Throughout the course of the year, I have the privilege of working with extraordinary men and women who are committed to serve others and to serve a calling greater than themselves. Such men and women – leaders who chose to serve, or “serving leaders” – fashion organizations that produce extraordinary good in the world. They do so because the decision to place themselves into service frees them to put people first, principles first, excellence first, customers first.

Christmas Gifts

When we place self at the service of others, we are freed of a thousand daily distractions created by ego, fear, greed, and insecurity.

When we place self at the service of a great calling, we are empowered to focus time and energy toward things that make a true difference for the world.

Choosing to become a serving leader is akin to an elite athlete choosing to take his eyes off the scoreboard to concentrate his energies into working excellently with teammates and sustaining the rigors and disciplines that excellence demands. The humility that is generally attributed to leaders who make this serving choice is both honorable and beautiful. Such humility, perhaps more importantly, rearranges a person’s point of focus so that important results can be achieved in and for the world.

It is meaningful to me at this very special time of the year to consider all of this in the light of the Christmas story and message.

The Christmas story is of a God who makes Himself small, slips into the travails of our human story in an unimaginably vulnerable state. An Asian baby is born to poor parents who must immediately take flight as refugees to Africa. At Christmas, the story is of a God who chooses to serve. Placing the perks and powers of being God – abandoning the privileges of getting the corner office, as it were – this God loves, serves, models, and even suffers for purposes that are far greater than God’s personal ease and comfort.

“For unto us a Son is given,” Handel wrote. “And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” All that, born in a manger, given as a gift for the dignifying of broken human beings, offered to us so that we might become more than we are.

On particularly difficult days, as I endeavor to make a little headway in my own slow growth as a serving leader, it is deeply encouraging to reflect on the Christmas story. As I seek to love, serve, strengthen, forgive, and uplift others – laying aside title, power, position, privilege so others can become bigger – I am heartened to consider the baby Jesus, his privileges set aside, come so that we might have fuller, more abundant life.

We know that the greatest organizations on earth have serving leaders at the very helm. When the boss’s boss, too, is committed to serve, very good things happen!

This holiday season, as you celebrate Christmas Day or as you, perhaps, simply enjoy the fact that December 25th is a national holiday, take a little time to reflect on this day’s deep message. The top boss, the Christmas story tells us, has chosen to serve, to love, and to strengthen us. Our growth, joy, and contribution is His mission. Reflect on what it could mean – for our own serving leadership – to follow in the way of a serving God.

Have a Merry Christmas! Give yourself to the message and spirit of giving. We aren’t here for ourselves. And we share in the greatest purpose to be found in the universe (perhaps, we even share a few of the characteristics of the Maker of the universe), and that great purpose we all share is to serve.

John Stahl-Wert is co-author of the best-selling book “The Serving Leader.” He serves as President of Newton Institute and Director of its Center for Serving Leadership. Learn more at

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