Written by David Goodacre,  December 2020 for our Serve to Lead community event, 21st January 2021.

“Sound leadership – like true love, to which I suspect it is closely related – is all powerful. It can overcome the seemingly impossible and its effect on both leader and led is profound and lasting”.

Lieutenant Sydney Jary, MC

In this piece I do not talk of “management”, but of “leadership”. This is deliberate. There is a difference between leadership and management. The leader and those who follow represent one of the oldest, most natural and most effective of all human relationships.  The manager and those they manage is a relatively modern concept, lacking in historical or romantic narratives.

“Leadership is of the spirit, compounded of personality and vision: its practice is an art.  Management is of the mind, more a matter of accurate calculation, of statistics, of methods, timetables and routine; its practice is a science. Managers are necessary; leaders are essential.”

Field Marshal Sir William Slim 4 April 1957

There are many widely accepted philosophies on leadership and leadership style.  I come from the perspective that it is a privilege to lead others.  Leadership is not about you, it is about the people you lead.  Serve them well and they will serve you.  Leadership must be confident, but unless it is matched in equal measure by humility, it grates, at which point the led simply wane.  If I am to lead you, first and foremost I must be your servant.  It is widely acknowledged in the military that to lead you must know your people, know how to serve them

“Know the bolts and nuts of your job, but above all know your men. When you command a platoon, you ought to know each man in it better than his own mother does. You must know which man responds to encouragement, which to reasoning, and which needs a good kick in the pants. Know your men.” 

Field Marshal Sir William Slim, West Point 1953. 

This is why I find the question “what type of leader are you?” such a complex question to answer. To succeed you must be what your people need in that situation; adapt and learn from them.

This leadership philosophy is values based and is motivated not by self-interest but in the service of others.  Values are part of a good leader, they live them 24/7/365, whatever the situation; and values drive behaviour.  Teams are at their most cohesive, and therefore most effective, when values are shared, and trust is implicit.  For effective leadership to prevail in the most demanding of circumstances, it must be moral, just and authentic, and applied by all.  Never are core values more vulnerable yet more pivotal to success than in crisis, such as the one we currently face.

Serve to Lead requires the leader to place the followers at the centre of his or her actions, but it does not however mean that the leader relinquishes the right to make decisions, provide direction or retain responsibility for the outcome.  Choosing to Serve to Lead can be a time-consuming way of leading, but it just may be a style that comes more naturally to you and will, as a result, promote better results and related organisational benefits.  Listening to followers, considering their needs, placing them at the centre of activity are all principles that were drummed into me as a young platoon commander 20+ years ago. In following Serve to Lead principles, we create an inclusive environment that is caring and compassionate; where we are open and honest, we deliver well as teams – to a high standard, and we all feel valued and respected.

Lead by example.  To lead is a verb.  It is about action.  The internet is full of leadership philosophies – ‘inclusive leadership’, ‘coach and mentor’, ‘doing the hard right versus the easier wrong’.  These are all very valid, but they must be lived.  Be a role model.  Live the values you expect others to uphold.  Communicate your values consistently, most effectively by demonstrating them.  This generates integrity, trust, assurance and loyalty.  Serve to Lead.


Our thanks to David Goodacre for this blog, as one of our contributors in our Serve to Lead community event,  supported by Kaleidoscope, Project Lift’s Community partners. Find out more about our community events past and present .