From Our Early Files:
22 May 2013
“Everybody can be great because anybody can serve . . .
You only need a heart full of grace.
A soul generated by love.
And you can be that servant.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Every day, the average American consumes that bountiful beverage known as coffee. In fact, according to a popular coffee brewer’s website, they serve over 1.5 billion cups of coffee annually—that’s a lot of coffee! So where are you going with this you might ask. The point is that in organizations around our Nation, someone needs to fire up that coffee pot and make that coffee every morning, so folks can enjoy that wonderful aroma and kick start the day. So in your little part of the world, why not make that person you?
In my last post, I introduced the concept of Servant Leadership as both an effective style of leadership and an acronym to discuss seven points of leadership. The “S” in SERVANT stands for selflessness: serve others and not yourself… humility is key! Simple acts like making the first pot of coffee in the office each morning can help keep you grounded by starting the day with a sense of service. I’ve been doing this for years, and I believe it makes a big difference in how I approach my day. So I encourage you to give it a try – you might like it!
The key to selfless leadership is to serve others with a spirit of humility and sense of gratitude for the opportunity to lead in your organization. Unfortunately, many lead with a sense of entitlement. Thoughts such as “I’ve finally arrived” or “I’m climbing the corporate ladder, so I don’t mind who I step on to get there” characterize what I see as a critical element to the downfall of many leaders.
When you get right down to it, selflessness is comprised of three parts, the ABCs of selfless leadership. Selfless leaders:
Take action to serve those they lead
Believe that leaders are selfless, not entitled
Communicate how you intend to lead through words and actions
Selfless leaders take action to serve others. I was reminded of this simple truth a few weeks ago as my family and I enjoyed Iron Man 3 on opening day weekend. As we settled in for an action packed movie, a young man, his hands full with popcorn and drinks, and his three young boys filled the seats in front of us. I commented, “You sure have your hands full.” He smiled and laughed, but then came the real story. After getting his boys settled, he disappeared for a few moments and then appeared with his wife who was ill and not able to walk. He lovingly and carefully transported her from her wheelchair to her seat, ensuring she had everything she needed to enjoy the movie. He demonstrated a servant’s heart and reminded me that leadership is not just for the office. This polite young man was serving his family and leading by example. Do you think those three young boys took notice—I certainly do! This was a great reminder that leaders lead and serve in all aspects of life.
Acts of selflessness won’t be perceived as genuine unless you have the fundamental belief that you really are in a leadership role to serve and not be served. This promotes an attitude of humility. There’s a country song by Mac Davis you might remember with lyrics “Lord it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” I find just the opposite to be true; how about you?
I am humbled everyday by the talented individuals I get to serve with, which is why it’s such an honor to lead. As a leader, you can never forget how important your people are so take the time to take care of them. I remember the countless hours spent daily reviewing performance reports as a Wing Commander. Each report was very important. So as their leader, I needed to ensure I took the time to ensure my personnel’s record of performance was accurate and well documented. Sure, I could’ve been doing a host of other things with those precious hours, but taking care of my wing by providing quality reports was just one small way I could serve them and let them know I really did care about them.
Communication is vital to demonstrating a selfless attitude. As a leader, you must clearly communicate to your team how you intend to lead them. When you’re new to the organization, meet with your folks and share your vision for the organization and your leadership style. This is a great opportunity to share the upside down pyramid that I mentioned in my post on servant leadership. It’s important for your people to know who their leader is and what drives you. Look for opportunities on a regular basis to keep reinforcing that notion of what drives you through weekly newsletters, team meetings, and the like. But more importantly you need to live out those words—not just talk the talk, but also walk the walk. Those you serve with will be watching you and, trust me, your actions speak louder than words. Always seek opportunities to communicate by doing.
Some practical ways to communicate a selfless attitude include:
1. Hand write a note to say “thank you” after catching someone doing something good or making a key contribution
2. Take time to submit a star performer for an award
3. Write a letter of recommendation for someone you served with who deserves it
4. Shovel the driveway for a family whose military member is deployed
5. Visit a team member in the hospital when their spouse gives birth
6. Burn the midnight oil working on performance reports to get them just right
7. Call spouses of deployed military members weekly to say hi and see how they are doing
Developing as a selfless leader is a lifelong commitment. It takes courage, awareness and constant practice to truly lead from behind. I challenge you to avoid the sense of entitlement that comes with leadership titles and rank and the slippery slope that can gradually take a leader down the wrong path. Stay grounded, stay humble and don’t forget to make the coffee!