Four Characteristics of the Servant Leader

By Paul Yung


Now that the festivities are over, the gears are starting to kick in to get 2023 rolling. With more than 200 events, launches and lunches planned this year, it hit me on how much the company has grown.


Five years ago, we had 7 employees, delivered 5,000 parcels and I was involved firsthand with the 30 events we had for the year. In 2022, we had 30 employees, delivered 65,000 parcels, and hosted close to 200 events, many of which I couldn’t be present.


This was a result of one of the first business lessons I learned from a quote by Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, who famously said, “Take care of our people and the business will take care of itself”.  I took this quote to heart, and over the years I have learnt that the quote was part of a leadership philosophy known as “servant leadership”.


Servant leadership starts with accepting that there are many forms of leadership. Leadership is no longer centralized at the top and being the boss does not automatically make you a leader. Servant leadership means living to serve your people trusting that they will in turn serve the company well by doing their best for your customers.


Here are four characteristics of servant leadership that I practice


Know your people

Take time to understand the people on your team and divide functions and tasks according to their strengths. This doesn’t mean that people will only do what they enjoy, that’s life.

However, taking time to understand someone and explaining how the things they don’t enjoy doing contribute to the bigger picture of the company’s vision will build rapport and alleviate workplace stress.


The same goes for stakeholder management. Understanding your stakeholders needs and wants will foster better working relationships. With 43,000 distributors and growing in Malaysia, I spend much of my time thinking of how to serve them better so that they may in turn serve their customers better. The primary focus of being customer centric is fertile ground to grow businesses.


Develop leaders and let go

Plotting a clear career path, coupled with investing in your people is like building the youth team in your club. In PM International I have hired people who may not have the direct knowledge or experience for the role. I hired them based on their attitude and character, and most of the bets have paid off. They just needed someone to believe in them and give them an opportunity.


Once they have developed the know-how, I let them be directly responsible for their departments KPI’s and profitability, giving them authority to make decisions and execute projects. I have no doubt that’s one of the reasons for the exponential growth at PM.



Play win-win

Leave enough on the table for everyone. At PM, we practice a quarterly profit-sharing scheme based on the increase in profitability of the quarter compared year on year.


Not only does this increase loyalty and performance, but the morale boost from receiving a quarterly profit share gives a sense of ownership to the team. I am ecstatic each time a team member tells me they have bought a house, a car or paid off their debt. After all, the best team deserves to be remunerated accordingly. Over the last 5 years, this has resulted in less hires, less turnover and higher efficiency which equals higher profitability, win-win.


Create a culture of trust

Finally, I trust my team and operate with as much transparency as possible to build trust with the team. One mantra that is frequently repeated is fail fast and move on, something I learned from a mentor I had many years ago. Team members who are new to functions or job responsibilities are bound to make mistakes. Trusting in the team member to learn from bad experiences and rebound stronger, takes emotional and financial investment but pays dividends in the long run.


Five years ago, my general manager made a terrible mistake of over ordering stock that cost the company RM 1 million. She walked into my office with her resignation letter the next day, fully expecting me to accept it. I asked her if she had learnt from the mistake, she apologized, broke down and said yes. Then I said, let’s move on and learn from it.


Today we place orders many multiples of that, that I allow her to sign off without having to worry if she will have the same oversight. It never happened again. Take care of your people and the business will take care of itself.


As we usher in the year of the rabbit, may you “hop” over challenging obstacles and grow from it. I wish you many learning experiences and lots of success. Huat Ah!