It happened a few years ago as I was crossing the street in the central area of a large city. It was early Sunday morning, so traffic was not heavy. As the light turned green for pedestrians and I began to cross the street, I noticed one single car approaching the intersection in my direction. He was about 50 meters away, coming fast, and showing no sign of slowing down. My heart accelerated. Is he planning to run the red light? Is he going to hit me?

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He eventually stopped rather abruptly, but at a safe distance from my fragile legs. For a fraction of a second, I was scared, so much that I waved my hands at him... "Come on man, be more considerate!"


I learned an important lesson about driving around pedestrians that day. Since then, I have tried showing courtesy to pedestrians by anticipating their fear and slowing down to reassure them I am ready to stop and not run them over.

A Lesson for Leaders

I also learned an important leadership lesson that day. Robert Greenleaf defined servant leadership as “the kind of leadership that is modeled through service.” This kind of leadership is focused on other people; the client, the employee, the church member, the team partner, etc. It is a different perspective, instead of simply focusing on the task at hand or the bottom line.

It’s About the Wow Factor

So here is the lesson I learned. Servant leadership, at its best, anticipates people’s expectations and shapes the circumstance to satisfy or even exceed their expectations. Just like I now anticipate pedestrians’ fear and stop a little farther from them, as a servant leader, I can anticipate people’s thinking and surprise them by exceeding their expectations. Some people call it “the wow factor.” Here are four ways we can surprise people with our servant leadership.

  1. We can anticipate that our client expects our store or office to be clean and tidy and then add fresh flowers, and maybe even offer free coffee and cookies at the door.
  2. We can anticipate that our vendors expect us to pay them on time, and then exceed their expectations by sending the check one day earlier, with a personal note thanking them for doing business with us.
  3. We can anticipate that those who work for us expect us to treat them fairly, and then wow them by inviting their family over for dinner or honoring them in front of everyone else.
  4. We can anticipate that members of our church expect us to preach, counsel, and manage the congregation (for pastors), and then wow them by volunteering in various teams that provide ministry for the church.

These are only four ideas. The limit of our servant leadership and application of the “wow factor” is our imagination. So go ahead and imagine ways you can anticipate people’s expectations and then wow them by exceeding expectations.