Servant Leadership: A Journey
While attending collage at the University of South Florida in Tampa, I spent a few years living in the Leadership House. As part of the Bishop Center for Ethical Leadership, to live there, you were required to attend seminars, take leadership courses, assist with non-profits, and participate in various activities throughout the year.
Now at the time, I was shy. I could have easily been labeled as an "extreme introvert". If you wanted to see me cower into a ball in the corner of the lecture hall, all you had to do was give me a strange look. When meeting new people, my hands would start to tremble and it felt like a sledgehammer was pounding against my rib cage.
And then two things happened.
First, a good friend of mine introduced me to a quote. This quote helped to change my life. Written by Charles R. Swindoll, it discusses the importance of attitude in our daily lives. I want to share this here, and ask that you take a moment to think on the words.
The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than success, than what other people think or say or do.It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company … a church … a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you, we are in charge of our attitudes.Charles R. Swindoll
Powerful stuff. I pondered these words for a week or so before they really sank in; We have the power to fulfill our dreams and desires, if only we cultivate the right attitude. This began a period of self awareness that helped change who I was fundamentally inside. I began studying my behaviors. I changed the way I dressed, which had an immediate impact on my self-confidence. It's amazing what a button-down shirt and a slate-gray blazer will do. With that new level of confidence, I forced myself into interactions that normally would terrify me. When I had previously volunteered at the library or some other quiet place, I began going to places where I was forced to be involved. Places like Habitat for Humanity, the Salvador Dali Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Downtown Tampa Partnership; I could no longer sit back in a quiet corner, I had to be impactful and motivational.
I won't try to sugar-coat it; that was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done. But it worked. I began finding a stronger purpose in life, which lead to me having more confidence in myself.
There are two lessons to be learned here.
- First, Attitude is everything. From the smallest event to those major events that change your life, your attitude will determine success or failure.
- Second, if you're not happy with yourself, you have the power to change yourself. Begin with your appearance. Get dressed up, every day. The better you look, the better you will feel. Then focus on your attitude. Force yourself into tackling difficult situations. Find something difficult to do every day, and then do it. The more you put yourself in these situations, the more confidence you will have to overcome them.
The second thing had just as much of an impact.
In 1970, Robert K.Greenleaf published a powerful essay that delved in to how leaders are made. This essay, The Servant as Leader, quickly became a classic. This helped coin the phrase "Servant Leadership".
Now up until this time, I had never heard of the phrase. I happened to be invited to a lecture about the very topic one night. Not really having anything better to do, and with the promise of free food, I decided to attend. I didn't expect much, but when someone offers free food when you're a struggling college student, you don't refuse.
I didn't expect a lot. At first, I was barely paying attention, but as the speaker continued on, it began to make sense. So here I was, working to build confidence in myself, and the things that were being said were exactly what I needed to hear. To have an impact in the world, I didn't need to be rich and famous, I didn't need to be some great orator, and I certainly didn't need to pretend to be someone who I'm not.
The concept was simple: In order to lead, I must first follow.
To quote Greenleaf, "The servant-leader is servant first... Becoming a servant-leader begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first... The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant first to make sure that other people's highest priority needs are being served."
The more I read, the more fascinated with the concept I became. As I continued to work on my confidence, I began employing many of the key points of Servant Leadership into my daily life. Instead of listening to respond, I began listening to understand. I began looking for ways that I could help and inspire others. I encouraged innovation, teamwork, and communication. I put my focus on helping others achieve success instead of seeking it for myself.
And then, an amazing thing happened. The more I put others before me, the more meaningful life became.
And so it can be with you. When you live to help others, your life value increases. This doesn't mean that life becomes easy, rather, it means that life becomes full. It may not always be easy, but anything worth doing never is. By simply changing how you view and interact with the world, you can change the world.