Real leaders get it. It’s not about power. It’s about service

If you need more reasons to say thanks to the person who serves you your morning coffee, here’s a couple:

By doing so, you will be committing an act of service. and honing your leadership skills.

Among the silver linings of the pandemic lockdown is that we’ve been pushed out of our rote ways of living. We’ve all had to adapt. You could resist. Some are.

I believe that a contributing factor to this whole mess is that we have demanded the world serve us.

What if we switched that around? What if we asked: How can I serve the world?

A part of me reads that and thinks, ‘That’s too big, not to mention pollyanna wishful thinking. What difference would that make? More to the point, how can I make a difference?’

I think that we can begin making a difference by starting small, by exercising leadership by serving others.

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Many people mistakenly believe that leadership is about exercising power over someone else. I believe that’s partly at work when a consumer briskly executes a transaction with a clerk, mumbles an inaudible ‘thank you’ and walks away without looking the person in the eye.

I’ve been that guy. I have treated servers at Tim Hortons like machines; I handed over money and I was served the product—an antiseptic  exchange conducted with expedience so that I could get on with all the important things I had to do. 

Three years ago, I was introduced to a different model.

At the end of a ManKind Project (MKP) leadership training, I pledged to perform a random act of kindness every day for 30 days.

During the first week, I put this to work at Timmy’s. I walked up to a young man with black beard behind the counter. He unenthusiastically said, “How can I help you?”

I distinctly looked into his dark brown eyes. His eyes focused on me, and widened a bit.

I said, “How are you today?” 

His face brightened, and his shoulders relaxed. “I’m good man, how about you?”


I walked out of there feeling like a million bucks. A few days later, I did the same with a dour-looking nurse at a clinic. She responded, “I’ve had better days.” She proceeded to tell me about her crappy morning with one of her kids.

“It will be fine,” she concluded. Then she smiled. “Thanks for asking.”

Both instances were a stretch for me.  I think my brisk way of dealing with clerks and cashiers was just a justification to stay mired in my own world.

I came to believe that my new way of treating these folks was an act of service.

I also believe that each one of these good folks felt at some level that they had been seen as a person, rather than just a cog in a process. By witnessing them, I made a difference for them, even just for a moment, and that’s enough.

(I pick my spots. I am aware that some people are not comfortable with eye contact and talking with strangers, and it is counter to their belief system.)

How does this link to leadership?

“When we carry out acts of service, no matter how small, we feel the satisfaction of living up to our small commitments, and we will do more,” says the MKP document from my training.

“The issue is not a lack of time, but lack of spirit. It is a question of priorities. If we honour those who give of themselves, we increase our level of commitment to service in society.”

Three years later, I’m still doing it. With servers, my Swing Thoughts podcast partner Howard Glassman says, “How you are today nice person?” which generally elicits a big smile and leads into a fun exchange.

Golf writer Rick Young looks at nametags of servers and uses their names. “Janet, I’ll have the burger.” “Thanks, Janet.” I love it, and they love it.

Those are acts of service. They show that we honour everyone as a person worthy of respect.

And I believe that leaders commit acts of service—large and small—that create a better world.

Wishful thinking? Maybe. Are you willing to take the risk?

I’m providing free coaching sessions during the lockdown. If you would like to connect for a complimentary 30-minute session, send me an email to

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!


  1. jack nadeau says

    Great post today.
    I can attest to the power of switching from being served to being the server.
    my personal career journey exploded upward when i learned that it’s not about me but about everyone around me. Appreciating people for who they are and recognizing we all have lives outside of our current space (i.e Tim Horton’s server) makes all the difference and makes our planet a better place – one interaction at a time.

  2. Sara Wilson says

    Hi Tim, Great content! I started doing this after a leadership workshop where I learned the importance of taking the time to thank people and show that you genuinely care about the person. I did it last fall when I stopped during a community walk/run to chat with a volunteer to thank them for giving up their Saturday to control the crowds. Since that day I do it daily and it has made such a difference to how I approach the day. I no longer get upset over silly things. We are all in this life together. Keep spreading kindness Tim.

  3. I’ve used the “How ya doin?” question with people who seem in a bad mood. It can often lead to a smile and a short conversation – instead of my default reaction: “What a lousy customer service experience.” We can’t be happy-happy-joy-joy all the time.