For the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.

James 1:6


Are you aware of how badly people are treated in today’s workplaces?


  • 75% of professionals have been affected by bullying – either as a target or witness.
  • 29% of HR executives have had one or more employees in their workplaces resign due to workplace bullying.
  • Between 12% and 18% of psychological-based disability claims are directly related to bullying.
  • Workplace abuse is the #1 reason people look for new jobs.


You may be wondering why I’m sharing these statistics with you. After all, you’re working like crazy to build a culture that does the opposite of condone workplace abuse. But let me ask you…who are you filling that culture with? Chances are high it’s with people who’ve become conditioned to an — at best — emotionally calloused workplace; they’ve likely spent years of their lives getting talked down to, undercut, and undervalued at work.


I wish that being welcomed into a servant leadership culture could instantly transform people and make them feel safe. But when they’ve been beat up for so long by traditional leadership styles, people sometimes take a while to recover. Until they do, they’re guarded and skeptical about what you offer – a workplace of consistent support, respect, and love.


Last week, I talked about four obstacles you’re overcoming in your journey to become a servant leader. Today, I’d like to share with you another obstacle to pay attention to: overcoming your employees’ skepticism to your servant leadership. How can you lead the “walking wounded” into your fold, help them heal, and draw out the very best they have to offer the world?


Awareness is at the heart of servant leadership. So, to start, you can become aware of the stages of skepticism people will likely pass through when they encounter your servant leadership. I’ve received permission to use a first-hand account of a new employee’s experience when she began working for a veteran servant leader, the very first servant leader she’d ever met:


Stage 1: Surprised


“Wow! My new boss is so………nice! I actually can’t remember the last time I met someone who was so nice all the time! Yet clearly he’s not a pushover. People are working their tails off around here. This is too good to be true!”


Stage 2: Suspicious


“Wait a minute. I’ve worked here for weeks now, and I’ve never seen him get mad. Or even rattled. In fact, he’s never been anything but calm and kind. This really is too good to be true. What’s his angle? When am I going to see his “real” personality?”


Stage 3: Disbelieving


“Okay. This is just weird. There is no way on Earth that anyone can keep up this “nice act” forever. Something has to give. Business is going great now, but when we don’t hit the numbers, then I’ll see the other shoe drop.”


Stage 4: Disoriented


“We didn’t hit the numbers. We were so close, but then that vendor pulled out, we had to pull in a higher bidder, and costs went up. Every other boss I’ve had would have blown their top. Or laid on the guilt. But he didn’t. He just said he wanted to know what he could have done better to help us cross the finish line. I’m really starting to wonder what’s up with this guy. It’s actually making me nervous, waiting for him to show a crack in his armor.”


Stage 5: Optimistic


“Maybe he really is this nice…I remember him saying things about servant leadership…is that what this is? If this guy’s the real deal, then I just hit the jackpot! I am NEVER leaving this company! In fact, I wonder if he’s hiring. I’d love to tell my friends about this place….”


Stage 6: Liberated


“I love coming to work! I have never been so pumped! My creativity has skyrocketed, I’m getting more done faster, and I’ve stopped beating myself up for every mistake. I feel like a giant boulder has been lifted from my shoulders.”


Stage 7: Fulfilled


“I never knew work could be so satisfying. My friends think I’m crazy, when I talk about how good I have it here. I feel like an evangelist for this company, and I have certainly never felt that way about any place I’ve worked before.”


Stage 8: Safe


“As if it couldn’t get any better…I just had a meeting with my boss, and shared a big concern with him. The hard part was, the concern was about him – something he was doing to give me doubt about my work. Instead of getting defensive, he just listened and then talked the issue through with me. This guy is unreal. I actually feel…I guess the word would be “safe” – I feel safe here, with him. I feel validated…not just as an employee, but as a person. I never thought I’d feel this way about a boss!”


Stage 9: Inspired


“I want people to feel around me like I feel around my boss. I’m going to learn more about this servant leadership method. Maybe I could learn to lead like that, too.”



Moving through these stages takes people time. There’s no shortcut for people to heal from the negative impacts of their previous working environments. But, there is something you can do to facilitate the healing process, get people to trust that you’re the “real deal,” and get them up to fulfilling their purpose in your organization as quickly as possible:


Keep serving. Never falter. Don’t ever let their doubt about your commitment to the servant leadership path become your doubt. Extend extra support, show respect, and treat people with dignity and love every single step of the way.


You’ll win them over. God will win them over. (Remember, you’re not in this alone!)


Then, once people heal, they’ll get their confidence back so they can soar for you. So they can soar for themselves.


“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31)


Most people have a story of emotional callousness – or outright emotional abuse – in the workplace. I’d be honored if you shared yours, so that we can all process with you, help you heal, and become stronger together.