just seems too big is the antithesis of what’s needed. Some teams we work with have got into this defeatist rut and put more energy into not taking action, justifying their inertia, than into creating new solutions.

Tom Rivett-Carnac, keynote speaker at this month’s IoD Convention in Guernsey, describes it like this: ‘This learned reaction [of hopelessness] is not only untrue, it’s become fundamentally irresponsible…You can switch your focus and you will be stunned by the impact such a shift can create.’ [‘The Future We Choose’].

Ask yourself every day, ‘what one thing can I do that will make a difference in this situation?’ And then act on it.


Cares for the whole

Leaders with a serve-to-lead attitude take great care for the whole system. They take care of their resources, nurturing and not just extracting from them. For example, their attitude towards employees is to treat them as people, humans who are respected, showing interest and taking care of their ‘whole’ lives, not just extracting a return from the hours they work.

They are naturally more empathetic, they listen, are aware and care about people’s problems and place the needs of others above their own. This attitude extends to all resources, including physical ones. A service-first attitude takes responsibility for impact and seeks to replenish and restore rather than disguise and ignore.


Horizon thinking

Servant leaders are not solely focused on delivering quarterly numbers but think about the bigger picture, beyond even their own tenure in the leadership role.

Sustainability and succession are normal considerations rather than occasional agenda items. They seek foresight, especially on the longer-term impacts of actions taken today, and resist the temptation to ignore future problems on the basis that they’ll be ‘long gone’ by then. Sometimes there are short-term costs to this attitude: ‘fast-buck’ opportunities passed up because their long-term impact will be more damaging. This can be as simple as refusing to take on a high fee-paying client because you can see the future pain they will create.

We need leaders who serve others, not themselves, more than ever. We all have our part to play in the race to make droughts, floods and extreme heatwaves become abnormal rather than normal.


About The Author | Phil Eyre

Phil is Leaders’ founder. He has an enthusiastic and inspiring style, drawing on his experience in business, academia and social sectors to help any leadership team to achieve phenomenal performance. Phil has significant expertise in sophisticated psychometrics and in the application of human data for individual, team and organisational success. He has trained with and been mentored by, global leaders in this field, notably Dr Chuck Coker in the US. Phil began his career in the UK offshore finance industry in 1994, working for a wealth management company, Canaccord Genuity Wealth International. Phil was head of the company's Guernsey division, with a staff of 120 and assets under management of £4.5billion before resigning from executive responsibilities in 2008. Since launching Leaders in 2017, Phil has worked with many senior executives and boards primarily in the Channel Islands and City of London. He regularly writes for a variety of business publications and is often invited to speak at events for institutions such as the IoD and the British Army. Phil works closely with clients on focussed projects and long-term retainers to raise leadership standards. He is a popular and inspiring educator and coach who, with the insights gained from psychometrics, is able to accurately detect the strengths and weaknesses in leadership teams and boards. Phil has served on the boards of various charities, ran the Guernsey hub of a national theology college, received accreditation as a pastor in the Baptist Union of Great Britain and is accredited in various motivation and behavioural techniques.

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