Sunday, April 14, 2013

Servant Leadership at age 14

Servant Leadership.  It's a big buzzword to throw around in meetings these days, but it seems that sometimes the words never make the transition from sound waves in the air to concepts in one's heart.  As with a lot of ideas, we get lip service, but no service.

What does it mean, "to serve?"  The little dictionary app on my fruit-based smart phone has several definitions, varying from things like tennis and military appointments, to working in inside retail, to being an assistant at a religious ceremony.  Let's use the following, though: to be of use; to be worthy of reliance or trust; to furnish or supply with something needed or desired; to provide services that benefit or help.  

I have a niece and nephew by marriage; twins, age five.  I have a stepson, age fourteen.  I'm talking about servant leadership at age fourteen, and I'm talking about being a tiger, and not just any tiger.  He-Man's tiger, Battle Cat.  If you're not familiar, Battle Cat is green, with yellow (or orange) stripes, wears red armor, is fearless in confrontation, talks, and serves as a war steed for He-Man.  Got all that?

Let's talk about fourteen-year-old boys for a moment.  In the case of the one that I know, he prefers to involve himself with handheld electronic games and books, and creating role-playing adventure game scenarios to play with his friends.  Five-year-old cousins who think he hung the moon, however, aren't much for allowing a fourteen-year-old space, especially when the three of them are visiting "Grumurmer's house" on a Saturday evening.

Sometimes, they play board games.  Sometimes, they play "Monster" which involves the older cousin lurching and groaning while slowly moving toward screeching and giggling pre-schoolers.  This time, they played "He-Man and She-Ra."  It was a new game.  It was introduced like this: "We're playing He-Man and She-Ra, and you're going to be the tiger!"

I know, because I picked the stepson up after the event, that he was not particularly excited about being ridden around a condo as a feline steed of war while a five-year-old boy bounced on his back and yelled "By The Power Of Grayskull...I HAVE THE POWER!"  You know what he did, though?  He actively participated and was of use, supplied something needed, provided services that gave benefit, and was worthy of trust to do those things.

Is this a big deal?  It is no big deal, and it is the biggest deal.  As leaders, sometimes we must support our people at the level of their needs.  This might mean modeling a task and assisting until the person learns well enough to complete it alone.  This might mean being the one who sweeps the meeting hall, locks the doors, and turns out the lights after arriving early to set it up, administer the meeting, answer questions, shake hands, and reassure clients.  It might mean becoming a talking green tiger.  It might not be exactly what you'd wanted to do, but you do it because by serving those people, you make their lives better, and that is good in personal life as well as business.

What is the value behind this story?  Some of it is happy twins enjoying a Saturday night with a favorite cousin who pays attention to them and plays with them.  Some of it is a teenager learning to do something which benefits someone else more than himself.  Mostly, though, it is that serving others in order to make their situation better provides a benefit to ourselves which we can't gain in any other way.  It is a blessing to be a blessing.  At the end of the day, I'm proud of my stepson for transforming himself into a yellow-striped green tiger and having shrieking little people ride him around for an evening.

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