Avoid the People-Pleaser Trap

When I first learned about Servant-Leadership, my focus went straight to the leadership pyramid inversion and what it means “to be of service“. One additional concept this philosophy proposes is “to love“, and it triggered a great deal of curiosity in me. 

What does it mean “to love” your team? And what does it mean “to be of service”? I was far from knowing my struggles would start right there.

You see, I’m a people person. But my understanding of those concepts took time to evolve and mature. 

Initially, the concepts “to serve” and “to love” were about being a servant and trying not to rock the boat too much.

I tried to provide my teams with everything they wanted at that stage. I had my internal KPIs aligned with “how much do they love me back?”

And it took me to the deep and dangerous waters of people-pleasing. Anxietystressfrustrationfear of rejection. Words I found daily in my dictionary.

Yet, I kept pushing forward. My belief in this Servant-Leadership philosophy was strong. However, almost inevitably, it led me to a burnout situation.

When my kids were born, the “love and serve” concept took a right turn. I learned that I love my kids, and I would not let them do everything they want, though. As a parent, my job was to provide them with everything they needed to grow strong. 

It might seem similar, but there is a strong nuance between “serving their wants” and “serving their needs”. With time it started to hit me. I had become a slave to my team. If they wanted to change a process, no questions asked. When they tried to perform some odd implementation, I would not question it back. Worst, I couldn’t even call someone to accountability. How could I provide candid feedback if I wanted to have their love back? With time what I took as a safe place for everybody to perform at their best was, in fact, a silent and toxic place.

Interestingly enough, this was all rooted in insecurity. And the good news is we can improve it.

Are you afraid of what others think of you? Are you more worried about your reputation than your values? Are you afraid to provide candid feedback when needed be? Are you afraid to step up and defend your decisions?

If you are dealing with such a rut, you have to face the truth. Honesty is the key element to start turning the table in your favour.

The best tool to overcome insecurity is self-awareness. Go deep in yourself. Learn your core values. Write your principles of life. Those are your beacons. 

Fear not. Embracing your shortcomings and fragilities signifies that you are taking firm steps towards the servant-leader road.

Please, make no mistake, you will not please everybody all the time. You will not make the good nor the perfect call all the time. No one is asking that of you. Your team expects someone different, with high values and a good, strong character – someone who wants the best for them and of them. 

And if that means that, sometimes, you need to ruffle some feathers, seek your most genuine intention, and provide the necessary feedback. 

One thing I know for sure is you will fail again and again. You are only human, evolving and learning on the go.

But keep pushing forward in this path, always with sincerity, love, and your people’s best interest at heart. 

That’s the way of a Servant-Leader.