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Do leaders exist to lead, or do leaders exist to serve?

According to Doug DeVos, president of Amway, leadership is all about service.

Doug leads a global team of more than 20,000 people. Although he has the title of president, he views himself as a servant-leader with a goal of lifting others up.

He puts it this way: “Leadership is serving those around you in a way that helps them be the best they can be, and therefore achieves the results for your organization or team.”

The idea of servant leadership is a far cry from the command and control style of leadership that was commonplace just a few decades ago. To succeed in the future of work, modern leaders must be humble and willing to serve their employees and company to get the best results.

As part of the research for my book, The Future Leader, I interviewed more than 140 top CEOs from around the world about how leaders will need to think to be successful in the next decade and beyond. Having a servant mindset was an overwhelmingly popular response. When I interviewed Doug, he shared his insights and experiences of leading with a servant mindset.

Doug learned the servant mindset as he watched his father Rich co-found and lead Amway. Rich championed the concept of servant leadership and taught Doug by example that leaders lift from the trenches instead of shouting commands from above.

For Doug, leadership can only be defined in terms of being a servant. Instead of focusing on titles and corner offices, Doug’s leadership emphasis is on serving and lifting the people around him. That servant mindset of a servant is a large reason for Amway’s success.

How To Develop A Servant Leader Mindset

Doug believes a leader’s entire goal is to serve the organization. All leaders set a vision, objectives, and strategies. The difference with a servant leader is how they communicate their messages. As Doug says, there’s a difference between communicating in a self-aggrandizing way to showcase yourself instead of doing something because it’s the right thing for the organization. Servant leaders don’t care who gets the credit for a great idea as long as it serves the company.

The mindset of a servant leader is more than just being humble—it involves being curious and innovative to find new ideas and working with diverse teams to include a variety of perspectives.

Doug told me this: “I think leaders of the future have to put themselves in places with new people and have conversations about the issues that are important in the areas that they’re leading.”

A leader can’t truly be a servant if they don’t know their employees and customers. They have to be curious about new ideas and willing to have uncomfortable conversations to truly understand their people and their organization. With that foundation of understanding, they can know where to serve and focus their efforts.

Doug believes that focusing on softer, people skills creates a strong work environment.

“Sometimes when you talk about these softer skills, there’s an impression that performance is going to suffer, and I think what we try to say is we believe exactly the opposite.” In reality, these skills and mindsets are crucial to success individually and as an organization. Doug’s team at Amway is in regular conversation about how to grow this mindset within the organization.

Serving and Developing Employees

A large part of being a servant leader is serving employees and providing them opportunities to grow and develop. Servant leaders are by nature focused on the future because they want to plant the seeds and create the leaders who will keep the company on a successful path.

“One of the things we learned early on at Amway is that it doesn’t start with the shareholders or the executives,” Doug said. “It starts with your newest employee. If you’re creating an environment that’s attractive for them and that they can be successful in and have a desire to be part of and stick with, then the rest of the organization is going to be fine because to a certain extent, you’re connecting with the future.”

Doug wants all of his employees to succeed and develop, but he realizes that people have to make their own choices and he can’t force them into anything. He understands that his success is built on the success that he can help encourage others to achieve for themselves. But that doesn’t mean he can force others to success—he can only provide opportunities and a framework for growth.

“We can provide controls and things of that manner, but I can’t make somebody go out and do something. I can’t make somebody in our salesforce sell our product. I can only offer the opportunities.”

Those opportunities can take numerous forms, from establishing mentoring programs and training courses to facilitating small group development or encouraging a flexible schedule and work-life balance.

Successful leaders of the future must adopt the mindset of the servant. This humble, curious approach to leadership focuses on the good of the organization and its people. By developing the mindset within yourself and fostering future leaders, the entire organization can succeed and move forward.

How To Become A Servant Leader

  • Get to know your employees as individuals. Ask questions and listen to their perspectives.
  • Communicate what’s best for the organization, not what is best for you personally.
  • Onboard new employees by integrating them into the culture from the beginning and setting them up for success.
  • Develop a strong framework for employee development, such as training or mentoring programs.


If you enjoyed the article and want more content like this here’s what you can do:

  1. Subscribe to The Future of Work Podcast where I interview business leaders around the world each week.
  2. Grab a copy of The Future Leader which has been endorsed by the CEOs of MasterCard, Best Buy, Oracle, Audi, Unilever, Domino’s Pizza, Ritz Carlton, Kaiser, and Marshall Goldsmith. It explores the most essential skills and mindsets for future leaders.
  3. If you are or want to be an entrepreneur then my wife and I just launched a brand new podcast on how to Be Your Own Boss, called the BYOB Podcast where we share what we did and how we did it. You can subscribe to that here.