8 Ways Servant Leaders Build The Team

A team leader’s number one job [is] to build up his teammates, not tear them down.
— – Phil Jackson, Eleven Rings

Phil Jackson knows a thing or two about transforming raw talent into a winning team. Jackson led his teams to eleven NBA championships. He won six championship rings with the Chicago Bulls. Then he moved West, plied his magic in Los Angeles, and won another five titles with the Lakers.

The year Jackson assumed the reins of the Lakers he inherited a talented group with a penchant for under performance. In Eleven Rings: The Soul Of Success, he relays an incident between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal that illustrates both the challenges he faced and the important work the leader plays in building the team.

The players started blaming one another for the breakdown, and I realized that I had to address the unrest head-on. The first thing I did was meet Shaq for breakfast to discuss what it means to be a leader. I started by relating the story of how [Michael Jordan] galvanized the Bulls with his confidence in himself and his teammates before the must-win game 5 against Cleveland in the 1989 playoffs . . . . His uncompromising faith revved up the team, and we won the final game—not surprisingly, on a last-second miracle shot by Jordan.

I told Shaq he needed to find his own way to inspire the Lakers. He needed to express his confidence and natural joy for the game in such a way that his teammates—Kobe especially—felt that if they joined forces with him, nothing would be impossible. A team leaders’ number one job, I explained, was to build up his teammates, not tear them down.

If are interested in practical suggestions to build up your team, here are eight ways to do it. Read closely. They are written with an unconventional twist:

1. Get a new parking space.

Awhile back a family member gave me a “Pastor Only” parking sign. I found the perfect place for it. I wrote “Matthew 23:11″ on the sign and attached it to the floor of my garage.

The greatest among you shall be your servant.
— Matthew 23:11

That sign — and where I put it — is my little reminder that God calls me to come under people (including our team) and serve them.


What daily reminder could you set up to help keep servant leadership your mission and mindset?

2. “Listen first, talk last.”

"Listen first, talk last" was Peter Drucker’s advice. The "inventor of modern management" understood the absolute necessity of being a good listener. God admonishes the same:

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his own opinion.
— Proverbs 18:2

Moving from opinion-giver to careful listener takes active engagement. This is illustrated in the Chinese character for the word, “Listen.”


Great listeners use their ears, their eyes, their undivided attention, and their heart? Does anything need to change for you to be a better listener?

3. Pretend you are Dan Shema.

Years ago I called Dan Shema. Dan was serving a rapidly growing church in Hawaii. He was a busy guy with multiple demands. As soon as he picked up the phone, the first words out of his mouth were, How can I serve you? I have never forgotten the honesty and sincerity in his voice.

How can I serve you?

This is such an important question and so easy to neglect. When it comes to listening:

"How can I serve you?" + Immediate action = Building the team.

4. Throw a party.

Relationships precede everything. That’s why servant leaders take time for people.

Investing in relationships seems easy enough, but when your calendar needs a traffic cop people can take a back seat. Not for Joanne. Joanne is our office manager. Despite a big job on our team and a bigger job as wife and mom, she carves out time to plan special times to help our office celebrate.

Celebration can be elaborate or simple, a surprise feast or a unexpected ice cream snack. The secret is providing time for people to engage in each others lives. When was the last time your team enjoyed time together without a work agenda? What could you do to change that?

5. Go back to school.

The World Leaders Conference (March 7-8, 2017) is just around the corner. This year’s line-up includes outstanding leaders. The WLC one way to "go back to school." Every year's conference is wisdom, insight, and energy that you can use and pass on to your team.

When it comes to conferences here’s my philosophy:

If a team member gets even one great idea — a game changer — it has been money well spent.

Of course you don’t have to go to a conference to “go to school.” This year our team will be working through Leading On Empty by Wayne Cordeiro. We will take 30 minutes every-other week to discuss various sections of the book. It is inexpensive training from a stellar leader.

Where does your team need to grow? What could you do to take them “back to school”?

6. Wake the sleeping tiger.

The old proverbs says, “Never wake a sleeping tiger.” Some people treat team conflict like a sleeping tiger. They would rather step around that tiger than wake it and risk getting clawed.

Strong leaders don't leave conflict unresolved. Like Phil Jackson, when they see two team members at odds, they surface the issue and work through it.


If you are looking for a little help wrestling with your tiger click here.

7. Switch positions.

In Eleven Rings, Phil Jackson shares about a time when he asked shooting sensation Ron Harper to become a defensive specialist. This was difficult, but Jackson knew that if the team were to advance then Harper had to assume a different role.

As Jim Collins has noted, leaders must make sure they have the right people on the bus and then make sure the right people are in the right seats on that bus. At times seat assignments must change. While creating a degree of disruption, it can also breath new life into team chemistry.

Does anyone on your team need to “switch positions” to make it stronger?

8. Get down on your knees.

Let’s finish where every servant leader should start — with prayer. Praying is acknowledging that you can’t pull off your leadership assignment on your own.  Prayer is saying, “God, I need your help to figure all this out.”

God answers prayer so go ahead, where do you need to ask for help today?

You do not have, because you do not ask.
— James 4:2

Information To Action

Make a quick review of today's post. What's one step you can take today to build your team? Take this another step and share one of your best practices. You can leave a comment below.

I originally wrote this post for the World Leaders Conference blog. Here are few resources for further study: