“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
I am continually amazed at how things work out for good when you step forward, serve others, and put your energy towards positive things. Taking the step of embracing a servant’s heart and putting your actions ahead of your words are two of the most important thing one can ever do in life.
Living in this manner is what helps build the staircase…
“Real leadership is leaders recognizing that they serve the people that they lead.”
Serving others is the highest and most authentic calling of any individual, which means that each of us embodies the ability to be effective and impactful leaders. When we put others first and demonstrate through our actions what we value, we set and create a positive example for others. Influence is the essence of leadership, and I can think of no more significant impact than to be known for living an genuine life of service.
However, serving others comes from the heart and can’t be faked or “acted.” One of my all-time favorite quotes is from St. Francis of Assisi. “It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” It doesn’t matter what you say, what words you use, or how much you preach. The actions you embody on a moment by moment basis are the outward manifestation of your principles and values.
It doesn’t matter what you say; you lead with your actions and behaviors. Rather than try and live up to some ideal espoused through words, focus on developing your behaviors, and let your actions do the talking for you. It is far easier to find words to match your efforts than to find actions that match your words.
So today, find someone to serve. Please don’t do it because others are watching. Please don’t do it because it is the “right thing to do.” Please don’t do it because you want to be a leader.
Find someone to serve because the essence of our shared humanity is the ability to give ourselves away. Do it because that is why you were born. Be influential today…
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
How would the impact of your life change if were to measure your success based on answering these two questions every single day? Ask and answer question #1 first thing in the morning and question #2 just before bed every night.
#1 – How will I impact the life of another person intentionally and positively today?
#2 – How did I specifically add value to the life of another person today?
‘“Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”’ Luke 6:38 MSG
Who knows, perhaps the life you impact the most will be your own…
“Dedicate some of your life to others. Your dedication will not be a sacrifice. It will be an exhilarating experience because it is an intense effort applied toward a meaningful end.”
Dr. Thomas Dooley
Today a dear friend called me to simply say hello and check in on me and the family. I can’t adequately convey the emotional value of this very human touch. It was an experience that totally made my day.
That this particular person reached out doesn’t surprise me at all, it is so much a part of his giving nature and true servant leader ethos. In many ways over the years I have looked to him as a tremendous mentor and the model of a person that I would very much like to be one day.
Reflecting on today’s quote with him in mind I would daresay that over the years he has dedicated a great portion of his life to others. I for one was very glad to be a recipient of that gift today.
Who are you going to give a piece of your life to?
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
I have used this verse as the daily quote before, in fact I used it earlier this year and you can read that blog post here. In that post I wrote about the impact of looking at your day and your life through the lens of answering questions on whether or not you served others and that being the ultimate measure of your success in life.
I chose this verse today thinking about it more as a compass and a guide to start and use throughout the day, not from the perspective as a rear-view mirror. Both viewpoints are important, but in order to measure progress you must first have a clear vision of where you are going.
How effective are you at living a life that is true to this verse on a daily basis? Regardless of your religious beliefs the wisdom here is so incredibly impactful when you apply it to your life and how you live and serve. If you were to truly gauge each decision you make, each action you take, by thinking about this verse before the choice, before the action, would you still take the same course of action?
My challenge to you to day is to pause with each decision you make today and ask yourself who you are serving with the action you are about to take? Be brutally honest with yourself. See if you still like the decision after running it through this filter. You might surprise yourself…
“No matter how busy you are, you must take the time to make the other person feel important.”
Mary Kay Ash
What makes you feel important when speaking with others? What signals do you pick up on that let you know another person values you? Do you know the answers to these questions for the people in your life?
One of the best ways to make another person feel important is to truly listen when they are speaking. Giving someone time is meaningless if you aren’t really in the conversation. Being engaged in actively listening and seeking understanding is one key to communicating value and importance. Unfortunately I am often guilty of being in a hurry and not doing this very well.
Today, in your conversations with others, see how many times you find yourself listening in order to respond versus truly hearing what another person has to say. Are you serving others, or focused on being served? You might surprise yourself.
“At the places where I want to work, even if people do other things well (even extraordinary well) but routinely demean others, they are seen as incompetent.”
Life is too short to put up with people who mistreat or demean others. There is just no place for it. You don’t have to agree with someone, you don’t have to socialize with them outside of work, you don’t even have to like them, but you do have to treat EVERYONE with dignity, honor and respect. There is no excuse for any other behavior. We all make mistakes, lose our temper, have a bad day, etc. The key is that when you do, you own it, apologize to those that bore the brunt of any such behavior and take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Abusing others routinely is a very different thing and is completely unacceptable no matter how good they are at what they do…
“We must desire to see people rising in life, rather than looking for ways to contribute to their fall.”
When you are talking about another person, how many of your words are spent talking about ways that you can help them grow or how they rise up even farher? How many of your words are about what they did wrong and how you want to see them fail? The first question is leadership. The second is most definitely not. Make sure you are focused on the first question…
“I worry that business leaders are more interested in material gain than they are in having the patience to build up a strong organization, and a strong organization starts with caring for their people.”
It is cliche but there is so much truth to the old saying “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Putting another person’s life and interests ahead of your own selfish pursuits is the mark of great leadership to me. Now, please don’t misunderstand, this doesn’t mean that you are putting another persons needs ahead of the organization. You are putting them ahead of YOU. The greatest leaders I have ever had the honor of serving under never compromised the needs of the organization or it’s shareholders for their personal gains or needs.
When I think of the patience part of this quote I am reminded of the story of the old farmer planting acorns. His grandson was with him and asked, “Grandfather, how long will it take these acorns to grow into trees like those around your house?” Grandfather thought for moment and then said, “son these acorns will grow to be trees like those in sixty to seventy years if they are cared for and protected while they are growing.” The grandson reflected quietly and then asked, “but that means you will never seen them becpme trees, so why are you planting them?” The Grandfather smiled and said, “Son, I asked my grandfather the exact same question when I helped him to plant the acorns around his house…”
Sometimes what we build isn’t for our enjoyment, but is for the betterment of the world around us and for the people coming after us. A legacy of a strong organization that cares for its people is one that will carry through multiple generations.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
This is counter to today’s “me focused” culture. Social media is the ultimate “look at me” tool and all to often we measure success in the number of “views or likes.” I would argue that in many ways success is measured through the lens of selfish ambition or conceit.
At the end of the day, when you reflect back and think about whether or not it was a successful day, what is the measure you use to determine success? Is it how much you accomplished? How much money you made? How many of your tasks you were able to complete?
Or is the measure of success reflected more in these questions. How many people were you able to help? What was the impact you made on another persons life? How many times you were able to smile at someone and say ‘thank you?’ Did you impact someone’s life for the positive today?
At the end of our lives success will not be measured in earthly things or our total number of “likes” but will be measured by the people that we impacted and the lives that we touched. To do so means that we have to put others ahead of ourselves and reach deep to find ways to serve. We must give ourselves away in order to truly have a successful life.
“Work and live to serve others, leave the world a little better than you found it.”
When you get up in the morning and orient yourself to the day ahead do you calibrate your mind to keep score of how much you are going to get or how much you are going to give? How do you put points on your scoreboard for life?
“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.
“Leaders who refuse to listen, will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing helpful to say”
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….
“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.”
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…
“If you are humble, if you make people realize that you are no threat to them, then they will embrace you.”
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.
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.”