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.  

Listening is power…

“Leaders who refuse to listen, will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing helpful to say”

Andy Stanley

I once heard someone say that if you want to be a more effective leader you have to be more interested, than interesting.  This was followed with with what I believe is some of the best advice I have ever received.  That as a leader, in order for you to really be effective, that the number of questions you ask must outweigh the number of statements that you make. This has always been incredibly convicting for me and is something that I continually work on improving.  

The dangers of talking more than listening seem obvious, but why do so few people actually practice the true art of listening?  Is it because they like the sound of their own voice?  That they believe what they have to say is the most important thing?  Or perhaps, they just don’t understand that the best way to impact and influence others comes through listening and seeking first to to understand BEFORE being understood.  

If you aren’t really listening, then as Andy says, you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by people who only tell you what you want to hear….  

Take a day…

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”

Maya Angelou

How is it that you recharge?  What do you like to do that helps you relax and refresh so that you can step back into the fray with your full focus and effort?  

I will fully admit that I am not good at all at doing what Maya outlines above.  My mind is always working on something and it is typically about work in some way.  Frankly, my best thinking, the time when I can achieve the most clarity, is when I have changed environments and given myself the space to think through relaxation and rest.  Research has shown again and again that the brain functions at it’s peak ability when it is properly rested and refreshed.  

Find a way to give yourself a break and disconnect from the challenges you face for a day.  They just might not look as daunting when you come back…

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.  

 

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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