Dec 17, 2017By Tom Kooy
Social Impact

Built to Serve. The True Formula for Success

Over the last two months, I have had some really interesting insights across the entrepreneur & start-up landscape. One that stood out was in late November, I had just given a keynote and I was approached by a young university aged entrepreneur, who told me that her main driver in life is to give and serve others.

Over the last two months, I have had some really interesting insights across the entrepreneur & start-up landscape. One that stood out was in late November, I had just given a keynote and I was approached by a young university aged entrepreneur, who told me that her main driver in life is to give and serve others. She was committed to finding that utopian inflection point where heart, service and profit combine to create a better outcome for others and herself.

"The secret to success in business, & life, is to serve others. Put others first in all you do." K.Stirtz

Now having personally battled with this type of thinking my thesis is, I feel we get lost in the altruism to serve, which clouds our ability to think about how our idea and business plays out commercially. We choose to give at the expense of creating value and this means if our desire to give outweighs value, we then in-fact have no value to offer. This lack of value then takes away our ability to effectively give and serve.

So why do we think like this? Well, inherently in everyone’s inner-most being is a desire to serve. We are relational beings and to be in relationship with a business partner, with your stakeholders, with your partner or family means to be in service to them. You only have to look at the Latin root word of relationship lat, which means to carry to see how deeply ingrained our calling to serve (and carry) others is.

Where we get lost though is we cannot sustainably serve without having the strength and skills to add value (and carry) in the first place. This means there are two main areas we fall down. Firstly, we serve without being able to add value and/or secondly, we have value to offer but we serve and give too little.


The problem many face, much like the university entrepreneur, is her one core drive was to give. However, her drive to give was at the expense of being able to develop expertise and add value. So what I said to her was, “you cannot serve by giving, if you do not have value to offer that allows you to serve in the first place”.

"Not adding value is the same as taking it away" - S.Godin

Many people are hungry to serve, but if you do not have skills and expertise to offer paired with commercial reality how can you really serve? Serving is the process through which your expertise will shine through.

That is why altruism and a desire to serve at its very core is only possible with expertise, talent and something to offer. Otherwise, your desire to give in service is meaningless and the market will see it. So if you are not genuine in who you are (and the business you are creating) and you haven't really drilled down in developing core talents then you can't add value. Regardless of our authentic your desire to serve may be, it will only take you so far.


This is probably the one I see more of. How many of us deep down know we can give more? Serve our employees, people in need, our partner, fellow entrepreneurs, friend or colleagues more? I guarantee you that 99.99% of you can give more.

"If serving is below you, leadership is beyond you" - Unknown

Typically, what seems to happen though, is we are faced with a challenging time whether; you're swamped with work and your personal life is suffering, or you're stressed about having too little work or you don't know what your north star is (and you feel lost). Whatever your challenge may be, so often these moments throw us into our own inner-monologue where we get lost in ourselves and we fail to think about those around us. As such, we respond by serving others less and ourselves more.

This is no more pertinent than now with Christmas right around the corner. And reflecting on this time of giving, I personally have found that 2017 has been full of massive change & challenges for so many of my clients. Whether it be audiences I have keynoted to, or in the one-on-one coaching sessions I run, there has certainly been no shortage of incredible executives & entrepreneurs who have been challenged in their own life, realising how much their inner-monologue had taken over.

And going meta in what I have seen with the breakthroughs, my clients have had, has been around their own realisation that they need to venture beyond themselves in those moments. They need to re-frame their thinking, so when things became tough and the proverbial did hit the fan, instead of them letting their inner-monologue of stress, anger or whatever expectation that had take over, it was their willingness to realise their success in the face of those challenges only comes from graciously serving those they feel frustrated by. It may sound cliche, but as humans we need relationship, relationship demands service. Service leads to success. We are very much built to serve.

So whichever end of the spectrum you are on, here are 4 takeaways for you to reflect on as you look at the year that was and as you consider how 2018 will look for you...

Know Your Why

"Don't ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive & go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive" - H.Thurman

I don’t think there is a blog/article post that goes by that I don’t allude to this in some way. Your why shapes your how and your how shapes your service.

So over the holiday period, re-evaluate why you do what you do. Run a feedback loop through your refection/replay of 2017, test what you are doing and how you are doing it and make sure it sets you on fire. Ask yourself, what is your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)? And are you on track towards it? If not, spend this time to re-evaluate.

Then execute everything you do here on out and into 2018 with total humility & self-awareness. If you don’t authentically live and work, people will see it and they’ll be sceptical about you. Your authenticity only reinforces your value and will support you to either add value in service or heighten your awareness to help you serve more. If you serve authentically and your intent is pure, you will win.

Know your Boundaries and Capacity to Serve.

I’ll be honest, this is a big one. Given we all have this innate desire to serve and some of us serve too much and others serve too little, the way to strike that perfect balance is built around knowing your capacity to serve. I can tell you that there have been a few learning curves as I have taken on new businesses and it is incredibly important to have the courage to communicate your capacity and set boundaries accordingly. If you don’t, you will be inundated with everyone wanting something from you and your own ability to serve will be crushed.

"The difference between successful people & really successful people is that really successful people say 'No' to almost anything" - W.Buffet

So at either end of the spectrum, map out your calendar and be honest with yourself about how you can serve others in-amongst your BAU (business as usual) & strategic tasks. A great example was one of my clients asked me how to empower staff to get them on the same page as her (she is a partner of an accounting practice and felt she wasn't serving enough).

My answer to her was, "you serve your team, they don't serve you. So give them 1-2 hours each quarter where you sit down one-on-one with them and discover what is important to them. As the only way to have your team care more about your business is for you to show them you care about them by choosing to serve them first." In this setting, or whatever your capacity needs to be, you have to find time. So being diligent with your calendar and setting immovable chunks of time is crucial to ensure you are serving in the right areas. This part has to binary, you cannot be half pregnant on this one. So set boundaries and expectations to ensure you can serve in the best way possible to your business.

Work Hard & Execute in 90 Day Sprints

"The dictionary is the only place where success comes before work." - M.Twain

Perfecting your craft to offer great value as you seek to serve isn't something easy that happens overnight. Nor is building a drive to serve into your routine if you are on the other end of the spectrum. Nothing has been built from scratch without hard work and patience.

There is one formula, adopt a mindset of hard work, patience and continue to build talent as you seek to serve. The outcome of course will be the mix of how good you were at those three things.

So next time you are considering how best to serve, do not get caught up in the middle ground. Focus on two things

  1. Remember your Why, your BHAG.

  2. Set 90 day sprints for building your value. A freely give that value without expectation of return. The more you give and serve with the value you create, the greater the snowball effect.

The more you focus on your BHAG and then channel that direction into your short-term/micro goals & tasks, the natural course will be towards achieving your why and scaling your ability to serve.

The reality is, you are no good to anyone if you cannot add value. Serving others is only valuable if you have something to give. There is no short-cut here. So work hard to build value that impacts your personal and professional life and serves those around you. Meanwhile, if you are on the other end, apply a considered work ethic about how you can better serve others and give without expectation of return. You have value and resources that can impact and serve those around you more than you know. So apply the 90 Day sprints to what your serving can look like and how you serve. By doing so, you'll see your giving and in turn, your impact scale. Not only will you be more fulfilled, no doubt, your business will go up another gear.

2017 has been a year of real change for so many and my wish for you is that as you head into Christmas time that you use this time to rest and recharge with your family, friends and loved ones. Importantly, I hope you use this time to also deeply consider your Why, reflect on the year that was, test it against your core drivers. Make changes, set plan for 2018 and remember we are built to serve.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas,