Leadership through service: It’s not about you, it’s about us

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Running a successful business is like climbing a mountain. If you’re going to get to the top, you need the help of everyone on your team.

By Criselda Caringal, Alla Nadezhkina, and Miguel Otárola

Inspired by the book “Leadership from the Inside Out,” by Kevin Cashman.

When it comes to leading through service, the most important point to remember is that the needs of the team come before the need for results. A proper work environment puts the needs of the workers first – by listening to them and putting them in a comfortable place to create and share ideas. This is critical for the media or newsroom environment, where a lot of work is dependent on creating quality and engaging storytelling (most of that work is also collaborative).

From experience

Everyone has had different experiences when it comes to leaders serving their team. Here are a few stories, each coming from a unique background (from Russia, the Philippines, and within the newsroom of the Downtown Devil):


Alla Nadezhkina said the best organizations listen to the voices of all team members:

I would like to talk about my job experiences in a team of leaders. 

I was lucky to be part of this team, as it allowed me to get a great experience and develop my professional competencies in the media world-class company – Russian information agency Novosti.

The organizational structure of our company was built on the classical scheme. The general in charge of editorial policy was chief editor Svetlana Mironyuk. Her deputy led the major activities of the specialized agencies. I played the role of the spokesperson.

Through the leadership and management skills of Svetlana Mironyuk, our agency worked harmoniously as a single mechanism. A main driving force was the understanding of all the employees of the agency. We create an information space for debate in society, and, in the end, create the image of our country in the world.

We all interacted with each other and supported each other. It was a model of collective decision-making, taking into account the opinions of everyone, and each felt like making a feasible contribution to the common cause. Much attention is paid to the social care of employees, so employees at work feel at home, which also affected the performance and quality of issued content.

I believe that it was a job in a media ‘dream team’.


Sometimes unnecessary issues arise if the needs of employees are not heard, Criselda Caringal said:

Before leaving the Philippines, there was a bitter dispute between a hundred of my colleagues and the broadcast network we were working for.

It was a classic case of how a broadcasting media giant can neglect the needs of its life and blood… meaning, the needs of its producers, researchers, directors and production assistants who persevere to produce the network’s award-winning programs.

Production staff that have been working for years as contractual talents finally spoke out and asked for simple benefits that any regular employee would have. This was a cause that the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines supported.

Needless to say, a court case was filed against the network for undue labor practices and my colleagues won. But how this labor struggle will finally end is yet to be seen.


Miguel Otárola has seen his own leadership falter when he didn’t provide the right communication outlets for his editors:

There have been times when I thought I was getting proper feedback from my team, only to see that I was not cultivating a proper feedback environment.

As EIC of Downtown Devil, I like to ask my editors after meetings “How things are going”. Many times, these editors would say “Everything is going fine.” Yet when the editors met by themselves one weekend, they later came to me and told me about several issues they were dealing with and wanted to fix.

While I was a bit shocked that they hadn’t told me any of this before, I realized that they were able to come to these conclusions as a team and without my possibly intimidating guidance. The team meeting by themselves to discuss problems was very beneficial, and now we have editors meet weekly to discuss their work.

A multinational Greenpeace alpine team delivers messages of support and hope for the victims of the nuclear disaster to the summit of Mt Fuji. Collected from thousands of people in Japan and all over the world, the environmental organisation hopes that the messages will help unite the people of Japan in opposition to nuclear power, and encourage the Japanese authorities to listen to them. The climbing team is comprised of eleven alpinists from Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA scaled the mountain.
To reach new and unexplored places, a team needs to be comfortable and in an accepting creative atmosphere.

What environment are you creating?

A person may think she is leading by serving employees, only to learn employees believe the intentions are selfish. To work towards creating selfless leadership, a leader constantly needs to both analyze the reasons why she makes certain choices and ask team members to keep her accountable. A leader’s ideas and tactics may sometimes fail; when it happens, a team can and will let the leader know.

This comes from listening, not just hearing. Not a top-down approach, but in many ways bottom-up. And as Cashman writes, “Authenticity is the core of relationship around which synergy and trust grow.”

A leader gathers the best feedback when the team is in a proper place to share things openly, and one must be genuine in creating that environment.

P.S From Miguel: “A book I’m reading that deals incredibly well with this topic is Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull. It talks about the offices of Pixar, and the company’s business to make sure it creates the best environment for its employees.”

2 Comments on “Leadership through service: It’s not about you, it’s about us”

  1. I thought this was an interesting chapter, in particular because even when we think we are being a good, moral leader, those who we lead may not think so. This chapter reminded us that self-reflection is key to being a good leader. Self-reflection allows us to identify what our core values are, and to identify if we are asserting these core values in our leadership actions. Holding focus groups or offering an anonymous survey are two ways to assess the satisfaction of your employees/coworkers with your leadership. When receiving results, it’s not important which employee said what. All that matters is how you will address any surfacing issues. Holding a focus group or an anonymous survey are actions of transparency. Showing your employees/coworkers that you are willing to make the effor to be transparent and moral will speak volumes.

  2. This chapter and your experiences, I believe, tie in strongly with the handout that Dr. Bill gave us at the end of class that discussed different leadership styles. It seems that organizations function best when the level of trust between leadership, employees and coworkers is at its highest. That trust can come from a fundamental attitude of mutual service and respect and structures in place that allow people to resolve problems effectively. I know that in my experience, I’m much more likely to enjoy what I’m doing if I respect and trust the people I’m working with. If someone in the team holds themselves above others for one reason or another, it can cause communication to break down and the team to be dysfunctional. This can be cured by integrating service into leadership, so that there is not just one person delegating from on high, and everyone is involved in the process.

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