This week we contemplate the last of forty reflection questions from the book I authored, Dare to Serve. I hope this journey has led you to new thinking about how you lead. I hope you are encouraged to act on these new ideas so that your followers will be well-served. I hope you have more conviction about the power of daring and serving – as a path to superior performance.
Today, I want to pause on two points that I think will determine your fate as a Dare-to-Serve leader:
- Your ability to choose the interests of others over your own self-interest.
- Your interest in teaching others these Dare to Serve principles.
I have come to believe that the majority of leaders operate out of self-interest. It’s natural. Self-interest is our hard-wiring and it’s celebrated in our culture. To put others before self is to go against our own grain – and that of everyone around us. In fact, a recent research study from scientists at CalTech and Harvard confirms this conclusion. In a controlled research setting, people chose outcomes that benefitted themselves roughly five times as often as they chose to help out others.
Counting others as more significant than ourselves is a high hurdle. All of us will fall short on a given day. Most of us will never consider the alternative, and will remain self-focused for the rest of our life.
That brings me to my second point. If you do not choose to serve others over self-interest, there is very little chance that you will choose to teach others how to be Dare to Serve leaders. And the blunt reality is this — if you teach this approach, but do not practice it, your followers will not be interested. Actions speak louder than words.
The cost of self-interest is high. The long term implications are serious.
Self-interest hurts the people who count on us for leadership. It holds back the performance results of the enterprise or team we lead. It fails to prepare next generation leaders for success.
This is the reason I have prodded you to reflect on your motives over these forty reflection questions. The future of our world depends on our leaders – and their ability to overcome self-interest.
The opportunity is great. Future generations are counting on us.
Recently I met Chuck Underwood, author of The Generational Imperative. Chuck is an authority on the effect of your birth generation on your contributions to society. The evening I met him, he spoke on the impact of birth generation on the leadership of our institutions. I will paraphrase the provocative conclusions that he shared over dinner:
The current senior leaders of business are from the Silent generation (born 1927-1945). As leaders, they have largely been known for their self-centeredness and for ethical failures. But they are now retiring and turning over the reins to the next generation.
The incoming senior leaders of business are now the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964). They tend to be hard-working, career-focused, and ethical. They will be leading our institutions from now through the 2030’s. They have an opportunity to change the approach and reputation of leadership in our nation.
Behind Boomers are the leaders of Generation X (born 1965-1981). These are the “latch-key kids that come from divorced or time-starved dual-career parents.” They are disengaged with work and tend to be cynical about leadership, but could change their views if they work for and learn from better leaders.
And then we have the Millennial generation (born 1982-1996). These young people are optimistic, team players, and not yet loyal to employers. They want to work for people and companies that are purpose-driven and ethical. If they can’t find this kind of leader, they are likely to become entrepreneurs instead. They stand to be our best leaders yet, if we serve them well.
I left this dinner conversation with renewed passion for teaching Dare to Serve leadership. Perhaps my generation of leaders can change the trajectory of our institutions by serving the people well. Perhaps we can teach Generation X a better leadership approach, than we saw demonstrated in the last two decades. Perhaps we can create workplaces where the Millennial generation will thrive and contribute their best work.
Wherever you fall in the generations, I hope you also see the opportunity. To change the course of your team, your enterprise, your country, your world – by being a leader who dares to serve.
God bless you in your journey.
 “What Generous People’s Brains Do Differently,” by Nicole Torres, Harvard Business Review, Oct. 1, 2015