Servant Leadership Through My Dad’s Eyes
This week marks the anniversary of my father’s death eleven years ago. I think of him often and recognize the impact he had on my life in so many ways every day. Every time I tie a knot, build something in my shop, pack for a trip, or show love to my family, his influence is felt.
My dad was the epitome of a servant leader; career missionary, college professor, public works city employee, maintenance manager at a low-income housing community, host parent to exchange students, campus minister. He always found ways to help others, shared everything he had, and took great pride in nurturing others towards success. His actions spoke much louder than his words.
Many would say dad’s greatest quality was humility. He grew up in a religious midwest farm community where pride was one of the deadliest sins. I often scratched my head wondering how he could make such a difference in someone’s life and seek no credit for it. I struggled to understand why he would downplay his achievements and eschew compliments.
Behind humility was my dad’s shadow. He struggled with depression on and off for a big portion of his adult life. He and I became very close during my high school years when his depression was pretty severe and persistent. What I came to understand during that time was that underneath the servant leader behaviors was a person who questioned his own self-worth. Dad truly loved serving others, but he often couldn’t find a way to enjoy the fruits of his efforts, or appreciate his own value as a human being.
Humble servant leadership is something we should all strive for. And it requires Compassionate Accountability®. Unless we recognize our own value, capability, and responsibility in this world, humility is nothing more than self-deprecation. To be humble and serve others we must also appreciate our own worth and contribution.
Ironically, I was endowed with the opposite problem; an extra dose of confidence, pride and ego. For me, servant leadership is a daily struggle. It’s a discipline of putting aside my own need to be in the spotlight and focus on how I can make the world a better place for others. Although my eternal optimism and enthusiasm was probably a welcome antidote during those years.
It wasn’t until two years ago that Next Element had a real mission statement; to bring more compassion to every workplace in the world. I feel proud of this. I get up every day and put my skills to work in service of this mission. It gets me past my ego and focused on something bigger than myself. That’s what servant leadership is about, and I’m a work in progress. I know dad would be proud too.
Maybe in the broad scope of our two lifetimes, dad and I can strike a the right balance in this world. Dad, I am so grateful for you.