The Four S's
Somewhere over the past decades, maybe centuries, we have begun to associate leaders with images of people leaned back in plush chairs in corner offices with their feet kicked up on their desks or spending 90% of their time on the golf course or at mountain spa retreats week after week. We daydream about this image from our cubical, shoulder to shoulder with fellow punch-card workers as we feverishly strive to meet the day's end deadline before we have to clock out to sit in rush hour traffic, on the bus, to pick up our kids from their out-of-the-way school. The leader of our imagination seems to always arrive at the office long after we are into coffee cup number five of the day and then they will undoubtedly leave before we've even finished lunch. We long to be that person; to be freed of the cubical maze and no longer toil over seemingly endless piles of deadlines, revisions, and emails. But given the chance to prop your feet up on that two-month's paycheck desk, is that really the leader you would want to be? Would you want to continue that cycle? The cycle you loathed being on the other end of?
My guess is no because you wouldn't want those you led to feel like you had felt under that style of leadership: forgotten, over looked, distant. You'd try to "make sure there's nothing you would ask of your team that you would not be willing to do yourself" pg. 112. Go you! This is called servant leadership and here are four S's that can help you take on this leadership style.
Number 1: Sweat
"Hard work and sweat are often the hallmarks of great leaders" pg. 111. Tyler Reagin conveys a great story in chapter 10 of The Live-Giving Leader about how he works with his team to plastic wrap pallets full of stuff before it is sent to an event location. He's the President of his organization! By our daydream model, he has reached the point where he could golf and spa away his days but he chooses to be side-by-side with his team. He does this to demonstrate "the culture [he] expects from the top down" pg. 117. I often reflect on a day from my pilot days when I went to work on a weekend to deep-clean airplanes with maintenance personnel and I brought doughnuts. They weren't people from the shop I supervised, or people from my flight crew, but they were working and it would go faster with another set of hands. The looks of surprise morphing into respect and trust right before my eyes is a moment I will never forget. "It's incredibly powerful when leaders who have earned the right to not do heavy lifting (because of their role or title) choose to serve in this way" pg. 117. Get out there with your people and sweat with them! You won't regret it.
Number 2: Sacrifice
Let's be blunt: A "sacrificial approach to leadership is unique in our me-first society" pg. 123. Definitely not on trend but is that because people don't like it or they haven't experienced it? One thing you will certainly sacrifice as a life-giving/servant leader is your time for your people. I found myself failing celestial navigation in college. I could not wrap my head around several of the calculations despite how many times I read the book and practiced. I tried to speak with the professor but I swear we did not speak the same language and he couldn't fit me in for extra help. A friend mentioned that one of the other professors I'd had before used to teach the course and had been known to help students in need. I reached out to that professor and he agreed to help. A month later, after meeting with him every night for at least an hour, I passed celestial navigation! He valued my success and my future. "Devoting time to people is a primary way life flows from you to others...What or who gets your time might well be the clearest indicator of what you value" pg. 124.
Number 3: Surrender
My previous post for this book was on humility. If you haven't read it yet, now's a good time because the surrender part is all about humility. "The best leaders know that none of this is about them; it's about the people they lead" pg. 134. To lead in the life-giving/servant leadership style you will need to surrender yourself in some ways but that "doesn't prevent you from achieving or from being successful" pg. 95. What it means is that you have different definitions for success and achievement. The team's success is still your ultimate goal but instead of you accepting the praise and trophy you let someone else do the honors.
Number 4: Serve
This is what it's all about! "Life-giving [or servant] leaders understand that no matter how far up the ladder they go in an organization, they will always strive to serve the people on their team" pg. 147. You will always have people to lead if your first question to them is "How can I help?" instead of "What went wrong?" Servant leadership is seeing people, knowing them, and helping them be their best so that the team succeeds. When I was young, my family moved from one town in Florida to another town further north because my dad got a job at a small, private school there. This was not the type of town my family could afford and we would have been struggling for a while had it not been for the principal at the school. When he offered my dad the job, he was sure to add that the school had just finished renovating a small house that was intended for faculty in just such a position. It wasn't much but it would get us started. Minimizing dad's stress at home allowed him to be more focused on his job which in turn improved the faculty team for the principal. We eventually moved out of that house and the family that moved in after us was just as dedicated to the school as we were thanks to having an incredible leader look out for their needs.
"What is success if you leave a wake of bodies behind you?" pg. 160. Plenty of so-called leaders have done just that, like the leader in the daydream I presented at the beginning of this post. You can find the names of those types of leaders spread throughout history books and folk lore, but are they the ones with holidays reserved for their remembrance? Reagin mentions the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. several times through out The Life-Giving Leader as a beacon of life-giving/servant leadership. The irony isn't lost on me that we recently celebrated Dr. King's birthday. Do you think there was a day of his leadership that he spent with his feet up on his desk thinking about what he had to do for his next big promotion?
"Servant leaders always have followers" pg. 149 because people long to be known and cared for.
Tell me what you think!! Post some comments, reach out via email, or look me up on social media. Hearing from you is why I post so join the conversation! Our next book is The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by two huge leaders of our time. I cannot wait to dig into it with you. Come back on February 14th to chime in on that discussion.