Each of us is answerable to an authority greater than ourselves regardless of our status in society or in the workplace.
Minnesota’s greatest export, Robert Zimmerman, is among my favorite songwriters of all time. You might better know Mr. Zimmerman as Bob Dylan, whose prolific career in music spans six decades and counting.
One reason I like Bob Dylan’s work is because so many of his lyrics are like poetry that happens to be set to music. The words often can stand on their own because of their depth and meaning, which explains why Dylan, a musician, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016.
A Dylan tune that often plays in my head is a lesser-known song titled “Gotta Serve Somebody,” and there’s a particular part of the song that my brain repeats the most:
“You may be some businessman or some high-degree thief
They may call you Doctor, they may call you Chief
But you’ll have to serve somebody
Yes indeed, serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’ll have to serve somebody.”
Dylan’s lyrics bring to mind the words of Jesus when he said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
The lyrics also suggest that if each of us serves somebody, then each of us is answerable to an authority greater than ourselves regardless of our status in society or in the workplace.
That view is supported by the words of the Apostle Peter when he observed that God, the ultimate authority, does not show favoritism in dealing with people regardless of their pedigrees or earthly positions — or, as it says in some biblical translations, that God “is no respecter of persons.”
Anyone who believes they do not serve at the will and pleasure of others is deceiving themselves regardless of where they sit on the totem pole of life, even if it is at the top.
Though they often seem autonomous, most high-level executives, including CEOs, serve at the will of their boards of directors, and even the most powerful of them can be booted from their jobs.
Just look at disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein; his board fired him in late 2017 from the film studio he co-founded because of negative publicity generated by the widespread revelation of his womanizing ways.
But what about those men and women who own their own businesses and seemingly are their own bosses? Whom must they serve?
The answer is the toughest bosses of all — the hundreds and thousands of people who collectively are known as their customers.
An accountant, restaurateur, shop owner or consultant who does not serve his or her customers well either will fare poorly or will be out of business eventually.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the best leaders are those who willingly serve others rather than expect others to serve them.
We will save a discussion of what is called “servant leadership” for a future post. But know this: To be an effective servant requires submission, and submission requires a humble spirit and a willingness to listen to and obey the voice of authority.
Jesus made a point of telling the scribes and Pharisees, who were the big hotshots on the scene during the days of his earthly ministry, that they were in for a comeuppance because of their self-importance and self-serving ways.
“Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted,” Jesus said.
I favor the latter outcome myself.
2 thoughts on “Bob Dylan is right: Everybody serves somebody”
Dylan’s anthems are so universal, he truly is a man for all times, not just the decade of the 60s that he is perennially identified with. Great reference, Mark!
Thanks Mark. The customer isn’t always right, but the customer is in charge. I look forward to your thoughts on servant leadership. The values and skills of a servant leader, I think, are very similar to those of the types of leaders I coach: collaborative leaders.