Being the A Player Servant Leader

by Rick Crossland

“A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.” – Steve Jobs

Being an A Player Servant Leader represents being a leader at an extremely high level of leadership skill.  This is the kind of leader people willingly follow.  Why?  Being an A Player Servant Leader combines two very powerful concepts:  the first is being an A Player.  A Players are the top 10% of their fields.  These are the people who are the absolute best in the business.  The second is being a Servant Leader.  A Servant Leader is differentiated from other leaders on one key dimension.   This dimension is in the servant leader’s overriding concern in helping others develop and become their best selves.

This raises an incredibly interesting dynamic in A Player Servant Leadership and exposes a common misconception in the notion of servant leadership.  Conventional wisdom in servant leadership is that the primary concern of the leader is for the needs of the team.  There is a higher principled objective of the A Player Servant Leader, which is to achieve the Noble Purpose of the organization.

Let’s use an illustration of one of the best Servant Leaders of the twentieth century to illustrate this point.  Freeing Europe from Nazi oppression was one of the noblest of purposes in human history.  That was clearly the Allied forces’ Noble Purpose.  Of course, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower had concern for the well-being of his troops–American, British, Canadian and Australian lives, but the simple fact was that Allied lives would be lost in the invasion, no matter what the circumstances.  To illustrate Servant Leadership: if his overriding concern had been preservation of his team’s lives, he would not have invaded.  No, the Noble Purpose of the Allied forces was to rid Europe of Nazi oppression.  His men knew that some of them would die in the beaches or hedgerows of Normandy.  The reason General Eisenhower was a great Servant Leader was his concern for allowing his men to be their absolute best.  Allowing them to be their absolute best meant leadership prepared them in terms of the best training, weapons, equipment, food, and medical care.  Our troops were the best trained and equipped in the world, which resulted in the largest and most spectacularly successful invasion in world history!  Eisenhower ensured they had the best chance for success, and the Noble Purpose of freeing Europe was bigger than the tremendous sacrifices made in terms of human lives.

General Eisenhower’s great Servant Leadership serves as an excellent reminder that the organizational Noble Purpose trumps serving the individual needs of the team.  In fact, had the focus been on serving the individual needs of the team, the Noble Purpose would have not been accomplished.  Another way of thinking about this is that the organization exists for a purpose greater than ourselves, and not to serve ourselves.  As President Kennedy famously said “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

By being an A Player Servant Leader you are practicing two aligned and powerful leadership competencies:  1. A Player = being the best you can be. 2. Servant Leadership = helping others be the best they can be.  The foundation of leadership is credibility.  People will only willingly follow credible leaders.  To be a credible leader you need to be able to show others how to produce results.  A Players will not follow a B Player.  Congruency and integrity are critical to this.  Leadership is not about what you say; it’s about what you do.

Another aspect of being an A Player Servant Leader is who is on your team.  Your team members need to be inspired by a purpose beyond themselves.  If they are not, it’s up to you and them to move them to a team where they are.  Even the greatest Servant Leaders of all time, Moses, Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa, had people who could not handle this obligation and left their teams.  A Player leadership requires team members who are willing to be A Players themselves.  Not everyone is up for this journey.

Great organizational performance is about meeting commitments.  A Player Servant Leaders hold team members accountable and responsible for meeting commitments with integrity, kindness and altruism.  This means being honest to people with the truth when it hurts or is uncomfortable.  Weak leaders are not honest in giving needed feedback to people, or let them off the hook on accountability.   Strong A Player Servant Leaders hold themselves and their team members accountable for high standards of performance and integrity.

Questions for you to consider:  Where do you see the greatest opportunity for you to improve your A Player Servant Leadership acumen?  Where do you think the greatest opportunity is in organizations for A Player Servant Leadership?


Helping executives achieve breakthrough results is Rick Crossland’s passion. He is a leading national expert in developing and recruiting teams of A Players.  After more than 20 years of producing bottom-line results with some of the world’s top companies, Rick has been applying his significant leadership and business know-how for the last 6 years to propel leaders and their teams from around the world to new heights of performance through his thriving executive business coaching and recruiting practices.

You can learn more about and connect with Rick HERE.

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