Leadership: The secret of every successful leader


One Thursday evening in Raleigh (N.C), while on a business trip and grabbing dinner with some amazing technical community influencers, one of these astute men asked, “who in the technical industry would you consider a great leader? By the way, before coming here to meet with you, I did a little research on you and stumbled on your blog post and I like what I see with regards to leadership – so what are your thoughts on the question?” I licked my chops and attempted to answer the question to the best of my knowledge and ability – “after all, I had just completed my Master’s of Science degree in Management and Leadership so I should definitely have an idea or two on this”, I said to myself.

I quickly named a couple of leaders in the tech industry, quickly dissected their leadership styles based on my knowledge about them and I chose Satya Nadella. Was it out is bias? I don’t know. Wast it out of common exposure because I work at Microsoft? I don’t know. But from what I know, he possesses what is ingrained in every successful leader: servant attitude & will. He is what I will call a servant leader with a weird combination of Servant Leadership & Level 5 leadership as his leadership philosophies. Is Servant leadership similar to Level 5 Leadership? I say yes. Let me explain.

You’re probably familiar with Jim Collins’ work Good to Great. Just before he released this book, Collins wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review that focused on one of the book’s key concepts: Level 5 leadership. The article reads, “Level 5 leaders blend the paradoxical combination of deep personal humility with intense professional will.” It goes on to ask, “How do Level 5 leaders manifest humility? They routinely credit others, external factors, and good luck for their companies’ success. But when results are poor, they blame themselves. They also act quietly, calmly, and determinedly—relying on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate. Inspired standards demonstrate Level 5 leaders’ unwavering will. Utterly intolerant of mediocrity, they are stoic in their resolve to do whatever it takes to produce great results—terminating everything else. And they select superb successors, wanting their companies to become even more successful in the future.”

What does this look like in simplest terms: 

Humility + Will = Level 5
Servant + Leadership = Servant Leadership

To me, these are on very similar wave lengths because it takes Humility to be a true Servant and it takes the strong Will of a Leader to lead and serve for the general good. We all have a calling, and leaders who operate in one of these philosophies usually feel called beyond themselves. They are not greater than the call, but the call is greater than them and in the process of answering the call, they are made great.

So what is the secret of every successful leader in my books? The humility to serve coupled with the will to selflessly lead. Let’s put this definition to a test: close your eyes for 30 seconds and think of any great leaders you know in any capacity (dead or alive). What names “popped” out? I’m certain that all the people you mentioned fit this mold of leadership. I always think of Nelson Mandela and other great leaders who have impacted our world in various facets. As Program Manager Evangelist for Microsoft, I consciously do my best to serve and lead to ensure continous growth and success.

To be a great leader, you should be willing to serve above your interests, understand that the calling is bigger than yourself and understand the pain of the people you are leading. With this mindset, you will be able to lead any group, any organization and any business  to dream more, learn more, do more and become more.

Joe Darko

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