Entrepreneurship: Serving the World by Lydia Scott

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This article written by Lydia Scott, currently based in Sydney, but a past delegate and facilitator from both the Aspiring Leaders Forum in New Zealand and NSLF in Canberra. Thanks ALF and Lydia for sharing!

Servant leadership is a phrase rather foreign to the startup world. I work in the entrepreneurial space, which is a world of ladder climbing, building ‘personal brands’, smashing sales targets and selling your vision. The thrust of this environment is toward the narcissistic promotion of self. In a space where there are hundreds of new innovative ideas fighting for customers and investment every day, to cut through and be heard you have to be good at promoting your credibility as an entrepreneur, and why your vision is worth investing in above all others. Even the most worthy of visions faces this challenge.

Not only that but the business world has earned a name for itself of being ‘Big Bad Business’. We’ve seen the engines of economics and capitalism result in some pretty harmful damage to people and planet – this is not servant leadership to me.

But despite these things, more recently I’ve begun to view entrepreneurship as a significant opportunity for leadership of the servant kind. To be an entrepreneur can mean using the engine of business to build things that matter and that drive the world forward. To me, this then presents a tension between having humility as a servant leader but needing to powerfully share your vision in order to see it realised.

I wrote in a journal about a year ago: “I don’t want to build something great just for the sake of being labeled ‘successful’ (whatever that means). I’d like to have my work in the business world motivated by a desire to build things that serve the world, leaving it in a more just and whole place than I found it.

This all sounds very noble, but every day I feel that pull of narcissistic self-promotion in my professional life. And given we’re the same person inside work and out, I fear this flowing on into my personal life too. So I find myself asking, what does servant leadership authentically look like in the entrepreneurial sphere I find myself passionate about? I’m still early on into figuring this out. But here are three of my ponderings on how the current mechanisms of economics and business can have servant leadership at their core:

Servant leadership is values driven business. It is when business understands its role in the wider world and makes decisions in light of that. It’s when business ‘loves thy neighbour’. Business is made up of people after all, why do we think it is exempt from acting like one? There are a few buzz words emerging around this e.g. BCorps, shared value, triple bottom lines, social enterprise, profit for purpose, social procurement etc. Yes, these things should be celebrated but more than that, they should be encouraged until they become the status quo. These terms shouldn’t be a point of difference anymore. The day when this is assumed of business and we are shocked when a business makes a self-serving decision will be the day servant leadership is embedded at the core of capitalism.

Servant leadership is in how you manage your team. To grow a vision, every entrepreneur has to grow a team. It would be arrogant to acknowledge an impactful business is single handedly built by one person. Servant leadership is recognising and celebrating the hard work of your team, it’s putting their needs before your own self-glorification. My boss, whom I very much admire once told me, ‘when on-boarding a new staff member the first thing you ask is what they want to be on their resume by the time they leave the role.’ And then you spend their tenure serving them to a place of achieving that. I love that.

Servant leadership is starting a business in the first place because of the way it will serve and improve the wider world. In my job at the Club Kidpreneur Foundation we run a program challenging kids to identify a problem in the world around them and then come up with a product that will help solve it, backed by a sustainable business model. If the next generation can grow up with a perspective of business like that, then our world will be in the trustworthy hands of servant leaders.

This is servant leadership to me. It’s taking an everyday thing like entrepreneurship and asking how it can be used to live a life of service, motivated by love. I’d like to think that it is possible.

Title: Entrepreneurship: Serving the World
Author: Lydia Scott
Format: Past Delegate Reflection
Published: October, 2015
Publisher: NSLF Online Library
Access: NSLF Online Library

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