Recently, I reread the book The Servant by James C. Hunter, a story about the essence of true leadership. The interesting thing about a story is that it conveys things in a very real way such that each of us can usually identify with the character at various times. I found that to be true again in reading The Servant.
As we each grow, both in years and experience, we look at how we used to do things, how we currently do things, and most importantly where we still want to improve. There were several "aha" moments for me that I wanted to share, as I believe that we all have struggled at some point in our careers with these concepts.
First, is the definition of management vs. leadership? Management, as you begin to progress in your career, is what you aspire. You get to manage people, or do you? Management is not something you do to other people, but rather you manage things and you lead people. Leadership, on the other hand, is the skill of influencing people to work enthusiastically toward goals that have been identified as being for the common good. Leadership is much harder than management. It requires kindness, active listening, giving appreciation, praise, recognition, setting the standard, clarifying expectations, and holding people accountable to the standard. Many leaders struggle with setting and holding others to expectations. Yet, when this is not done, you are robbing the people you lead from achieving their full potential.
Second, is the concept of power vs. authority. We've all worked for someone who is power hungry and is looking for any opportunity to use that power. Although you may respond because they can force or coerce you to do as they choose, power can be bought or sold, given or taken away. Authority, on the other hand, is the skill of getting people to willingly do your will because of your personal influence and cannot be bought or sold, given or taken away. It's about who you are as a person.
So what is a leader? It's someone who identifies and meets the legitimate needs of their people, removes all the barriers so they can serve the customer. So how do we identify the legitimate needs? Do you remember Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs: food, water, shelter, then safety and security, then belonging and love, then self-esteem, and then self-actualization? A clearer statement for me is that slaves do what others want, servants do what others need. Nothing has defined that for me more over the years than being a mother. Our children have lots of wants and needs. However, defining what they need versus what they want is not always easy. Setting boundaries for my kids around acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior, setting curfews as to when they need to be home, holding them accountable for not doing their homework or their chores, are not what they necessarily want, but it is what they need in order to grow into productive, responsible, caring adults.
In fact, nothing defines children, teenagers, and adults more than the fact that none of us see the world as it is, we see the world as we are. It was once said that the reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
One of the most difficult concepts for me about servant leadership is that of "loving" those you serve. I have a hard time loving someone I don't really like. Also, the word makes me uncomfortable when used outside of my close family relationships. However, when defined as follows: a love of behavior and choice, not a love of feeling, I can get my head around that. In fact, Vince Lombardi once said, "I don't necessarily have to like my players and associates, but as the leader I must love them. Love is loyalty, love is teamwork, love respects the dignity of the individual. This is the strength of my organization."
We can all learn to be leaders. The key is that our intentions and actions need to align. When we intend to be good leaders, our actions need to demonstrate the characteristics that are good leaders: humility, respectfulness, selflessness, and forgiveness. Without aligned actions, we have squat.
George Washington Carver said, "How far we go in life depends upon your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because, someday in your life, you will have been all of these."
Leadership is not an easy road, but continually striving to become a better leader has rewards well beyond yourself, it's what you can do to positively impact the lives of others. Continue to learn, continue to grow, and serve others; that is the true essence of leadership!
Jayne McQuillan, CPA, MBA, CEPA is a strategic management consultant, and the owner of Journey Consulting, LLC, in Green Bay