“But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves.”
— Luke [22:26]
In 1978 Betty Ford’s family confronted her about her alcoholism and addiction to opiates. In her memoirs she later stated, “I liked alcohol, it made me feel warm. And I loved pills. They took away my tension and pain.” Here was a former first lady admitting her addiction. A person well regarded for her social activism and grace. She had been trapped. She entered rehab and emerged into recovery. Behind her life as a social activist, a recovered breast cancer survivor, and an abused wife in her first marriage, was a hidden life of booze and drugs. The pressures of her past and present had driven her into the trap.
When my daughter was in her early teens, she asked me, “How many people work for you?” I replied, “Thousands.” She replied back, “It must be fun to boss that many people around.” Little did she know, when you manage a very large organization you have to make adjustments almost hourly. Each person you meet has a different need, and no one management style works universally. You develop knowledge about the people and respond the way that is most effective for the person to get his or her job done. Sometimes it is gentle coaching. Sometimes it is frank talk. But it is always different. Leading a large organization is definitely not “one size fits all.”
“However, when you tell people where you are going, and not how they have to get there, they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
I noticed over the years that managers who require people to perform their way can be effective, but are very limited in what they can accomplish. They are good at getting very specific things done, but their style keeps them from moving beyond that. They often find themselves exhausted and frustrated. The task of getting everything done your way requires constant follow-up and a lengthy “to do” list. However, when you tell people where you are going, and not how they have to get there, they will surprise you with their ingenuity. As a manager, I always found it easier to find people their resources and give them the freedom to do their job. Sure, you will get disappointed here and there, but the breadth of what you can manage will grow.
“We get our greatest life pleasure by helping others succeed.”
Jesus stresses this in today’s verse. That we are here to serve, that rewards don’t come from being served. When we think of people we admire, we usually think of servers, like Mother Teresa or my friend Roger, who donates his dental experience, or Geoff, who started an inner city after school program. Jesus knew that the human condition is that we aren’t truly satisfied unless we are in service. We get our greatest life pleasure by helping others succeed. Our best memories are of those times we served. We cringe when we insist on our own way. We are left unsatisfied.
“In our work life we get our greatest sense of accomplishment watching others succeed.”
In our work life we get our greatest sense of accomplishment watching others succeed. Helping others be successful gives us self-satisfaction. At the same time, it allows our organizations to grow. Servant leadership requires us to adapt. It requires us to be in the background. It requires us to leave our ego home. But the reward is a sustainable and productive workplace. Jesus asks us to not think of ourselves too highly. He knows that a controlling, do-it-my-way management style is very limited. Serving and helping people with resources is usually all we need to do.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
What is our management style?
What prevents us from serving?
Do we think about serving or commanding?