Saturday, May 24, 2008

Service and Servanthood

Service - what does it really mean? To many, it means the service we receive, whether it's the service at the local coffee shop, the quality of the customer service we receive during a telephone call, how well we are treated at the local auto dealer, etc.

How often do we think about it from the other side as in, how well do I provide service to others? Do I provide the level of service expected of me as a member of my family, my community, my church, my company or client, my country and of course, the earth itself? How well do I serve others?

The real question comes down to this. How much humility do I really have and is my ego small enough to allow me to serve those around me with a spirit of total giving and total commitment. As a leader, does my ego call me to lord over those who work for me or with me or is my humility more powerful than my ego, allowing me to serve even those I lead, clearing obstacles for them and providing ways for them to achieve ultimate satisfaction, contribution and growth. When I experience situations where my life experience has clearly provided me with more knowledge of a particular situation than the people I am serving (or I think it has), how gentle am I in sharing knowledge and constructive criticism? What's winning the fight - my humility or my ego?

I believe we have all been in moments when we appeared to be the lesser equipped and have born the sting of rebuke, sarcasm or criticism as the other person exerts ego-based influence over us. Instead of learning from the pain of this sting, we are quick to do the same thing when we have the upper-hand, both failing to learn a better way of handling the situation while passing on the sting to someone who will in turn, pass it on to someone else. Merely thinking the thought is as bad as committing the deed, as our body language and actions betray our thoughts as thoroughly as if we had spoken the demeaning thought we had considered. In addition, thinking such thoughts does not provide us with the opportunity to grow our humility and shrink our ego.

We have such high expectations of the world, but are we holding ourselves up to the same expectations? Many of us hold ourselves to outrageous levels of expectations on many levels, but how well are we doing as servants of the world?

Being a servant to the world does not mean being a doormat or a martyr to the whim of every person who would crush us as they execute towards their own goals. It means knowing when to hold ego in check, recognizing that none of us are perfect and that we need each other for growth, learning and success (however we measure it).

Larry Spears captures the spirit of servanthood and servant leadership perfectly in these 10 precepts:

  1. Listening receptively
  2. Acceptance of (and empathy with) others
  3. Foresight and intuition
  4. Awareness and perception
  5. Highly-developed powers of persuasion
  6. Ability to conceptualize and communicate concepts
  7. A healing influence upon people and institutions
  8. Ability to build a sense of community in the workplace
  9. Practice contemplation
  10. Willingness to change.

Ask someone how you rate based on this criteria and you may be delighted or disappointed by how well you score.

As John C. Maxwell notes:

  1. Leadership is getting people to help you when they are not obligated to do so.
  2. True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not to enrich the leader.

Since servant leadership is by far the most effective form of leadership and since many of today's leadership experts consider a leader as anyone who exerts influence (which qualifies us all, in the form of parent, guardian, sibling, mentor, employer, volunteer, friend, spiritual leader, elected leader, etc.), I ask one simple question:

Are we serving others or are we expecting to be served?

Our personal philosophy regarding this question determines the quality of our life, the quality of the lives around us and the legacy that each of us leaves for others to muse upon.

Yours in service,


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