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.
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.
Varying experiences lead to different ideas and opinions for different people. By embracing this fact, you'll find that there are things to learn from everyone.
Have you ever talked with someone about a shared experience and found that you each remembered it very differently? Perhaps you’re both absolutely certain that you remember it correctly and the other person is mis-remembering. It’s happened to me many times. In fact, as my wife and I get older and grow the number of our shared experiences it seems to happen more often.
Memories are a funny thing in that way; they exist only in the mind of the individual experiencing them and, as time goes by they evolve. Memories are constructs of the mind. Every time we reach back and access a memory, we change it based on the collection of experiences we have had since the memory was stored away in our brains. Since every individual has built a unique set of experiences, even shared memories evolve differently within separate minds. One person might be right and the other wrong.
As off-putting as it may feel to know that cherished memories may not reflect reality, there’s also reason to rejoice at the notion. After all, the exact reason we remember things differently than someone else does (a unique set of experiences) is the very thing that makes us different from them. For all that we have in common, no one else in the world experiences life in exactly the same way as you. Those experiences result in different strategies, opinions and ideas. And those differences create extraordinary opportunities to learn from others.
“In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
This is a difficult suggestion for many people to accept. It takes serious humility to appreciate that there are ideas and opinions just as valid as our own that stand in stark contrast to ours. Sadly, I see social media posts all the time that say something like “If you think (insert opinion), you should unfriend me now.” It’s sentiments like this that make social media the great echo-chamber of our day. Instead of discouraging different opinions, we should encourage them and exercise our own critical thinking skills to understand why they think differently and perhaps learn something from it.
For example, there is a great deal of “discourse” that devolves into name calling and shaming. One tribe likes to label the others as driven by hate or greed or some other negative motivation. In the echo chamber, it’s easy to jump to those conclusions. Those who share our opinion will back us up after all. But what if it isn’t hate or greed or laziness that motivates their opinion? What if its fear or anger brought about by a past experience? Perhaps it’s something else entirely.
If we can accept that individual’s thoughts and opinions have been influenced through their unique experiences and have the humility to acknowledge that their experiences are just as valid as ours, then it’s possible to start a dialogue and try to understand them. It’s either that, or call them names and filter them out of your world, closing yourself off to a breadth of experience that you simply don’t have. Put in this context, the choice seems obvious.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of learning this lesson from a man who said that sometimes the greatest magic words you can utter during a heated debate are, “You might be right.” It’s humble. It doesn’t acknowledge that you’re wrong. And it allows you to quiet the conversation and seriously consider why they think the way they do.
At least, I think that’s what he said… A lot has happened since then. I may be mis-remembering.
If you’ve ever created something and put it out there for the world to see, you’ve probably felt the dejection that is brought about from the acrimonious words of people you’ve never met. It seems that there are legions of naysayers out there, willing to spend two minutes of their time to criticize, condemn and otherwise smash the hopes of hard working creators. They almost always work from behind the veil and relative anonymity of a screen. Many creators spent hundreds of hours developing their content only to have their hearts ripped out by an internet troll. It’s both pathetic and sad. Pathetic in the way naysayers seek out new content to trash instead of offering constructive feedback or encouragement. Sad for the many creators who have felt stifled and given up on their dreams. To the naysayers I have only one thing to say: You can’t stop us from creating. This article is for the bold. The ambitious. The people whose purpose in life isn’t to tear down, but to build. This is for the creators.
Never in my life have I felt more vulnerable than when I put my books up for sale. The amount of time and effort that goes into such an endeavor results in a product that is so personal that any attack on it feels like a direct assault on the creator. My work was like that. Some people hate it. Some even called me names. I’m working on material right now that I’ve been told is a bad idea; that I’m investing time into what will amount to nothing more than a failure. But I’m still creating. I’m not alone and neither are you.
Ariana Huffington launched The Huffington Post in 2005 to a litany of naysayers who suggested that she simply didn’t understand the internet and that the site would fail promptly. She sold it to AOL for $315 million six years after the launch.
Sara Blakely founded Spanx in 2000 amidst a chorus of negativity. In fact, she now says “It’s smart to keep a young entrepreneurial idea secret, even from friends and family.”
Anderson Cooper was told repeatedly that he would never be on the air.
The Lord of the Rings was completely dismissed by literary critic Edmund Wilson in 1956. He called it "balderdash" and "juvenile trash."
Or how about the Bloomberg article that derided Apple’s new product offering, the iPhone as “nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks.”
I hope you creators see a theme here. It’s nearly impossible to find a great invention, achievement, literary work or other creation that wasn’t met with harsh criticism. The great ones not only ignore naysayers, they press forward and create anyway. After all, we don’t create to please the naysayers. We create for the people who will consume what we create. We create to satisfy our own overwhelming need to create.
Here’s the thing about naysayers: They can’t stop us from creating unless we allow them to. To overcome them we have to do two things: First, tune them out. That’s right, completely ignore them. Don’t check the reviews to your book. Just don’t. If you have the means, assign communication tasks to someone else so you can focus on creation. My wife curates all emails sent to my website in addition to managing my social media accounts. I simply don’t see the harsh criticisms that come through (sorry naysayers, you’ll have to find another way).
The second thing you need to do to overcome naysayers is to fill your mind with positive messages. Seek out media that reinforces a positive attitude in you. Read, watch videos or listen to recordings. The key is to build yourself over time. Naysayers tear down. Creators don’t just build content, they build themselves up as well.
I wish I could be there to cheer each of you on as you create. I truly do believe in you. Don’t listen to the voices telling you that you’re not good enough. They’re wrong. Surround yourself with positive messages. Keep creating.