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Service Leadership

Leadership is not about standing in front of your people and hoping that they follow. It’s about finding where they are and walking beside them.

It was a bitterly-cold Monday morning. The snow seemed like it was piled waist-high in random places as the wind swirled it around. The wind chill was below zero and Jennifer’s enthusiasm to go to work seemed even lower. She had an interview that morning for a new position in her company and she knew that she couldn’t miss it. It was 7:45, which gave her about 45 minutes to get to work. The drive normally took her 30. She figured that leaving now would give her plenty of time. As she was shoveling a path for her car to leave the driveway, she heard the plow coming down the street. “Great”, she thought, “Here goes all my work.” Sure enough, the plow came by and pushed another huge pile of snow onto the top of the driveway. She tried not to let her frustration get the best of her, but she knew that the man who was clearing the road had just added another 15 minutes to her morning.

Jennifer’s hands were numb. Her nose felt like it was somehow detached from her face. She didn’t want to go to work, but she desperately needed this promotion. She felt like things were stacking up against her already. She was almost too numb to feel the tear drop from her eye as she pushed back her frustration. Just then, a black Mercedes slowed down and stopped just before her driveway. The car door opened up and a tall man, who appeared to be in his late 40’s, got out and walked toward his trunk. “Happy frickin’ Monday, huh?” he said. This brought a smile to Jennifer’s face.

He continued, “I just saw that plow drive by and pile you in some more.  Do you mind if I give you a hand? I can’t stand it when that happens to me.”

“Sure!” Jennifer replied. Her day was starting to look up.

“My name is Howard,” said the man as he pulled a shovel out of his trunk, shook her hand, and got to work. She thought Howard looked familiar, but couldn’t quite place him. It didn’t really matter all that much because all she could think about was her impending interview. They quickly finished clearing a spot for her to back out of the driveway. “Thank you so much for your help,” she said as they shook hands.

“It’s my pleasure. I hope you have a great day,” Howard said as he got back in his car and drove off.

Jennifer was able to make it to work just in time to get to the interview. She went to her company’s second building and went to the front desk. “I’m here for an interview with the Director of Marketing, William Jennings,” she told the lady.

The assistant said, “Mr. Jennings is having trouble with the weather this morning.” Jennifer felt her face growing warm. She was certain she was red as her anger grew. She had just busted her hump to get here on time. The assistant continued, “However, Mr. Polowski, our new CEO, said that he would love to start the interview until William gets here.” Jennifer was led to a large conference room to wait for Mr. Polowski.

Her heart warmed when she saw a familiar face walk into the room. “Jennifer? How funny is this?” Howard Polowski said as he shook her hand with enthusiasm. Jennifer knew that the man who stopped to help her in the morning looked familiar. She just didn’t realize how familiar. She had always enjoyed working for the company and it had recently won awards for being the best place to work in the metro area. Mr. Polowski was well respected by everyone in the company, and now Jennifer understood why.

The Heart of a Servant

Howard Polowski showed that he had the heart of a servant. He valued everyone that he came in contact with and didn’t see them as obstacles in his way. His reputation for building a company that looked out for its people came as a result of this attitude. Here he was, the CEO of a major corporation, helping a woman shovel her driveway as he was on his way to work. Howard understood what it takes to be an effective leader. John Maxwell emphasized this when he said, “Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand.”

Leadership is not about standing in front of your people and hoping that they follow. It’s about finding where they are and walking beside them. This is at the heart of a servant. Too many leaders get stuck in the trap of thinking that leadership is about position or power. They throw their title around like a heavy sword, just to get things accomplished. While this approach may work in the short-term, it is never a sustainable way to lead an organization. There will be high turnover. People under this kind of leader will only do the minimum of what is required.

However, a leader like Howard has the heart of a servant. He is willing to serve the people around him. He knows that the work he puts into others will come back to him tenfold. Better yet, he serves without expecting anything in return. His love for other people shows in his actions not just in the workplace, but everywhere he goes.

The Sight of a Servant

A servant leader is one that will have sustained success. They will continue to attract followers as time goes on. It all starts with how a servant leader sees the people around them. To Howard, Jennifer was a person who was trying to get to work and had just been trapped in her driveway. He went out of his way to help her because he saw himself in that position. He empathized with her. He knew that if he were in a similar position, he would want someone to help him as well.

Strong leaders see other people as themselves. They are able to put themselves in the other person’s shoes and understand what they are going through. Seeing people this way makes it easy for them to roll up their sleeves and get to work, just to help someone else.

The Actions of a Servant

The heart and sight of a servant leads one to action. It’s nearly impossible to truly have the heart of a servant and see people as yourself and not be moved to action. Howard could have continued driving to work, but he knew that Jennifer could use some help. He took time out of his day to make her life better. That’s just what servant leaders do – they make the lives of the people around them better. Through his actions that morning, he was able to gain a strong advocate and follower.

Ask yourself:

  1. How did I see other people today? Were they merely obstacles in my way, or were they valuable?
  2. How do the people around me think I see them?
  3. What could I do to help someone today, even if it inconveniences me?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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