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Leadership Through Service

As studio owners and managers, we understand that part of being a leader is knowing the system, following and enforcing the rules, and providing support and guidance for those we manage or supervise. If we’re good managers, we think incrementally; recognize that a faltering “cog in the wheel” will affect the system as a whole; and know how important it is to “fix” that one bit to keep the whole system running smoothly. In his popular book, The E Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber refers to this systematizing as “the turnkey revolution or business development process.”

Although systematizing is an important part of running a business, there is an inherent risk associated with any “semiautomated system” that deals with and depends on human interaction (a main aspect of any mind-body facility). The risk is the potential loss of the human touch and spirit. If we lose sight of, or fail to recognize, what our primary role as wellness industry leaders should be in a people-oriented business, it may be the very systems we rely on that ultimately limit our success.

We know as business owners and managers that we must always keep one eye on the bottom line or we may not be here tomorrow. But a true visionary uses two eyes for full vision, and our desire and ability to serve others should be the focus of the other eye at all times. Serving others should and must be our primary role. Albert Schweitzer wrote, “One thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

Service = Leadership = Success
For many of us, it may seem counterintuitive to think that we can lead better by serving those we lead. But let’s take a look at the true essence of many traditional leadership roles as examples of that truth. In any war, there are generals and there are soldiers. The generals lead the soldiers, but they serve the people they wish to liberate or save. A great surgeon can certainly be a leader in the medical community by using his skills to serve the needs of his patients. If and when he puts his own needs ahead of those of his patients, he no longer leads. The president of the United States is a perfect example of someone at the highest level of leadership who is also in a constant state of service to the very people he leads. He leads by serving. The truly great Level 5 chief executive officers (CEOs) in history have had a sense of humility and a true desire to serve their stockholders and the companies they were charged with leading. A great yoga or Pilates professional must be perceived as a leader by his or her clients, but the clients must also know that it is their needs the instructor serves. You can only be a leader if there are people willing to follow you. Your clients will loyally follow and stick with you once they trust that you are leading them to a place they want to be.

We should be asking ourselves, “Can I be a truly great community, team or business leader if I leave out the service component and lead with only my own needs or interests in mind?” Or conversely, “Can I ever be fully successful if I do not take a leadership role, and act only as a servant?” It has been my experience that when you can meld leadership and service into a single, cohesive sense of purpose, you are on your way to running a successful career or business.

As Joseph Jaworski, author of Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership, said, “Today’s effective leader has an attitude of servitude.” The leader who has the wisdom to ask, “How can I serve you?” has an understanding of how we are all connected. Few of us can claim such mastery. What we must have is the desire and ability to model those who do. By emulating those individuals who have the attributes of leadership through service, I have created a successful career. More important, I have had the honor of mentoring numerous young professionals who continue to bring value to the wellness community today.

In his book Good to Great, author Jim Collins writes that the best Level 5 leaders always set up or cultivate their successors for success. Isn’t it also our responsibility to the wellness industry to cultivate our successors? Collins quotes one CEO who stated, “I want to look out from my porch someday at one of the truly great companies and be proud to say, ‘I was a part of that.’”

In essence, we serve not only our members, employees, company and industry but also the future generations of wellness professionals. By mentoring those we employ and work with and serving their needs for growth and development, we are laying the groundwork for even greater success in the future. Would you be comfortable with no one ever knowing that the roots of that success traced back to you? Let’s be honest—most of us want our fair share of recognition. Like proud parents, we see our protégés as our creations. When they succeed, we take pride in it and want everyone to know we helped them get where they are today. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, as long as our motivation for helping them in the first place is sound. Remember the surgeon: “If and when he puts his own needs ahead of those of his patients, he no longer leads.”

That is not to say we should never consider our own needs; they are, after all, “needs” as opposed to “wants.” We can, however, serve our own needs by serving the needs of others. In fact, some of our most compelling emotional needs—like significance, contribution, growth and even love—are met by serving others.

As a coach, I work with many top executives who, on the surface, seem to have it all, yet lack direction outside their careers. Many struggle with the challenge of not knowing their purpose. For years they have been serving their own needs, wants and desires, and now they find themselves feeling empty or unfulfilled. The first thing I encourage them to do is start contributing, giving back and serving their community. If early on they had framed what they had been doing for the past 10, 20 or 30 years in the context of serving others, that void would not exist. I believe the greatest thing we can do for our community, business and ourselves is serve others in every way possible.

How are you going to feel when you can look out from your porch at one of the greatest industries in the world and observe how it is helping change and save the lives of millions of people? Will you be able to say with pride, “I was a leader in that industry”?


Tom Terwilliger is a Denver-based certified neurolinguistics master practitioner, certified hynotherapist, professional success coach, motivational speaker and president of Coaching Leadership Excellence.


Collins, J. 2001. From Good to Great. New York: HarperCollins.
Gerber, M. 1995. The E Myth Revisited. New York: HarperCollins.
Jaworski, J. 1998. Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Schweitzer A. 1998. Out of My Life and Thought. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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