Aim to serve rather than please

Although I’m simultaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed by the thousands of books and videos about “leadership” pumped out every year, a recent quote struck a chord:

“You’ll do more good if you aim to serve more than you aim to please.”
S. Chris Edmonds

For context, watch this two-minute video:

While Chris focuses on the context of team leadership, I think that aiming to serve rather than please is also a useful rubric to keep in mind as a consultant. So here are three reasons why you should aim to serve, not please:

  • It’s impossible to please everyone! Try to please everyone, and you’ll likely please no one.
  • To aim to serve a client, you need to define what “serve” means. That’s important, because if you don’t know how to serve your client you’re not going to be a good consultant. In the video, Chris talks about defining service for a team; the same considerations apply to consulting.
  • Finally, aiming to serve one’s clients, even at the expense of failing to please them, allows you to feel good about yourself at the end of the day. On a few occasions I have respectfully declined to provide a requested service that would have pleased a client, because I believed it would not serve them well. Doing this sometimes meant giving up paid work, with all the ensuing consequences. Nevertheless, I feel I made the right decision, both for me and my clients. Because, ultimately, serving clients is more important than pleasing them.

Have you ever felt the temptation to please your client rather than serve them?

Have you ever walked away from a client rather than agreeing to please but not serve them?

Share your stories in the comments below!

Photo attribution: Flickr user tuttotutto