To Lead Is to Serve Others

UPDATED: April 2, 2022
PUBLISHED: August 16, 2021
To Lead Is to Serve Others

One of the most plaguing questions for top performers is, if I’m a high achiever then why am I not happier?

We all know people who have been successful and yet they still seem to live with so much unrest, so much stress and so much anxiety. Perhaps, at times, you have been one of those people? So many of us achievers struggle to find peace, purpose and happiness in spite of the fact that we have been able to acquire money, status and influence.

Why is that?

As someone who has researched, written about and pursued success my entire career, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because there is a pervasive misconception in the marketplace that success leads to happiness.

The truth is that achievement does not equal fulfillment.

If you’re familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, then you know that the top rung of his ladder—everyone’s ultimate greatest need—is “Self-Actualization.” But even though his framework has been so extraordinarily helpful and instructive in modern psychology, I believe Maslow missed it. I believe Maslow fell slightly short in his codification of human needs.

I believe there is a level beyond self-actualization that yields a higher calling on our lives, and it is “Others-Actualization.” It’s not about us pushing ourselves to achieve more; it’s about us leading others to achieve. Life is not just about me becoming the best I can be; the most righteous reward is knowing that my life has in some way contributed to helping someone else become the most they can be. The ultimate pursuit then isn’t success, but service.

Achievement is great, but there is nothing quite like the feeling you get when you enable another person to succeed. There is something magical about helping someone else—it is truly enriching. It is deeply satisfying. It is utterly fulfilling.

A life of achievement is a great life, but it is one that happens in a context that is all centered around me. Whereas a life of service happens inside the context of my life only in relationship to others. The best, most successful entrepreneurs live in service to others.

It’s good to achieve. It’s wonderful to achieve. It’s worthwhile to strive to achieve. There are so many rewards for achieving that are not available in any other way. But the reason there are so many unhappy achievers is because they keep pursuing achievement while not realizing that achievement does not equal fulfillment.

So many of us are missing the understanding that our highest self is to be our highest value to others. Until you gain clarity about the power of service, you will struggle with the obscurity of trying to define your life’s purpose.

Achievement is good. It requires a lot. It is only eventually available to the limited few.

But serving is also good. It requires only a little. And it is immediately available to the massive many.

When I am achieving, there are wins and losses. But when I am serving, there are only wins.

And so achievers and non-achievers alike often ask:

But those are the wrong questions. If you want to find true peace, purpose and happiness, you should instead ask:

  • How can I help?
  • How can I be of value?
  • In what ways can I serve?

And if you find that you are such a high achiever that you cannot bring yourself to ask those questions, then you should know that while you may be an incredible achiever, you will never be a great leader.

Because if serving is beneath you, then leadership is beyond you. 

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2021 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photo by @sarahwight93/Twenty20