Do you know what an idiom is? It is a collection of words that have a meaning not obvious from the words themselves. Examples in the U.S. include:
- “Barking up the wrong tree” — looking for answers in the wrong places.
- “Crying over spilt milk” – complaining about something that’s already in the past.
- “Killing two birds with one stone” – accomplishing two things at the same time.
Today I want to ask you a personal question – and idioms are involved.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, which of these idioms best describes where you find yourself on the topic of servant leadership? Specifically, the premise of this blog is that serving others is the path to superior performance. Thus, the title — Serving Performs.
Check the box that applies to you:
- Cheryl, I’ve read your stuff and you are “preaching to the choir.”
- Cheryl, I’ve read your stuff and you are “wasting your breath.”
- All of the above.
If you checked the first box, you are a devoted, passionate servant leader, and I’m excited to encourage you in your pursuit. But frankly, I worry that we might be “wasting our breath.” As I listen to the real-world stories of talented young people, it is clear to me that servant leadership is nowhere near most people. Instead, many leaders are working for people who are not interested in their strengths, not committed to their development, and not creating an environment where they can thrive and perform their best work.
Here are just a few of the stories I heard this month…
Diane* called to tell me she is quitting her job. She is a hard-working, highly capable marketing manager with a reputation for getting things done. But she now has a new boss – and her role has been reduced from a significant responsibility to menial tasks. Her input, once valued, is now ignored. Her values of treating people with respect are routinely laughed at. Work has become a discouraging place and she feels unable to make any difference.
Steven* called me to tell me he has decided to change careers. He is a highly-trained healthcare professional with top ratings from his patients. Steven’s co-workers told the boss that his standards of care were just too high and that he needed a “reality check.” He simply could not “continue to care so much about the patients.” The boss chimed in and said, “Stop ruffling the feathers of your co-workers.”
Courtney* called me to ask me to be a reference as she pursues a new job. She recently accepted a new job at a retail company with great potential. She was excited to put her talent to work. But once she arrived, she realized she was just a pawn of senior management. She was expected only to execute their ideas, and keep her own ideas to herself. She really loved the team and the customers, but found she could not serve well in that climate.
So, if you checked the box, “preaching to the choir,” I need you to “wake up and smell the flowers.” We have a lot of work to do to convince the world that servant leadership is truly the path to superior performance. Most leaders have either rejected the idea or never been exposed to it. We need an army of servant leader evangelists. We need to persuade the naysayers and skeptics with the evidence… and change their hardened hearts towards the people entrusted to their care.
There is an important idiom that says each of us will one day be “called to account.” The origin of this idiom is not religious, it simply refers to “counting” the impact of your actions. If you are a servant leader, are you counting how many hearts and minds you have changed? Who have you convinced this week that servant leadership is the path to superior performance?
Please start counting your impact. Our future leaders are counting on you.
Serve them well.
*Pseudonyms with composite situations. Any resemblance to actual events or people is entirely coincidental.