Vijay Eswaran’s Philosophy of Servant Leadership

Successful businessman Vijay Eswaran has a unique leadership philosophy – “service above self.” In a world where most leaders are only thinking of the bottom line, Eswaran believes a good leader knows how to serve others. Eswaran is the author of Two Minutes from the Abyss: 11 Pillars of Life Management. He’s been listed in Forbes as one of Asia’s Top 50 philanthropists. He is also on the advisory board of the World Economic Forum’s Global Growth Companies and a regular speaker at WEF’s annual meeting in Davos. Below, Eswaran answers some questions about being a great leader.


Your philosophy on leadership is “service above self”. What qualities should a good leader have?

Integrity – To be respected as a leader you must have integrity. It is the bulwark of honesty. It is important that a leader has clearly defined goals based on moral and ethical values.

Humility – Arrogance is a fundamental failure of many a leader. When mired in ego, a leader loses this anchor and is easily swayed by the storms of self-grandeur. It is humility that keeps him chained to the bedrock of reality.

Patience – This is perhaps the most valuable trait. I value patience above all else. Patience is not just a virtue, but a practice that requires daily application. It is a state of mind that emanates an inner sense of tranquility, calmness and serenity that permeates one’s surroundings. Such a leader becomes an oasis amidst chaos.

We live in a world where many leaders don’t think much of others, only of the bottom line. How does having a service first attitude help a leader succeed in business?

Leaders who serve are those who look beyond the profit and loss statements of their business. They focus on building legacies that will live long after they are gone. And when you are building something to last, you know that service is always first. Do note that service is not servitude. It is about setting aside self-serving behaviors in favor of serving others.

What is your advice for entrepreneurs or managers looking to be better leaders?

The fundamental difference between a dictator and a true leader lies in the teams they build. The former does not see the need for a team while the latter sees no greater asset and realizes he cannot succeed without a team. One is driven by personal prosperity and greed, while the other is driven by the need for perpetuity.

When you are driven by personal greed, you are focusing inwards; your life becomes a tunnel. When you are driven by a need – be it to build a legacy or to create a better world – you are focusing outwards; your life opens up to the skies. Hence, you have a choice to either burrow into your personal tunnel or learn to fly!

When you build teams, you learn to multiply yourself. Thereby, creating greater impact with less effort. When you are driven by greed, you learn to divide and conquer. Eventually, leaving you decimated with every division. It is teamwork that takes you to the top and keeps you there. It is also teamwork that eventually lets you evolve from one peak to another.

Are there any habits we can all practice to become less self-centered and more service oriented in our day-to-day lives?

Our normal state is to be in service to our self. Sadly, it is a path that leads to dictatorship and self-preservation. We have thus far survived as a human race because we chose to work together. There is an Arabic saying that goes somewhat like this — “A man who digs a well is blessed for generations.” A similar African proverb say this — “A man who plants a tree by the way side is blessed for generations.” Such proverbs are found all over the world in different cultures. We are here today because of the long line of people who have been in service to us. Many have given selflessly, so we could survive and thrive. You enrich yourself by giving of yourself, not taking from others. The way forward is only through giving and service.

The process begins with defining what you give:

Knowledge – Sharing knowledge is probably the most valuable form of service. Share what you know freely and without reservation. As you share it, knowledge grows and will come back to you many folds. Conversely, knowledge becomes decrepit when preserved.

Effort – Four hands are not only better than two but significantly more effective. Wither every extra pair of hands and not only will you grow arithmetically, you will progress geometrically.

Material wealth – In its own unique fashion, wealth needs to be circulated to create greater wealth. Hoarding it goes against the grain. The free market which is the basis of capitalism functions when all its parameters are truly free.

Being self-centered is a type of defense mechanism. It is you building walls against the world. History has shown that every wall ranging from Hadrian’s Wall, to the Great Wall of China, to the metaphorical walls of iron and bamboo curtains, have all disintegrated. When we become more service oriented we tend to build bridges… bridges have always served humanity better than walls. Bridges brought nations together and turned geographical obstacles into advantages. In leadership and business, being in service to others is self-transformational. It is a paradigm shift that changes from defensive paranoia to an all embracing universal consciousness that leads to the service of mankind.

Being in service is liberating, whereas being self-centered is imprisonment in one’s own mind. When one pursues a path of service it is an expression of true freedom in the best sense of the word. Serve to be free.