“Can you keep a secret?”
That’s a loaded question. I find myself physically shrinking when it’s asked of me; knowing most of the time the one who asks wants to reveal some bit of juicy gossip meant to harm rather than do good.
Is there ever a secret worth sharing?
Years ago, a simple yet compelling book was written by Ken Blanchard entitled, The Secret. Like many of his books it’s written as a parable with the hope that principles will not only be understood but implemented, especially by leaders. The secret is clearly stated but profoundly challenging to live out. Here’s the interchange from the book:
“What’s the secret of great leaders? she asked.
“The secret is, great leaders SERVE.” Jeff paused to let the words sink in.
“Serve? What do you mean by that?” Debbie’s tone clearly reflected her disbelief. “Leaders don’t serve, they lead!”
Unfortunately, this is a challenge anyone faces who leads – whether you are leading a team, work group, project, or an entire organization. Whenever power is granted there is something that seems counterintuitive about serving. Yet serving is the key.
Leaders need to continually ask themselves the question, “Why am I leading?”
Blanchard states, “motivation and intention is a character issue.” If we lead with the intention of serving others we will lead a fundamentally different way. Our motivation will not be self-serving but centered on giving ourselves away so that others will benefit and the common good is realized: progress is made, the organization and the people achieve results.
While serving is an intuitive concept, serving isn’t about being “touchy-feely” as some of my friends say. In fact, Josh Spiro writes in his 09.31.10 Inc. article that servant leadership “clashes with many of the values instilled by modern American culture.” We a culture fascinated with a more power-wealth-fame-model of leadership.
Serving is a mindset by which you seek to pour into others. There is no perfect style or method of serving. The beauty of humanity is that each one of us can serve and that makes our style unique and equally effective. We also have the privilege of reading stories of people who have chosen to serve and, because they did, made significant impact in the lives of others:
- Martin Luther King, Jr. – long before his “I have a dream” speech he spent his time with conversing about the plight of injustices and why it was important to take a stand in order that justice could be realized. He preached, he listened, and he locked arms on a bridge…all to set the stage for the day on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
- Mother Teresa – a man who met her told me that she exuded a powerful energy. She may have been slight in stature but she lived fully out of a desire to serve others. She once said, “If you can’t fed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
- Nelson Mandela – few people would have imagined that this anti-apartheid activist could have made a contribution from a prison cell; his home for twenty-seven years. He embraced a form of leadership unknown to most in our culture. He referred to himself as a shepherd, “A shepherd stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”
Three highly influential leaders: different personalities, styles, and locations. Yet, they are very similar. They transcended short-term goals and focused on higher order intrinsic needs. What was their secret? They knew that great leaders serve.
Robert Greenleaf, the father of servant leadership wrote, “It begins with a natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”
What if...we stayed more attuned to our desire to serve, to serve first?