The most influential leaders are those that truly care about the well-being and success of others.
A few years back I was struggling with some personal issues that had really affected my effectiveness in many ways. I had a friend at the time who took a great interest in me. He would make a point to visit me at home every week just to talk and get to know me better. Over time, I came to realize that he genuinely cared for my well-being. There wasn’t anything self-serving about his visits, he just wanted me to feel better. Every time he came over he asked what he could do for me. He sincerely wanted to serve me in any way he could. To this day I not only count him as a friend but a man I would follow just about anywhere. Talk about lasting influence! He was a master of servant leadership.
There is a tendency for many people to picture a leader as someone barking orders and issuing commands; an authoritative drill sergeant whose will must be obeyed or repercussions will follow. The notion of a “servant leader” is tough for many to conceptualize. Yet it’s a leadership practice that I teach for good reason: The most effective leaders are those who are willing to serve their followers because it empowers them to reach higher and more effectively represent the interests of the organization. Its service oriented actions that create a desire for people to follow you.
John C. Maxwell has said that “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This is certainly a true statement in a leader/follower relationship. There is nobody on earth who wants to follow someone who treats them poorly. We can take that statement one step further and say that folks are generally eager to be associated with someone who goes out of their way to help them.
So, as a leader what can you do to truly practice servant leadership and grow your influence? First and foremost, your thought process needs to go from “What’s in it for me?” to “What can I do for others?” This is easier said than done. In their book “The Servant Leader” Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges make a simple distinction between self-serving leaders and servant leaders.
“One of the quickest ways you can tell the difference between a servant leader and a self-serving leader is how they handle feedback, because one of the biggest fears that self-serving leaders have is to lose their position. Self-serving leaders spend most of their time protecting their status. If you give them feedback, how do they usually respond? Negatively. They think your feedback means that you don’t want their leadership anymore.”
To orient yourself as an effective servant leader, focus on these four things:
Leadership has nothing to do with advancing your own agenda. Those with a servant leader mindset are concerned with helping people become their best selves. As a side-effect, they grow their influence to new levels and strengthen their organization as a whole. The essence of servant leadership is always thinking and acting outside yourself.
Sometimes when confronted with different options, there's more than one right choice. Quit agonizing over the idea that there's a single correct decision.
Baseball legend and master of the one liner Yogi Berra gets credit for the title of this article. His quips were usually funny and often grounded in truth. This one in particular has stuck with me for its truth. Let me explain…
Exams in law school often involve gray areas; there is often more than one correct answer. For that reason, professors are often less concerned with a student’s conclusion than with their logic. I had a professor once say “How you get there is more important than where you end up.”
Basically, he was saying that he wanted to see and understand the arguments being made. Were they sound, logical and based in precedent? Did they apply the facts of the question well? In other words, in the situation with multiple correct answers, the steps taken to arrive at any answer were more important than the conclusion itself. The exact same principle is true in life. Often, we get so hung up on making the “right” choice, that we lose sight of the journey itself.
There is a myth that suggests that we have only one destiny. Only one perfect match in love. Only one perfect career. Only one perfect place to live. We’d like to believe that if we find this elusive “one” that life will then be perfect. As a result of this mindset, many people are constantly looking ahead to the day that they have all those perfect matches and life somehow reaches an ideal state. With few exceptions, most people don’t reach that state of idealism because they’ve boiled it down to a handful of idealized “ones.”
The reality is, there are an infinite number of right decisions. There are many perfect careers and places to live. What matters is the path you take to get there and what you learn in the process. When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
I was once confronted with a choice between two jobs, one that would move my family to Kansas City, Missouri and the other back home to Portland, Oregon. Both were good companies with comparable salaries and benefits. Both were in desirable cities where I could comfortably raise my children. As I agonized over the decision, it dawned on me that both choices could be equally right. There wasn’t a “wrong” choice! My family could build a great life either way. The idea was liberating in a way as it allowed me to go with my gut and we ultimately made the decision to move back home to the Portland area.
With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you weigh the options and make that final choice:
Your long term goals likely require skillsets, resources and information that you currently don’t have. Does one option take you closer to your goals than the others?
Does one side have a much longer list of benefits than the other?
What results from making one decision over another? What are the short and long term consequences?
After going through this exercise and no single option stands out, it’s time to realize the truth of this article and understand that there simply isn’t a wrong answer. There is no “one” choice that will lead you to that perfect life. So, take a breath, close your eyes and jump in. Go with your gut. Remember Yogi Berra’s words and when you come to a fork in the road, take it.
In order to reach a big goal, we have to take concrete steps that take us directly towards it.
Milk comes from cows (usually). Honey comes from bees. Those are obvious statements that any four year old could impart to us with unflinching certainty. With that definiteness, I know that (even though I’ve never kept bees) I can be certain that if I want honey I’ll need their help in getting it. I won’t try to milk a bee and I won’t try to find that mythical cow hive to get my honey fix. For honey, I’ll make a bee line (forgive the pun) for the bee hive and harvest what I want. It’s simple. Yet, every day people make the mistake of trying to pull honey from a cow when pursuing a goal.
Let’s say your goal is to write a book. The straight line approach suggests that you write. Write a little bit every day until you reach that honey pot. The individual mistakenly heading towards the dairy in search of their pot of honey might spend all of their time researching the book. Sure, some research might be necessary but this person thinks they need to know everything about their book topic and gets so mired in research and study that they fail to write a single word. If they’re goal was to know everything about the topic then heading towards the dairy was the right choice. But, since they’re trying to write a book, they’re likely headed in the wrong direction.
The key is to take concrete action towards your goal. Initially, the milk and honey might be on the same path but when that road forks you’ve got to be sure you’re headed towards the honey. Some time ago, my wife and I began a fitness routine with the goal of dropping our body fat percentages and overall weight. We dove head first into the workout routines, pushing ourselves hard. We noticed some improvement, but not at all what we expected.
After some fruitless effort we realized that we’d gone off the rails in one important area: we’d failed to change our diets. Like doing a bit of research for a book, working out seemed very good and productive. But it wasn’t going to get us to our goal. Instead of completely orienting ourselves towards that goal we went only halfway. As a result, we failed to realize what we’d set out to do until we changed direction. We corrected our diets and saw much bigger results.
What are your goals and what do you need to do to reach them? What are concrete steps you can take to get there? Consider the straightest line to get from where you are now to where your goal is and do your best to stay on that route. Remember, if you want honey you’ve got to go where the bees are. There’s no such thing as a cow hive.
When an upcoming life change seems scary, there are two keys to making it amazing: be intentional and anticipate growth.
Recently, someone very close to me accepted a job offer to work for a new company in a new industry. The position will require him to move by himself to a new state. It’s a tremendous opportunity for him, and from the outside looking in I can see only positives. However from my own experiences on the inside, I know how daunting the prospect of so much change at once can seem.
Often the fear of uncertainty or change becomes so strong that it forces us to shrink from the challenge. Motivational speaker and author Brian Tracy has said that “everything you do is either triggered by an emotion of desire or fear.” I like to think of it this way: passion and fear can’t exist in the same place at the same time in the same proportions. One or the other will always be in control. The key is to find a way to make the more productive emotion dominate.
When the job offer was extended, I’m sure my loved one was motivated by desire. The desire to learn and grow in a new and exciting area probably elicited a passion and excitement in him. But from my own experience I know that as the time to move draws closer fear takes a more active role in the mind and can even drown out the original desire. Keeping that desire at the forefront is the real challenge. The things that motivated the desire are still there. The opportunity remains, along with all the benefits that come with it. So, in order to maximize the desire to follow through, I’ve come up with a couple of helpful things to help keep the passion going and make the most out of an upcoming life change or experience.
First of all, it’s important to go about the change in an intentional way. All experiences can be for our benefit if we’re willing to learn from them. There is an old proverb that says “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Often, the teacher comes in the form of an experience or life change. So, as you embark on a new chapter in life, in order to be intentional about it ask yourself these questions:
The key is to create the experience rather than simply expecting it to happen to you.
Second, you must anticipate the personal growth that stems from the experience. In other words, go into the experience planning for self-improvement. John Wooden once said “When opportunity presents itself, it’s too late to prepare.” Consider the upcoming experience as your opportunity to prepare for something even bigger and treat it as such. You’re being groomed for an opportunity that you haven’t yet seen nor thought of. To keep your enthusiasm going as you anticipate growth, you need to consider the application of what you’ll learn by asking yourself:
Another name for the fear that crops up after our initial passion is “resistance.” Resistance is a sinister force that pushes us backwards. In order to get where we need to be, we must press forward, through the resistance. Resistance serves as a compass pointing us in the direction we need to go to experience significant growth if we’re intentional about it. Fear doesn’t need to rule us. Make this experience your moment. This is your time to learn and grow. It’s an opportunity to stretch yourself and become even closer to the person you want to be. It won’t be easy. Nothing significant ever is. But it will be worth it.
Sometimes the best way to solve a nagging problem is to slow down, take a close look at it and try a different approach.
Not far from my home in Washington State is an incredible volcanic formation known as the Ape Caves. The Ape Caves are stunning lava tubes that hikers visit in droves every summer (sorry, despite the name there are no apes residing there). Because they’re underground, the tubes have a consistently cool temperature regardless of the air temperature outside. They’re also fantastically dark. Visitors won’t get far without a light source of some kind. And even with a flashlight or lantern, odds are high that they’ll stumble over the uneven surface. Some even take a fall.
I imagine those who are most prone to stumbling and falling are the folks without sufficient light, along with those who are moving the fastest, eager to reach the end of the tunnels. In either case an adjustment, either slowing down or breaking out that extra flashlight will usually correct the problem. It doesn’t eliminate the obstacles, it just makes them easier to navigate. Those who fail to adjust are the ones who will most likely suffer repeated stumbles and falls.
The old saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results has become cliché, yet the idea remains true. We’ll repeatedly make the same mistake when a simple adjustment could fix it.
I struggled for years trying to play certain tunes on the guitar. When I practiced, I always attempted to play the songs I was learning at the same speed as the musicians who wrote them. Only when I slowed down the tempo did I learn to pluck each note properly and create the right melody. Once I had the fingering right I could increase my speed until I reached the tempo of the original song. It was a small fix that improved my guitar playing in a big way.
What are areas that you’re struggling in? What small adjustments could be made to turn those struggles into victories? Sometimes it helps to slow down and shine a little light on the problem. It may take sincere reflection; an act that often takes the form of asking yourself the right questions and giving careful thought to the answers. Here’s a few questions that may help you turn your struggles into victories:
Mistakes are a part of life, and if we’re doing things right we’ll learn from them and return to our problems with better approaches. That’s what growth is. Fail, learn, improve, repeat. Slow down, shine a little light on things and change your approach. It’s either that or continue stumbling.