Principal Leaders, Don’t Fail to Serve: Master the 4 P’s of Service Leadership

by | Mar 7, 2021 | 0 comments

11 min read

What’s Your Leadership Style? 

We’re not keen on labels. Why? Because labels typically end up limiting our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves and others. That said, identifying your leadership styles and strengths through reflection or by using a tool can be enlightening. You might find that you excel at communication and relationship building. You might realize that your style is more autocratic than authoritative. Or, maybe you learn that your strengths are visioning and goal setting, delegating and empowering the work that you want others to champion.

The question that all principals must ask themselves is: “what are the lived experiences of the people I seek to serve?” In other words, what is it like to be my follower, to work with me, and to experience my leadership? This type of reflection leads to perspective-finding, which is a powerful way to learn and grow. When we come to the realization that our role is in service of others, we can truly do what it takes to lead at a higher level. 

Servant Versus Service Leadership 

At TheSchoolHouse302, a fundamental aspect of our leadership paradigm is servant leadership. As Greenleaf, the godfather of servant leadership, once said, “the servant leader is servant first…the natural feeling that one wants to serve [others].” We subscribe to it, work to model it, and it underpins all of our materials, resources, models, and presentations. But, we draw a unique distinction between servant leadership and service leadership. 

Servant leadership is about empowering others, not using power over them. This style flips the demand-and-control mentality upside-down so that serving others is at the heart of leading. The goal is to fulfill the mission of the organization–to enable those whom the leader serves to best fulfill their role and to maximize their potential within the structures and norms of the organization. But, being a servant leader is not the same as service leadership. The simplest way to draw the distinction is that servant leaders use delegation and empowerment versus micro-management and authority; they see their job as setting the vision and getting out of the way. Service leaders, on the other hand, provide something special and unique for each person on the team or for the community at large. They don’t just empower, they provide. You can be both but only if you understand how each style works independently of the other. 

A Look Outside of Education: A Great Leader Who is Doing Both

Let’s take, for example, Scott Kammerer, who we interviewed for our #onethingseries leadership podcast. Listen here if you missed it. Scott is both a servant and a service leader. As an entrepreneur and restaurant owner, he embraces the spirit and attitude of a servant leader and uses his influence and opportunity to be a service leader as well. He’s the President of SoDel Concepts and the founder of SoDel Cares. So here’s how we draw our distinction. Not all restaurant owners are servant leaders. A restaurant owner could easily be an authoritative micromanager, who uses pressure without support, and even shaming to advance his goals. The opposite is the servant leader, clearly Kammerer’s philosophy, who leads people by identifying their strengths, lifting them to new heights, and empowering them to accomplish great things for the organization. In fact, Scott talks about getting out of the way so that people can exercise their greatest gifts, living by the vision of the company. That’s true servant leadership. 

But, Scott doesn’t also have to be a service leader. As a servant leader, he doesn’t need to go beyond SoDel Concepts to service the community, but he does. He’s the founder of SoDel Cares, which is a charity organization that gives money to assist children, at risk youth and adults, and the elderly. Their mission is “to contribute in a positive way to the communities where we do business.” SoDel Cares is a service leadership project that makes Scott not only a servant leader but also a service leader. 

Lastly, we imagine that someone could be a service leader but not a servant leader, although very unlikely. We doubt that too many dedicated service professionals have an authoritative approach, assisting with a need in the community but doing so in a dictatorial way. It’s possible, but not probable. In any event, we believe that leaders should “serve first” as Greenleaf put it. In growing your service leadership mindset, we have four areas that need attention to be a true service leader in your school and beyond.  

TheSchoolHouse302 Four Ps of Service Leadership 

#1 — People First.

Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. ~ Anne Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox

Angie Morgan, leadership expert and former officer in the United States Marine Corps, details in the book Spark an incredible story of where she was put first while in The Basic School, learning to be an Officer of Marines. Essentially, after the death of a loved one, her captain went above and beyond to ensure that every little detail was covered and taken care of for Angie, all prior to breaking the devastating news to her, which is custom for a captain to do. She explains that at that moment she learned “…to be a leader you can be tough, you can be aggressive, you can have demanding standards–but if you can’t be compassionate, empathetic, and caring, you’re never going to build a team of people who feel valued and connected.” 

Service-based leaders put their organization and their people ahead of themselves. They embrace the notion that to truly reach for and exact the vision of the school and live out the core beliefs, the people must feel valued and appreciated through the actions of the leader. You can see in this case that the captain provided a service above what it means to help people be their best self at work (servant leadership). 

Challenge Question: How are you putting people’s needs first by providing something unique to fulfil their needs?

#2 — Clear Priorities

The overwhelming reality is: we live in a world where almost everything is worthless and very few things are exceptionally valuable. ~ Greg McKeown, Author 

Ray Wang is the CEO of Constellation Research and the author of Disrupting Digital Business. He calls for companies to flip their thinking about priorities to include “strategic differentiation.” He tells HBR readers that priorities can “create game changing transformation” when we adopt social enterprises. Wang doesn’t say that these “social enterprises” have to be service-oriented projects, but in a service-based leadership model, we believe that one of the differentiated priorities should be “giving.” Making contributions outside of your traditional priorities will improve the spirit of the organization and the passion that people have for doing the work. 

Simple examples include philanthropic endeavors to raise funds for charity. More sophisticated approaches are to organize a group for a Saturday soup kitchen volunteer experience or even giving people time off (trading work time) for volunteer efforts that are pre-determined by the organization. In any case, differentiating priorities to include something that is philanthropic and outside the traditional scope of work will instill a positive attitude and sense of pride that are also part of this model for service leadership and certainly “exceptionally valuable” to the lives of people.  

Challenge Question: What is your school doing to give back to the community? 

#3 — Positive Attitude.  

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. ~ Maya Angelou

Having a positive attitude is a fundamental way to approach life so that you are mentally available to “see” opportunities. As a leader, it is critical to move forward each day with a positive mentality. Please don’t mistake having a positive attitude for a Pollyanna, blind-to-reality, view on life. As Tony Robbins says, you can’t stand in a garden and tell yourself, “no weeds, no weeds, no weeds” and expect that to prevent weeds from growing. Rather, our view of the power of positivity rests on the fact that much of our interpretation of our surroundings–the events that we attend and the situations that arise in our lives are a result of our perception. The key is being guided by positivity rather than negativity–the idea that each moment in life has the potential for greatness, not the opposite. 

This approach has two primary methods that leaders put in place for themselves: 1. We have to be intentionally mindful and take notice of all of the great aspects and joys in life, not just the issues that plague too much of our mental space. 2. When faced with any situation, especially negative, leaders must be aware of their initial reactions. As Dr. Dennis Waitley writes in The Psychology of Winning, “…it makes little difference what is actually happening, it’s how you, personally, take it that really counts.” We realize that the daily grind makes implementing both of these mental methods challenging, but that’s the point, isn’t it? The power is in the control that we have over both our attitude and our effort. 

Challenge Question: What steps can you take to be sure that you and others in your organization view experiences through a positive lens?

#4 — Beneficial Pride

Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need. ~ Khalil Gibran

Sometimes pride is less than beneficial. In fact, it can tear us apart, create dissent, and lead to arrogance, anger, and narcissism. But, pride can be beneficial as well. Psychology professor David DeSteno says that “while researchers long thought that all emotions inhibit self-control because they tip the mind toward valuing immediate pleasure, newer research suggests that certain emotions, including pride, do just the opposite: they nudge the mind to be more patient and future-oriented than it would otherwise be.” DeSteno’s research is not specific to service leadership, but it does show that when people are proud, in the same way that when people have gratitude and compassion, they tend to see value in what the future holds. 

This is an important aspect of service work because it means that instilling pride in people helps them to value the efforts they’re making for others toward a better future for all of us. To evoke pride in your team, DeSteno says, leaders need to give specific praise about a measurable task. When we praise people effectively, they feel the pride needed to continue the work, persisting longer than they would without the praise.  

Challenge Question: Do your people feel proud about the work they’re doing and are they future-driven about the value they add to your community because of the praise they receive? 

Service leadership is about the result of having a heart for and a desire to do for others what they might not otherwise be able to do for themselves. It first takes an understanding of oneself and inventory of your leadership style so that you can be the leader you wish to be for others. Being of service creates a greater sense of community, it works for the betterment of our society as a whole. The greatest service leadership is the giving of oneself to realize a world that we believe in and that we work toward. Service leaders support, develop, and build people through the 4 Ps of Service Leadership. Reach out and let us know how you are serving the people who you lead. 

Stay tuned for more nuggets of wisdom, podcasts, books to read, reflection sessions, and the best resources for leading better and growing faster in schools. Follow us at to join thousands of leaders who get our content each month. Send this to a friend. 

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TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple by maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

Joe & T.J. 


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