Becoming a Leader: Lessons from 3 Leading Leadership Experts

Becoming a Leader: Lessons from 3 Leading Leadership Experts
A leader isn't just the one in charge, a leader must inspire, motivate, and above all else, be willing to sacrifice for the team.

There is a wonderful leadership discipline that is unfortunately under-utilized in our society.  Some refer to it as “servant leadership”, others call it “beyond you leadership”, and others just say that their job is to help those that work for them better themselves. However you phrase it, the primary theme is that you serve the ones you lead.

I recently attended Leadercast Live, which is a one day event that hosts fantastic speakers and leadership experts who all present on a central theme.  If you are at all serious about developing as a leader, you owe it to yourself to attend a live event or one of the local satellite feeds.  This year’s theme was Beyond You Leadership.  In its most simple form, Beyond You Leadership means that, as a leader, your job is to help those under you develop into the best worker/person they can be.  Sounds simple enough, right?  Well, it isn’t easy. Nothing in real leadership ever is.  However, with focus, determination, and a desire to truly grow as a leader, you can adopt this style and make it work for you.

Obviously, one Primer article is not enough to give you all you need to know about becoming a servant leader. It’s been discussed by everyone from Lao-Tzu to Forbes Magazine. But, what I can do is give you a great jumping off point to start your journey. After all, that’s what leadership is, a journey.  And what would a journey be without some excellent guides to help you along the way.

Andy Stanley 

andy stanley

Through his books and presentations, Andy Stanley not only does an excellent job of explaining what servant leadership consists of, but also how to do it, and how it can benefit you and those you lead.

Here are some points from Andy’s teachings that really stick with me:

  • True leaders fearlessly and selflessly empower leaders around them, as well as those coming along behind them.
    • This means that leaders are not afraid of someone under them taking their job.  A leader’s goal is to help those around them achieve their goals, even if it means that they eventually surpass them.  Andy tells his staff his job is not to fill their cup, but to empty his own.  This means that he can’t possibly teach them everything they will need to know, but he will teach them everything he knows.  If you have experience that will help your team, you owe it to them to share.
  • The value of our life is always measured in terms of how much of it was given away.  We don’t celebrate accumulation at funerals, we celebrate generosity and selflessness.  The value of our leadership is measured the exact same way.
    • It’s great that you made it to where you are even though no one cut you a break, and you had to fight tooth and nail to get there, but you probably resent those people who tried to hold you down.  But why do you have to be like that now that you’re here?  As a leader, if all you do is horde your power, your legacy will die alone.  But, use your power to help others succeed, and your legacy will be celebrated and live on in those you helped.
  • Work for your team.  Ask them “How can I leverage my influence to help you do your job? Make it easier?  More efficient?”
    • You’re responsible for your team’s results, so why wouldn’t you want to do everything you can to help them produce better results?

henry cloud

Dr. Henry Cloud

Dr. Cloud is a clinical psychologist who uses his education and experience to help corporations and their leaders improve.  He tells some great stories, and he has a very down to earth way of explaining his theories.

  • You can only win trust by winning hearts.
    • It can’t all be about you.  If you’re only a boss because you want to be in charge and get more money, you won’t be a leader.  You have to genuinely desire to understand the tasks and concerns of those you lead.
  • People need to understand why they do what they do.
    • If you want the people you lead to be fulfilled, it can’t just be about the job.  Heck, if you want to be fulfilled, it can’t just be about the job. Find the purpose in what you do, and help those you lead find it too.  What is the end result?
    • Day to day, the folks on my team sit at a desk, make phone calls, send emails, and leave messages.  Doing this for 40 hours a week can get monotonous very quickly.  But, they do it, day in and day out, with smiles on their faces and songs in their hearts because they know what the end results of their efforts are.  They know that they are helping working adults better themselves, their careers, and the lives of their families by earning a college degree.   Help your team understand the end result of their tasks.  Do you make lives better? Maybe indirectly?  If you look hard enough, you’ll find it.
  • Real leaders are able to give up control.
    • When something needs to be done, and someone is capable of doing it, let them do it. Don’t just hand over the power willy-nilly though.  That’s just asking for trouble.  Define what they can do with the power.  Give them clear expectations and explain why it’s good for them to have this power. Then, see how they do.  If they do well, let them know.  If they fail, help them see where they fell short.  No matter what, you’ll end up knowing more about your team than you did before.

simon sinek

Simon Sinek

Simon is my current favorite leadership teacher.  He takes leadership and human motivation and puts them in incredibly simple terms.  He’s also the record holder of the second most viewed Ted Talk “Start With Why”. (Visit to see how Ted Talks can change your life) His latest Ted Talk, “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe”, is also excellent.  Even with him being my favorite, I am only going to share one point and two videos.  The first video is a short clip that gives you a quick insight into his work.  The second video is a full lecture at approximately 45 minutes long, but it is a “must see” for those interested in developing as a leader.

  • The results of leadership cannot be measured on a daily basis.
    • Just like exercise, it takes constant work, over a period of time, to see the results of your efforts.  You can’t expect to go to the gym once and then come home with well-defined arms and a firm, flat stomach. So why would you expect to do one team building exercise, or read one leadership book and suddenly expect to have a cohesive, high functioning, trusting team? It’s important to measure your progress, but don’t get caught up in day to day progress.  It takes time.
  • Why Organizations Need a Circle of Safety gives a quick look into Simon’s philosophy.  If you like what you hear, set aside some time to watch the next video.

  • Why Leaders Eat Last is an excellent insight into why the whole servant leadership idea works.

As I said, there is a lot to study and learn about servant leadership, and you never truly stop learning.  And it’s true, not everyone’s personality fits right with this style. But, if you feel that it is a good fit for you, and you’re willing to put in the work, the journey of servant leadership can be a very rewarding experience.  If you would like to discuss servant leadership further, or have questions about how you can apply it to your life, post in the comments section.  I’m interested in hearing your thoughts and collaborating with you.

Adam currently serves as the supervisor of Student Services for Columbia Southern University. His hobbies include adventure racing, anything involving the outdoors, and zombies. He spends his free time enjoying all of these things with his wife and two dogs.


  • Reply June 17, 2014


    Great article!

    • Reply June 19, 2014

      Adam Brewton

      Thanks Chris!

  • Reply June 17, 2014


    Very true, leaders are “others-centered”, not self-focused. Great article!

    • Reply June 19, 2014

      Adam Brewton

      Thanks John! That’s exactly right. You can be self-focused. That’s your choice, and a fine one to make. However, if what you truly want is to lead people…not be an authority to them, but actually lead them…then you have to put their needs and development first.

  • Reply June 17, 2014


    Great stuff, and you don’t have to be a Fortune 500 CEO to implement them. Appreciate the article.

    • Reply June 19, 2014

      Adam Brewton

      Thanks Drew! I’m glad you enjoyed it. You’re absolutely right. You don’t have to be an executive to put these into use. In fact, if you start implementing these principles in a lower level position, your chance of reaching that executive level with your integrity intact and a team of people behind you who genuinely believe in you increases dramatically. Provided you
      work for a good company 🙂

  • Reply June 22, 2014

    Just A Bloke

    What I’m getting from this is that to be a leader you have to be unselfish. If that’s the case, then it’s good for each & every one of us to try our best to be leaders.

    • Reply June 24, 2014

      Adam Brewton

      That is a VERY big part of it. If we all worked and acted in an unselfish manner, think of how much better our work and home life would be. Think of how great the world would be!

  • Reply June 24, 2014

    Kyle Ingham

    Love the point about how real leaders are able to give up control to empower others. Seems couterintuitive at first, but makes total sense. Great article!

    • Reply June 24, 2014

      Adam Brewton

      Thanks Kyle. Giving up power is hard to do as well. Really though, if you think about it, you’ve assembled these people because you think they are capable, and have potential to do great things (You do right? If not, why are they working for you?). Let them prove you right. Most of the successful people who are worth admiring became successful not because they could do everything themselves, but because they surrounded themselves with people who could do each of the things that needed to be done. Many times, your job as a leader is to not to do things, but to help get things done. Sometimes you have to do it yourself, sometimes you just need to help, and sometimes you need to turn it over to an expert.

  • Reply June 28, 2014

    Allen McDaniel

    This article and the accompanying media is fantastic. I have always admired leaders who emulate this quality and daily work to lead in this way personally. At 28, I am fortunate to be the ED of a medical foundation and have found this leadership style to be incredibly powerful when implementing change and securing that essential buy-in from other community leaders. I’d be very interested in learning more of your ongoing observations and/or exchanging some ideas.

    • Reply July 1, 2014

      Adam Brewton

      I’m glad to hear from someone who has had the opportunity to put this to use. As I’m sure you’ve discovered, it doesn’t work 100% of the time, and there are always times when you may need a different tool, but if your initial approach to situations is fromt his angle, you tend to find a lot less problems and a lot more opportunities. One of my favorite lessons from a Leadership course I took in college was that “Leadership can’t be taught, but it can be learned”. That’s an amazingly simple concept, because you can’t truly develop your skills until you get some time in the field. Reading articles like this only help with the theory aspect of Leadership. You have to actually put in the time, sweat, and energy practicing them to truly understand them and develop them for your own use.

  • Reply July 5, 2014

    J.L. Woodson

    This Was Awesome!!!

  • Reply July 29, 2014

    Anthony Capps

    Thanks for the leadership insight, Adam! I am a third grade teacher at Gulf Shores Elementary, and I am about to teach my third class of students in a couple of weeks. Our school is developing what educators refer to as Project Based Learning, which basically entails motivating students to learn state standards through projects that are relevant to their own experiences and questions. We are also engaging in Stephen Covey’s Leader in Me leadership development program as a school.

    Your article is a great reminder that it’s my job to help my students understand WHY learning the topics we explore is important. I want to witness more smiles and hear more songs from their hearts when we learn together in class.

    We have grouped our standards into project themes, but I think it would be really interesting to sit with as many community members as it takes to make these project ideas authentic. I think it would keep me accountable as a teacher/leader, and it would keep the students engaged in the process more effectively because they would see how their learning journey affects the community they live in.

    I apologize for the excess, but I truly thank you for the motivating article. It’s exactly what I needed!

  • Reply January 2, 2015

    Lasse Jørgensen

    Firstly, great article Adam.

    I do have a question/wondern

    If you are not naturally in a position where you are supposed to be a leader (job title etc) how do you or what should you do to express fx the circle of safety as Simon talk about or generally appear as a leader.

    Looking forward to heering your thoughts about this!

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