How much do you care?

“If you want to be the best leader you can possibly be, no matter how much or how little natural leadership talent you possess, you need to become a serving leader.” 

John C. Maxwell

How easy it can be to forget this when working to accomplish some task.  The results take priority over people and the focus is on what is getting done, not who you are serving and how it gets done.  

Servant leadership requires more than lip service.  It means more than results from some project or initiative.  It means to serve others.  Period.  It doesn’t mean easy, or soft leadership.  It means that you have to genuinely care about those that you serve and make sure that they are empowered for success.  Sometimes this means that they are not in the right role, or even the right organization.  That is okay.  Because if you truly care, and serve them, you want them to be the most successful that they can be.  Which requires genuine care, consistent support, candor, and feedback.  

You have to care about your team more than you care about yourself and they will know this based on how you serve them.  

Who gets the credit?

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” 

Harry S. Truman 

Who should get the credit for any accomplishments that we make in life?  I’m convinced that not once in life should I get any credit for anything that I have “accomplished.”  God has blessed me beyond measure and the opportunity to work with, serve for, and help amazing people is an incredible reward.

What happens when we focus our attention on doing the right thing and focusing on making a difference?  Instead of putting the effort towards what we “get” instead we should focus on what needs to be done, regardless of any credit that is due….   Reframing the “credit” due is incredibly freeing.  So much of our society today is all about the individual reward and recognition instead of focusing on doing the right thing.

What would you do differently if the “credit due” didn’t matter?

Who helps you to “see” clearly?

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”

Lao-Tze

Have you ever found that the things you don’t want to do, or the type of person that you don’t want to become, can happen without your even realizing it?  That a small thing can become a larger thing and before you know what has happened your thoughts become your words, and your words become actions you never intended.  The good news is that you can fix this by addressing the root source, the thoughts that are driving everything else.  

I unfortunately have made plenty of mistakes in this arena through life (and continue to do so).  Fortunately I have had the rich blessing of great friends and confidants to help address some of my mistakes and challenges before they become tremendous character flaws.  They have helped me reframe my thinking and realize that I the lens through which I have been viewing the world is distorted.  The value of people who will help you see those things that you  can’t is immeasurable.  Who is helping you see the things you can’t, or won’t, see without outside perspective?  

 

Learning while waiting…

​”Patience is not the ability to wait but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.”

Joyce Meyer

Ah, patience…definitely not one of my strongest virtues.  Though I can’t think of one time in my life where patience hasn’t been rewarded in some way or another.  Though in many cases not in the way that I expected.  

I believe there are two ways one can handle being patient.  First, one can have the “why isn’t this happening already?!” approach.  This is where not having a good attitude can be very dangerous.  It makes it hard to remain positive and learn anything beneficial.  

The second, and much more powerful approach, is is to refocus and ask yourself this question, “What am I supposed to be learning during this season of waiting?”  Doing this requires that one have a positive attitude and it enables your ability to grow and learn while waiting.  

If you can reframe waiting to view the world through the lens of learning it can change how you feel about being patient.  Don’t misunderstand, being patient is still extremely challenging, but maybe waiting is more about learning than it is achieving…

 

Talking with versus about others…

“Never find fault with the absent.”

Alexander Pope

This is a great reminder and one than can be a a tough pill to swallow.  At times it seems much easier to talk about people than to talk with them.  It is something that we all do, but a practice that we must guard against if we want to increase our influence.  What are the dangers that this creates as a leader?

First, if you are finding fault with someone, and talking about it with others, then you are tearing down the walls of trust, not building them up.  The person that you are discussing someone else’s faults with can never be sure that you aren’t doing the exact same thing when they aren’t present.

Second, putting the focus on the person not the problem distracts from whatever the real issue at hand might be.  If you want to be effective in fixing something, then you have to address it head on.

Third, your example to others be creating this type of environment encourages politics and individual agendas.  It does not enhance teamwork or collaboration.  The most effective leaders set the example that others will emulate.  Do you want your team talking about others behind their backs, or addressing challenges with and for each other?

Ask yourself this one question.  “Would I have this conversation with the person in the room?”  If the answer is no, then why not?  Isn’t that the more pressing challenge to figure out?  Talking about people is easy, and cowardly.  Talking with people can be challenging, but courageous.  Which type of leader do you want to be?

Threat level zero?

“If you are humble, if you make people realize that you are no threat to them, then they will embrace you.”

Nelson Mandela

I really like the way Mandela framed this in that it is the responsibility of the leader to ensure that those you wish to lead know that you are not a threat to them. I would go so far as to say that the minute one positions yourself as a threat to another person you have lost any semblance of humility.  To make yourself a threat to others is to position yourself ahead of them, higher than them, more valuable or worthy than they are. 

I’ve often heard that to be humble is “not to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less.” I’ve long believed that if you talk about having humility, you don’t. I think I am going to add “ensuring that people realize you aren’t a threat” to the list of requirements for humility and servant leadership.  

 

The challenge of being real…

“You cannot talk about grit—you have to embody it. You cannot talk about faith—you have to live it. You cannot talk about the desert—you have to cross it.”

Dr. Dragos Bratasanu

When I read this quote the very first thing that popped into my head was one of my favorite sayings of all times, “It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching” by St. Francis Assisi.  This is leadership by example in a nutshell.

Then I thought of how dissimilar this perspective is in today’s social media driven “look at me” culture. The comparison and envy that is created by showing “perfect” pictures of someones life.  Instead of “leadership by example” it creates “envy by example.” It is a focus on living life outwardly, based on what you want other people to think, as opposed to focusing inwardly on your personal values and the decisions that you make that aree manifested in action, not in words.  

Living a life of actions and behaviors that are 100% consistent with your words and beliefs is hard. I am very thankful to have a few incredible people in my life that will help hold me accountable when my words might outpace my actions or my choices.  We might not be able to talk about the desert, but we don’t have to cross it alone…

Who do you serve?

“If you can’t serve, you can’t lead.”

Unknown

I was blessed very early in my work life to have been mentored by some incredible people.  Several amazing people took me under their wings and taught me some of most important lessons I have ever learned in my life.  One of those folks introduced me to the concept and philosophy of Servant Leadership. This resonated deeply with me and learning how to become a better servant leader has been my  lifelong quest.  

Col. Greg Camp was that mentor and is a person to whom I owe so very much.  Greg had retired from the Army a year or two before I met him after an exceptional career.  He  was working at Columbus Bank & Trust when I joined the company back in 1997.  Greg was one of those people who was an exceptional teacher and had a knack for pulling out a persons hidden talents and gifts.  From day one I knew he was different because he told me that “his job was to ensure that I had everything that I needed to be successful and that when I was successful, that we as a team, division and company would be successful.  That in no uncertain terms he worked for me.” (Reflecting back on what I learned from Greg I realize that I could write countess posts about his leadership influence and impact.  Maybe I’ll do that one day in other relevant messages.)

One of the practices that Greg introduced to me was the idea of having a “leadership book club” at work so that we could learn and grow from each other.  We would become much better leaders by having heard what others think about particular topics. This practice is something I still use today for the very same reason.

I vividly remember our first “book club” meeting even though it was well over 20 years ago now.  Those meetings were held once a week before work, at “0-dark-thirty,” or to be more precise, at 6:30 AM on Friday mornings.  I was very excited to be part of the leadership team and to learn from some truly amazing and very seasoned team members.  The book we started with that morning was Leadership By The Book (which is still a personal favorite) and it opened my eyes to the philosophy of leading others by first serving them.  

Servant Leadership requires inverting the traditional hierarchal leadership pyramid and understanding that in order to create success one must first serve those you work with and ensure that they have the things that they need to be successful.  It requires a willingness to really lean in and understand your team and ensure that you are giving them the vision, direction, skills, talents, resources, accountability, etc that they need to excel at their jobs.  It requires that you are continually focused on having the right people on the team and in the right seats on the bus (to borrow from Jim Collins).  The team must know that you serve them in their success AND that they OWN the results of their efforts.  A very wise person once told me that “servant leadership is like being a great parent, it comes from your servant heart and you have to know when to praise and know when to spank, and your team has to know that you serve them by doing both.” 

I can’t possibly begin to explain all the nuances and impacts of servant leadership.  Many great books have already done this but the bottom line for me is this.  Over twenty years ago I was given one of my greatest gifts of my life when I learned that “leadership is not about self, but it is instead about those whom you serve.”

 

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