“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
Last Thursday, I spoke as part of a panel discussion at the Association of Government Accountants (AGA) conference. I spoke about the role of leadership in management and my colleague, Dr. Maxwell Rollins, spoke about Servant Leadership. After we spoke, someone in the audience asked us to identify well-known servant leaders that everyone would recognize. That was tough. We could offer very few examples of well-known servant leaders. This question got me thinking.
On Saturday, I took my kids to church. They spent the morning making Christmas ornaments out of popsicle sticks and glitter. Then they put on a Christmas play for the senior citizens of the church. The play was exactly what you would expect from children. The acting was bad, the costumes were makeshift, and the sound was terrible, but the senior citizens in the audience loved it.
After the Christmas play, we went caroling to shut-ins who could not get out to the Christmas luncheon to see the performance. All of the seniors, at Church or at their homes, received Christmas ornaments that the children created that morning.
It was Covey’s Win/Win scenario. The kids learned to serve; the seniors enjoyed the performance. More importantly, to the kids, service was enjoyable. They made crafts, they got to perform, and many talked about what a good feeling they had when they served others. My oldest daughter said that it felt like she got to be a missionary for a day.
My Daughter’s Place of Service
Everyone could find a way to serve. My 5-year old was the youngest child in attendance. She was not the best ornament maker, and she did not have a speaking part in the play, but she found her place of service. Before I describe her place of service, let me describe her. If she was a movie character, she would be a minion. If she were a song, she would be Happy by Pharrell. If she was a color, she would be yellow. If she was made of food, she would be popcorn. If she were a puppy, she would be a Chihuahua. You get the picture.
She couldn’t do some of the jobs the older kids could do, but she was stationed as the first child to greet the senior citizens when they arrived at the Christmas Luncheon. Her job was to shout: “Welcome to the Christmas Party!” or “Merry Christmas!” when the seniors arrived. I don’t believe that any of the other children could do that job as effectively as she did. In spite of being the shortest child with the worst hand-eye coordination for crafts, she found a place where she could shine.
My Place of Service
I hate arts and crafts. I recognize that some people like them, and that is fine, but I could feel my batteries drain every time I stepped into the room where 22 kids were painting ornaments. So, I did my best to avoid the arts and crafts room, not by running away, but by serving every other need that was imaginable. I got more chairs when more kids unexpectedly showed up. I got glue from the supply cabinet when it was needed. I washed paint out of paint brushes, much to the relief of the instructor. I helped set up for the Christmas play. It was great. I completely avoided what I didn’t want to do by self-deploying into service.
It made me think about Jimmy Collins, the former president of Chick-Fil-A who succeeded the founder, Truett Cathy. In his book, Creative Followership, Collins explained:
My initial strategy when I went to work for Truett Cathy went something like this: ‘If I do the things Truett does not like to do, there might not be a limit to what he would be willing to pay me!’ Getting ahead means doing what the boss does not like to do.[i]
That was it. I was doing things that needed to be done. In my context, there were people who were interested in working on arts and crafts (and God bless those people). I don’t care to compete with them. I struck out on my own to stake out a place where I could serve on my own terms.
Your Place of Service
And herein lies the lesson. While others are jockeying for position, elbowing each other for the plum assignments, the field of service is not crowded. There is plenty of room for those who make it their ambition to serve. In addition, you can often customize your service, focusing on your natural strengths. You can write your own ticket, serving in a way that suits you. And, in a ironic way, those who truly focus on service are often noticed for their willingness to step into the breach.
What About You?
It does not matter if we are talking about servant-leadership, servant-marketing, servant-customer service, servant-selling, or servant-shouting: “Welcome to the Christmas Party!” What is important is that you focus yourself on serving others. How can you serve others in ways not yet imagined?
[i] Collins, J. L. S. (2013). Creative followership: In the shadow of greatness. Decatur, GA: Looking Glass Books, Inc. (pp. 16-17).
Dr. Darin Gerdes is an Associate Professor of management in the School of Business at Charleston Southern University. All ideas expressed on www.daringerdes.com are his own.
This post was originally created for Great Business Networking (GBN), a networking organization for business professionals where Dr. Gerdes is the Director of Education.