(This is a guest post from Rodney Mills, a leadership coach and speaker and close friend of Leadership Voices. You can read the original post on his blog or find out more about his services by clicking HERE. Sign up for his blog and get his latest eBook – The Personal Mastery Resource Kit – absolutely free!)
You know how a fish looks when you take it out of water? That’s how I look when I’m in the water! No kidding. So what am I doing signing up for a Triathlon?
That’s what I keep asking myself over and over. I’ve been running and cycling rigorously for a couple of years now, and I’ve even done a couple of duathlons. This triathlon thing has been on my bucket list for a long time, so I thought now is as good a time as ever to get it done.
But I can’t swim. Well, I can swim, it’s just not a very pretty sight. As I’ve been trying to explain my plight to family and friends, hoping for some sympathy, it dawned on me the reason I’m so uncomfortable with this skill.
Swimming is not a natural thing for me to do. I didn’t grow up around pools or lakes. For a few weeks, in the sixth grade, the school loaded us up on busses once a week to take us down to the local YMCA for swimming lessons. Then, one week each summer, I’d go to camp and get about an hour a day in the pool. That’s about it for me. No wonder swimming isn’t natural.
We learn to run fairly quickly. My mom says when I was two, I was so efficient at running, I scaled a ladder leaned up against the house and ran up and down the roof line, evading my dad’s best efforts to rescue me, while my mom nearly died of heart failure. Running is natural for me.
Now, riding a bike? That wasn’t very natural at first. But it didn’t take much time until the training wheels came off. Before long, I joined the other Evil Kenevils of the world, screaming out, “Look Ma! No Hands!” Cycling is very natural to me now.
The reason I’m not comfortable swimming yet is because I haven’t done it enough. I’ve got to work on my breathing and my stroke. I’ve got to be okay with keeping my face down in the water. I’ve got to stop worrying about what everybody thinks of how I look in my Speedo. (Okay. I don’t wear a Speedo. I promise you: I never will!)
Why am I telling you all this? Hang in there with me a minute and I think you’ll get it.
In my last post, I talked about the Four Pillars of Trust: Integrity, Humility, Gratitude, and Generosity. If you didn’t get a chance to read that, click HERE to go back and check it out. My argument is that trust is the “currency of leadership” (or any relationship for that matter). Trust is the basis of permission-based leadership as opposed to positional leadership which relies on command and control.
In that post, I also promised we would talk about the Foundation of Servant Leadership. It’s a very simple concept – just one word – yet it is profoundly difficult to fully grasp. That foundation is: love.
Since I first started studying servant leadership several years ago, one thing has puzzled me more than any other: What is the motive for servant leading? Other than believing it seems like a noble way to lead, how could it ever be natural? Well, the answer is found in this foundational truth of love.
It’s not something we’re often comfortable talking about in organizational circles. Those kinds of relational dynamics are meant for outside the workplace. We might have some friendships or close workmates, but love? Love is just too soft and doesn’t belong.
Yet I would contend that until we fully embrace love as our first and foremost rule of life, we will never really be servant leaders. We’ll just be faking our way through.
One could practically summarize the New Testament around this one principle:
- Jesus said that the greatest commandments are to “Love God with your whole being and to Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love God. Love People. He says that’s what the entire Old Testament was really trying to say.
- St. Augustine said that these greatest commandments are the very heart of the Christian Faith and the lens through which we interpret the rest of the Bible.
- St. John said that everyone who loves is born of God, but if we don’t love, we can’t know God, because God IS love.
- St. Paul says that the greatest virtue of all is love. Read 1 Corinthians 13 for one of the most beautiful essays ever written on the subject.
- St. Thomas Aquinas defined this kind of love as the desire to see others succeed.
- Lest you think love only applies to those people you like, Jesus said we are to love even our enemies.
- C.S. Lewis wrote of The Four Loves and defined this biblical love as “a selfless love, a love that is passionately committed to the well-being of others.”
Obviously, love is a very big deal. So why do we resist?
I think the reason so many of us are uncomfortable with talking about love in the workplace is that the word itself has so many applications – not the least of which is applied to romantic relationships – a very personal and intimate version of the word and something we’re actually discouraged to do in the workplace. We need better language, maybe more words, to distinguish different kinds of love – something the ancient Greeks definitely had:
- Eros: intimate or romantic love
- Storge: a family kind of love; child-to-parent more specifically
- Phileo: a friendship type love
- Agape: selfless love
And there it is: agape (pronounced a-ga-pay). If you’re a Believer, you’ve probably heard this word many times. The word agape was certainly a word within the Greek language prior to the time of Christ, but the new Christians embraced and infused it with just a touch more meaning. They implied that this kind of love is of Divine nature.
Back to my swimming analogy: Authentic servant leadership is built on the foundation of agape – selfless love. I don’t know about you, but selfless love usually feels just as unnatural as swimming does to me right now. I know the mechanics of it. I’ve seen other people do it really well. But right now, it still feels awkward. At times, I’m not sure I’ll ever get it!
The key is to just keep doing it until it does become natural. It’s a choice. We decide to behave in an agape kind of way. There were a few days last week I just about gave up on swimming. But now, I’ve helped myself see that I’ve just got to keep at it and eventually, I’ll be able to call myself a swimmer.
My challenge to you today is to join me. Not in the pool, but let’s go out and do the acts of a servant, even if we feel completely inept. Let’s keep blundering our way through. We may feel a bit self-conscious at first, uncomfortable with this new way of living. But if we stay at it, not only will we finally be able to call ourselves servant leaders, we might just change the world in the process.
So what do you think? Will you join me? If so, leave a quick comment below and simply say, “I’ll serve with you!” and any other brief comment you might want to add. We’d love to hear from you!