A characteristic we all share is that each of is different. Diversity is the life reality of who we are as a collection of unique individuals. This reality presents challenges but also immense opportunities. A Servant Leader is well equipped to address the challenges and to build on the opportunities, particularly in three key areas.
A great way to serve someone is to take down a wall that stands in their way and then turn those blocks to stepping stones. Too often our differences are used to stuff people into boxes and behind labels that senselessly keep them from living the life they are meant to live. A Servant Leader believes that everyone should have an equal opportunity to live into the fullness of who they are as a splendidly unique individual. That which makes a person unique is exactly what the world needs, so if they aren’t allowed to be who they are the whole world suffers. A Servant Leader calls out any discrimination, whether it’s based on readily discernible physical characteristics or more subtle traits, and brings the person forward where they can shine.
Diversity is also important for teams. There is no need to go looking for diversity, it’s everywhere. If you put any two people together you have diversity, so in a team it’s a matter of recognizing the diversity that exists and determining whether you have the elements of diversity necessary for the team to achieve the goal at hand. By focusing first on service to the person the Servant Leader is able to understand each individual on a team and what unique contribution they have to offer. And while allowing each individual to be present on the team as they are the Servant Leader binds the team by bringing them together around a shared story of where they are and where they are going. The Servant Leader does not lose sight of the importance of individual contribution because they know that the primary objective of any team is the growth of each individual, and in this the team as a whole is enriched.
Diversity is also vital to leadership itself. The better you understand our differences, and see the unique contribution that you yourself have to make, the better equipped you are to serve and to lead.
And this is a time that is calling out for Servant Leaders to take a strong lead in embracing diversity. Sadly there are many well intended efforts these days to squelch and hide our differences. The thought is that sameness brings about equality. But the only way it creates equality is that everyone loses. And fear that one person’s uniqueness might offend another person has led to policies that prohibit people from demonstrating that which makes them who they are. This is done out of respect for the potentially offended person but it is in fact a great disrespect to the one who has had their lines blurred. The Servant Leader begins with respect for the individual, as they are, even when they disagree. Yes, even when offended by the actions of another the Servant Leader still respects the person. A Servant Leader creates a culture of service where people are free to reflect who they are and open to respect who others are. We can’t lead people into the fullness of who they can be tomorrow if they don’t even know who they are today.
Find strength in common ground
and energy in diversity.
Image courtesy of jk1991 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
They were just the right distance apart, or so I thought. When I laid the stepping stones through the new garden I carefully measured the distance between them. While I wanted the path to look nice it also needed to be effective since it is traversed frequently.
However, when I began using the new path I became frustrated. The placement of the stones was not as optimal as I had planned. The stones were closer together than my normal stride but yet they were too far apart for me to cover two in one step. The new path was forcing me to slow down in my quest to get from point A to point B.
Then one day as I was stutter-stepping through the new garden it dawned on me that the steps were exactly where they needed to be. Why was I always in such a hurry to get through this garden? Why not enjoy it? If the path was forcing me to slow down that was actually perfect. It served as a reminder to accept the moment and see the beauty around me.
Reflecting back I see that I learned a lesson in mindfulness that day in the garden. I could have continued to grumble every time I walked that path or I could have dug up the stones and moved them further apart. But by becoming more aware of the full situation at hand, and my attitude towards it, I came to realize that I had turned the stepping stones into obstacles. Seeing things for what they are however enables one to find the beauty in the present moment. And, wonder of wonders, suddenly obstacles become stepping stones.
“The first step toward change is awareness.
The second step is acceptance.”
“What are your top three leadership core values?” It was a thought provoking question and responding to it was a challenge. Tal Shnall posted the question on Facebook and tagged a group of us. Thank you, Tal, for the question.
Part of the challenge for me was how it was worded. I had often thought about my personal values and the effect they have on my leadership. But the phrase “leadership core values” put a twist on the question. I had never thought of values specific to leadership.
Another challenge was articulating just three values in a concise enough manner to fit a Facebook comment. Had I been asked to spend the next two hours expounding on all my favorite characteristics of good leadership I could have dived right in. But to narrow it to only three core values that underpin the rest?
Then there was a challenge I issued to myself, to not just list three values but to add a sentence or two for each to clarify the value and explain how I see them relating to each other. And again to be able to do that in a concise and clear way.
I had to wrestle with it a bit, but I did manage to come up with a list, and here they are.
My Three Leadership Values
- The innate worth of the individual (including ourselves). Each and every person matters, always.
- The importance of service as a response to individual worth & as the foundation of leadership.
- The freedom of everyone to lead. To deny anyone, intentionally or not, their freedom to lead is a failure to recognize their individual worth and a disservice to the individual.
I pass the question along to you. “What are your top three leadership core values?”
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
We like to live in a black and white world with clear delineation between what is good and what is bad. Everybody goes onto either a nice list or a naughty list. And so we draw vertical lines on our world. We put the bad people on the other side of the line and the good people we collect on our side. And we keep drawing vertical lines until those lines become fences and walls and bars.
The truth though is that the line between good and bad is a horizontal line. And it runs through the heart of every human being. Each and every one of us is at once darkness and brilliance. This is human nature and it is all part of who we are. Our beliefs and values are important for they determine which part of us we live out in our day-to-day actions.
There are people whose beliefs conflict with the beliefs of others, and whose values do not respect the values of others. There are those who have never known anything but darkness in their life and they don’t see their own light or they just don’t know how to do anything that reflects their better nature. The actions of these people typically have a detrimental effect on those whose lives they touch, either intentionally or unintentionally.
These are the people that we tend to label as the “bad” people and we put them on the other side of the vertical line. We work hard to separate and exclude them. But this disregards the true situation at hand which muddles our efforts towards improvement. We absolutely must call out actions that do not serve the well being of society and the people behind those actions need to be held accountable. But we can’t do that effectively by pushing them off to the other side of our vertical line. We must stand with them at the horizontal line that lies between our humanness and our humanity.
As leaders there is something to be said for surrounding ourselves with positive people. We need to have a healthy and supportive environment. And if we carefully choose to focus our leadership on those who are most agreeable to us it will make our journey more pleasant and will increase the likelihood that we will get where we want to go.
But then we have to ask ourselves, did I leave behind those who needed the journey the most? Did I disregard a person because they are one of “them” when in fact they are a lot like me? Did I deny someone their greatest opportunity simply because they annoy me? Did I miss out on an opportunity to live out my better nature in service to them?
It was time to celebrate. The Minnesota Twins had won the 1987 World Series. There were two victory parades, I went to the one in Saint Paul. As expected the crowds were incredible. The best spot I could find left me about ten feet back from the street with a solid wall of people in front of me. Standing next to me was a lady and her young son. We chatted a bit as we waited for the parade to begin.
When the procession of Twins players began to arrive it quickly became evident that I wasn’t going to be able see much. They were riding in the back of convertibles and even though they were sitting up on the back of the seat it was still hard to see them through the crowd. And the poor boy next to me wasn’t going to see anything.
Then I got an idea and after quickly clearing it with the mother and the boy I lifted him up onto my shoulders. Now he had a great view of the players as they rode by. The unexpected and delightful part of this was that the boy knew who all the players were, and as they went by he would call out their names. He provided us below a view of what was happening. I was able to see the parade through the eyes of this boy, which enriched the experience for me.
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”
One might add to this quote, “If I have seen more deeply it is by lifting others up.” When we lift someone else up to give them a greater perspective on life we find that our own vision is enriched as well. It’s not a selfless thing done only for their benefit. It’s not a selfish thing done only for our own benefit. Lifting others is simply the right thing, and it benefits us all, brings us together and in the end lifts us all up. Sometimes we are called upon to be the giant. Sometimes we are the one being lifted. Either way our view improves.
“To lead is to bring people together on higher ground.”
It’s amazing how often we try to stand out from everyone else by fitting in better than anyone else. The title of champion or victor is given to the one who does what many others do, just better or faster or more often. We want to show others that we’re like them by doing what they do and at the same time display our uniqueness by demonstrating our superior skills.
There’s a danger however with fitting in. Fitting in provides great soil for the seeds of mediocrity but poor conditions for true excellence to sprout. If you’re doing what others are doing simply for the sake of doing what others are doing then what you’re doing isn’t doing much even if you’re doing it better than all the others are doing. Okay, so you’re probably not counting to see if that sentence was 140 characters or less. (It’s 190 by the way and that’s without a hashtag or handle so save the Tweet.) Let me explain it another way.
It’s good to have a sense of belonging in a community but fitting in is not required. And doing well at what others are doing is perfectly fine if it provides the following.
- Authenticity – Does what you are doing authentically reflect who you are? Life is first and foremost about who we are and what we do needs to flow from the best of who we are. When our actions give others a true sense of our identity it builds trust and relationship, which in turn helps to build leadership.
- Growth – Does what you are doing help you to grow? Do you gain a clearer self understanding? Does it move you towards a personal vision? Is your focus not on being better than them but on becoming more than you were?
- Service – Does what you are doing serve others? Does it help them to grow as individuals? Does it bring us together as a community? Rather than trying to best them are you working to better them?
- Inspiration – Does what you are doing inspire others to do their best at what they do? Rather than simply challenging others to beat you are you challenging them to be authentic, grow, serve and inspire?
Now if your calling and purpose takes you down a whole new path, doing what no one else has done – AWESOME! Don’t worry about fitting in. There’s one thing that nobody in this world can ever do better than you and that is to be you. Charge down the path, throw yourself into the fray and lead on!
There’s one other aspect I want to mention regarding standing out by fitting in. This problem often shows up in typical performance review systems where everyone is graded on a standard set of criteria. The unintended but clear message is this – “Do what everyone else is doing but do it better than them.” Consider the effects of that message. What does that do for collaboration? What does that do for innovation? What does that do for bringing yourself to your work? Hmmm. Instead of trying to engage people in the organization by getting them to fit it, let’s engage the organization in the individual and let each person be there incredible, brilliant self. Take the lead and show them how it’s done by working to express yourself rather trying to impress them.
Reach higher than superior mediocrity.
Stand out by standing strong in who you are and
living that out in day-to-day magnificence!
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
May 28th is World Hunger Day, a day to raise awareness of hunger issues. Every day is a day to do something about it. An amazing organization that is doing incredible work to address world hunger is Feed My Starving Children, headquartered in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. Over a million volunteers a year in the US pack meals that are sent around the world to feed starving children. This evening I participated in a packing event at the Coon Rapids facility. In an hour and a half about 100 of us packed 26,568 meals that are headed to Honduras.
In addition to having a huge impact on world hunger, Feed My Starving Children is also an outstanding model of servant leadership. One aspect in particular they demonstrate well is what it means to truly serve. Service is often spoken of as simply helping others or doing something nice for them, but service goes deeper than that. When someone grows as a person as a result of our authentic actions we are truly serving.
Helping a child provides them a meal. Serving a child also provides them hope.
One way to distinguish helping from serving is with two little words – “so that.” Those words can help assure that our actions are rooted in purpose, vision and mission.
Service feeds a hungry child so that …
- … so that they can live.
- … so that they can learn.
- … so that they can grow and be productive.
- … so that they can experience the beauty of their world.
- … so that they can serve.
- … so that they can lead.
The FMSC model also benefits the volunteers & staff who prepare and pack the meals.
Service provides opportunities to volunteers and staff so that…
- … so that they gain a better understanding of who they are.
- … so that they feel good about who they are.
- … so that they gain more confidence in their ability to make a difference.
- … so that they can grow as leaders.
Consider the work you do to serve. Are you simply helping or are you truly serving? If you are helping that’s great. I am definitely not saying that helping is wrong. Just be careful however that your helping isn’t actually a disservice. I do challenge you though to go deeper and truly serve. Be clear on your purpose. Take time to reflect on how you would finish this statement, “I am doing this so that …”
Feed My Starving Children is clear on their “so that.” And what a difference their service makes.