Servant Leadership: Are You A ‘Lifter Upper’ Or A ‘Dragger Downer?’

As a leader, I know that I don’t always give my team members my full, undivided attention. I’ve been in countless meetings where I find my mind wandering to an email I just read, a client I need to get back to, or a problem waiting for me back at home.

Because I have a busy mind, this is a familiar scene for me. Leadership is fast-paced. It’s easy to forget how important it is to give every team member our full, focused attention when we’re with them.

That’s why I strive to be a servant leader for my team. Leaders have been given this gift—to lead and make a difference in the lives of others. With this comes the responsibility of learning how to best utilize it.

Great Leaders Lift Their Teams Up

I believe that my presence as a leader makes all the difference in a team member’s experience with my company. When I slow down and become fully present, I become a “lifter upper” and not a “dragger downer.”

These are terms I like to use to remind myself to come back to the moment. Right here. Right now. My focus should be on lifting my team members up and meeting them where they are professionally and personally, without judgment. My goal is also to teach and support them to the best of my ability.

That presence allows for me to see their individual qualities that I may have missed before—both the positive ones and those that might need attention. Like it or not, my team members look to me and how I conduct myself as an example for how they may flourish in their careers and in their lives.

What is a Lifter Upper and a Dragger Downer?

What do I mean by “lifter upper” and “dragger downer” in the context of servant leadership? Let’s start with the “dragger downer.”

No leader would intentionally hold a team member back from reaching their full potential. But sometimes, employees do get dragged downed simply because of the way their leaders fail to properly listen and think about what the employee is really saying.


Listening and thinking simultaneously is critically different than listening alone. By not thinking while listening to your employees, leaders are prone to operating on autopilot. This holds team members back from real growth, as well as the opportunity to understand their own thoughts and feelings. Even if it’s unintentional, their leader has become a dragger downer.

But how does this happen?

Often, our criticism of ourselves and others crushes our ability to observe what is really happening. Our thoughts are consumed by the past—which we can’t change—and the future—which we can’t control. I know this because I had regularly challenge myself to accept that all I can control is this moment. It’s this awareness that I offer to my team members.

Great leadership teams invest in their growth and development in many ways. We might take seminars on leadership and management, watch TED Talks, and read articles on the latest and greatest ways to motivate our teams. We attend conferences to hone in on our industry craft and network with leaders in similar roles. These are all important growth tools.

But there’s a tool that is much more powerful and transcends the rest: learning to be truly aware and present.

Be a Leader That Listens

For me, being aware and present means subsiding the ongoing chatter in my head. I use my daily meditation practice and biannual silent retreats to grow my “awareness” muscle and be able to more easily put away all distractions. These practices teach me to better listen to team members with a clear mind rather than try to make deductions or assumptions while trying to genuinely listen at the same time. Hint: This never works well.

Taking some time to pause—which admittedly can feel uncomfortable sometimes—allows what you’ve heard to settle for a minute before responding. Leaders that are “Lifter Uppers” can involve strategies as simple as understanding that your words and your presence matter. You can feel it when you have the full presence of another human. That feeling is fulfillment.

Lifting Up Your Team Even When It’s Hard

When team members know I’ve given my full energy and presence to them, they appreciate the outcome of the conversation—even if it doesn’t go exactly as they would have liked.

Consider the impact the simple act of presence could have when having a difficult conversation. This happened when I had to talk to a long-time, valued team member about changing her job title and lowering her compensation due to her struggling at her current role.

Because I took a mindful approach to the conversation, the outcome turned into a “lifter upper” moment for this team member. The conversation may not have been what she wanted to hear. However, because she felt heard, she became humanized and empowered to put her all into her new path forward.

mistakes with printers

By “lifting up” people, we become highly aware. When I am a “lifter upper” for a team member, I notice their strengths and weaknesses at a whole new level. I am more patient with their areas of growth and begin creating thoughtful plans to maximize their strengths. Where necessary, I can also offer better insights on how they can improve upon any perceived weaknesses.

I’ve learned to be less reactive and more responsive. It doesn’t mean we’ll always agree on everything. In fact, being present may help the team member and me realize that we weren’t meant to work together—that there is a lack of alignment—which is really a good thing for both people.  

After over a decade of hard work implementing these ideas, I better understand what might be important to my team members. It’s allowed me to gain greater insight into enhancing their life experience within the company.

By becoming a “lifter upper,” we become an active part of our team members’ life journeys to help them become their best selves. It’s a challenging exercise, but well worth our time. So, are you truly your team’s “lifter upper?”

This post originally appeared on here.

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