Poison Ivy to Servant Leadership

Danielle Putnam
Contributing Writer
The New Flat Rate

Recently, I went to the gym during lunch.  Upon returning to the office in gym clothes, I noticed the parking lot needed to be weed eaten.  I was already sweaty and dirty so I went in search of the battery powered weed eater in the shop. Naturally, this was a task that could have been delegated, and many very successful people would have said, “Do not waste your time weed eating – your job is to move the company forward!”. In the back of my mind I knew this to be true…

Is servant leadership lost?  Did it ever even exist?

My bookshelf in the office is filled with self-help, motivational, management, planning, and growth books. New books thrill me and even if I never finish them all, I cannot purge them because some day they may provide the saving answer I need in my business; at least this is how I feel. In my personal library of self-help books, they say to be the boss, maintain a commanding presence. Don’t waste your time doing other people’s work, delegate for efficiency.

Excellent leadership draws servitude out of your staff…or it has the potential too.  In the movie Braveheart, a movie many of us have seen, the hero, William Wallace charges his men with inspiration in their last battle as he heads up the front line.  When his men saw the task ahead, and that there was a good chance this might be their last fight, they wanted to run.  This was something William noticed and acted upon immediately.  He encouraged them and then was the first to ride into battle.  When you have a platform, you typically have people around you that tasks can be delegated too.  I’m sure that if William Wallace wanted to cut out after his men ran into battle he could have.  But, I’m also sure that if he had made a practice of this, his influence over time would have been weakened and his mission (or company) would have been less successful. Just maybe Scotland wouldn’t have won their freedom? Ultimately, William Wallace led Scotland into freedom, maybe not by his own hands, but by his willingness to influence with action.

“There’s a difference between us. You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom. And I go to make sure that they have it.” William Wallace

“Now tell me, what does that mean to be noble? Your title gives you claim to the throne of our country, but men don’t follow titles, they follow courage. Now our people know you. Noble, and common, they respect you. And if you would just lead them to freedom, they’d follow you.”

William Wallace

What is so discouraging is that, we seemingly don’t look up to, respect, or have a desire to follow people if they aren’t demanding the respect right?

I knew better than to weed eat.  I’m not saying I couldn’t, or that the task was below me, it was that I had so many important tasks on my list that needed to happen to keep our company growing.  However, I wanted to set a good example for my employees. The example of initiative.  A job needed to be done and I saw the need, so I filled the need. But, really it wasn’t a wise decision. As I swayed the power tool back and forth over what I knew to be poison ivy I said to myself, “Eh, I haven’t gotten poison ivy in years. I’m probably not even allergic to it anymore.” You see, when we place ourselves in a role we weren’t intended to fill, we often do so without the proper tools or gear. I should’ve worn safety goggles, long pants, boots, gloves.  I ended up having poison ivy on my neck and ankles and yes it was very uncomfortable.  And, can you believe that none of my employees saw me serving?  Not one of them noticed. Was it worth it? Yes. Because, it’s better to demand excellence from your team if it’s something that you were willing to do.

What does servant leadership accomplish?  By serving others in a context of power it promotes trust and relationship. Being a leader doesn’t make you better, it just makes you more responsible.

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