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“Good leaders must first become good servants.”

Can a manager be a good leader and vice versa? In the workplace, leadership is heavily important and the leader role has never been underestimated. As a leader, the person has to align people, show them, and drive them in the same direction and vision to achieve the goal of the company. I remember the last time I get mad of my manager because of her bad organization, no communication with team member and simply, lack leadership skills. The question here is that “Is leadership necessary for a manager whose responsibility is believed to be planning and organizing only?” This article will focus on leadership within management, how a manager can be a good leader and how to shifts from a planning person to a trust builder within an agency, which also links to trust within organization.

Meeting my interviewee, Mr. Hong Vinh Phat, in a sunny evening, I was quite surprised to know that this young man has been taking many roles in the communication industry and currently, he is the account manager of Mekong communication Corp., the first digital agency in Vietnam. Graduated from University of Social Science and Humanities in 2007 and having more than 6 years of experience working in the field of marketing communication, advertising and PR with big clients such as Samsung, Pizza Hut, AIA, etc., this young manager will share what he has learned as a manager leading a team.

Coherent relationship is vital

Management and leadership are different in crucial ways and not everyone is good at both (Kotter 1990). Obviously, for the one who are used to planning, controlling and problem-solving, the new tasks of inspiring, motivating and aligning people seem to be a challenge. As an account manager, the main task of Mr. Phat is to manage the relationship with customers and together with all the account team members, ensure that client get what they want. However, to satisfy client and maintain relationship with them, a leader must first, ensure the relationship within the team itself is strong and and coherent.

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Figure 1. Reproduced from Koen, L K (2012)

In reality, things are not as simple as in theory. Mr. Phat shares “I still remember last year when my agency ran a project for Canon, I was the project leader and formed a team, but there is an unexpected thing. Two members in my teams used to be a couple and they had just broken up few days before the formation. Of course I didn’t investigate their personal life, so until I found out, things turned worse as they didn’t say a word to each other and that held the whole team back.”. He continues “Or in other cases, the creative and account staffs don’t like each other, maybe because of jealousy or stereotypes, that is what you need to handle as a manager being a leader”.

Servant leadership creates best motivation

Effective leadership may depends on many factors but for the young manager, he believes that the choice of leadership style will decide the efficiency in work and the success of his leadership. Servant leadership, or transformational leadership, is when the leader provides social support and idea support for followers (Jaussi & Dionne 2003). Every member of the team is encouraged to participate in the decision making process. For Mr. Phat, he believes in what Max Depree (cited in Kruse 2012) says “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant” and that a leader need to be a servant to motivate, encourage and inspire his team.
Mekong agency is where Mr. Phat implement his servant leadership and create the best environment for his team to develop and grow. I was quite surprised when he says he has no restriction toward his followers. They do not need to come to work on time, they can go anywhere they want, and do anything they like, as long as their ideas are creative and they complete all the tasks assigned by deadline. With this type of leadership, this young manager find out that the productivity, number and quality of creative idea increase and at the same time, the relationship between leader and team members is improved.

Title and authority don’t make the success, influence does

One important aspect of leadership is the ability to persuade and influence people . However, the way leader influences, whether the influence comes from his position or the personality, do matter. “I don’t want to be consider a boss, honestly. Even when my fellows regard me as a leader, I still prefer them to consider me as an encouraging friend, an inspiring person and a part of the team. You always want people to follow you voluntarily because of your characteristic, your credibility, because they have trust in you, not because you’re a leader so they simply have to follow. You don’t want to use your title and authority to make people scare and unwillingly obey”, Mr. Phat confessed.

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Figure 2. Reproduced from Leadership Blog (2011)

Influence is crucial and mastering the art of influence is believed to be the key to successful leadership. Influence can come from the characteristics, personalities of the leader himself, the way he lead, connect the team or resolve conflict between members (Ignatius 2013). Aiming of becoming a wise leader, surprisingly, Mr. Phat is always the one listen first then respond and feedback, which is contradict to the top-down model. He claims that in Mekong Corp., everyone voluntarily follow the leader although the hierarchy in this agency is not clearly seen and the leader title is vague. “In order to be influential, the leader must improve himself to the level he expect from his team members. If he is credible and trustworthy, everyone will follow him, regardless of the fact that he has title or not”, he shares.

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Overall, through the investigation of this topic, the line between leadership and management is blurred and there is no distinctive boundaries of each one. As future client management, managing skill is unquestionably vital, but simultaneously, leadership skill is crucial also. Personally, I regard Mr. Phat as a great leader because a leader should produce more leaders, not more followers” (Nader, cited in Kruse 2012) and this young manager did inspire and motivate me to become a skilful leader as he is.

Figure 3. Taken by Pham Viet Anh Vy (2013)

Word count: 1068

Ignatius, A 2013, ‘From the Editor: Influence and Leadership’, Havard Business Review, viewed 6 September 2013,
Jaussi, K S & Dionne, S D 2003, ‘Leading for creativity: The role of unconventional leader behavior. The Leadership Quarterly Leading for Innovation’, course material for COMM 2384 Client Management, RMIT University, Vietnam
Kashyap, S K & Lohani 2010, ‘Motivational leadership – The Vivekanand Way’, 2nd edition, Army Printing Press, India, chapter 2, p.3-8
Koen, L K 2012, ‘High-Trust Organizations Are Agile & Efficient’, [image], viewed 6 September 2013,
Kotter, J P 1990, ‘What Leaders Really Do’, course material for COMM 2384 Client Management, RMIT University, Vietnam
Kruse, K 2012, ‘100 Best Quotes On Leadership’, Forbes, posted 16 October, viewed 6 September 2013,
Leadership Blog 2011, ‘Five Keys to Legendary Leadership’, [image], viewed 6 September 2013,

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One thought on ““Good leaders must first become good servants.”

  1. -If the perspective is from a manager in a digital agency then perhaps your article can benefit from a title change to make it more precise.

    -Review referencing punctuation and page/ chapter numbering.

    -“I remember the last time I get mad of my manager because of her bad organization…” So you are working already? Author needs to be able to contextualize personal stories to make its inclusion in the article clearer.

    -“which also links to trust within organization…” don’t say it… show it through your writing.

    -“sunny evening” ???

    -“Obviously, for the one who are used to planning, controlling and problem-solving, the new tasks of inspiring, motivating and aligning people seem to be a challenge. ” SO WHICH TASKS ARE FOR LEADERS? MANAGERS?

    -“that is what you need to handle as a manager being a leader” OK, SO WHAT EXACTLY DID HE DO FOR THE COUPLE TO WORK TOGETHER? WHAT DID HE DO TO BREAK ACCT TEAM AND CREATIVE TEAM STEREOTYPES?

    -“For Mr. Phat, he believes in what Max Depree (cited in…” DID HE QUOTE DEPREE OR ARE YOU JUST CITING THE SOURCE? THESE ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS. I SUGGEST YOU SHARE EXACTLY WHAT PHAT SAID INSTEAD.

    -Overall, there are a lot of interesting insights but could have been written more clearly with in-depth examples of Phat’s leadership style, rather than putting the references to support his short quotes.

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