Servant Leadership: What’s in It for Them?

By Larry Bonfante

Every human being makes up each morning thinking that they are the center of their own personal universe. Do you think that sounds cynical? Well let’s play through the following scenario.

You are driving to work listening to the radio and suddenly you hear about an accident on the route you’re taking to get to your destination. (In the New York area, this is a daily occurrence!) Is your first thought, “Oh my God, I hope those poor people are alright?”

More likely your reaction is, “Now I’m going to be 30 minutes late for my first meeting!” That’s because we all see life through our unique set of lenses in which we’re the star of our own show.

In order to build positive strategic relationships, we need to turn human nature on its head. Instead of thinking about what’s in it for me, great relationship managers focus their thoughts and efforts on what’s in it for the people with whom they work.

It’s rare to come across people who don’t have their own personal agenda. Truth be told, we all do. However, great leaders and great relationship managers are willing and able to subjugate their personal agenda for the good of their teams and their stakeholders. Some people refer to this as “servant leadership.”

Early in my tenure, I told my teams that they didn’t work for me, but rather that I worked for them. Of course, I got the expected smirks and eye rolls when I uttered those words. But over time, many of them came to realize that I meant it. My goal was their success. My focus was on supporting their efforts. 

When we collaborate with our business colleagues and partners, are we thinking about our objectives or theirs?

How many of us have made calls with sales executives who were clearly focused on selling their product or making their quota? How did that feel? And how did it feel on the rare occasions when you encountered a sales executive whose focus was on helping you solve a business problem? How different did that feel?

True servant leaders focus on the needs of their clients, their team, their management and their shareholders. They look at life through the prism of helping others succeed. These leaders realize that all ships rise with the tide.

They also realize that it’s very rare for a player on a last-place team to win the MVP award in their sport. These awards are usually given to the players whose teams have won championships.

Perhaps the greatest athlete of all time (certainly the greatest in my lifetime) is Michael Jordan. One of the most important things people always said about him was that he made everyone around him better.

Are we focused on making others better and helping them succeed? Or are we focused on hitting our personal bonus metrics? Remember, the question we should ask in all personal engagements is not, “What’s in it for me?” but “What’s in it for them?”

Larry Bonfante is an award-winning CIO with 35 years of experience in the IT industry. As the founder of CIO Bench Coach, he has served as an executive coach and trusted adviser to executives at some of the most prestigious companies in the world. You can contact him on email at and follow him on Twitter at @bonfante.



Larry Bonfante
Larry Bonfante
Larry Bonfante is a practicing CIO and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also the author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at

Get the Free Newsletter!

Subscribe to Daily Tech Insider for top news, trends, and analysis.

Latest Articles