Leadership Means Giving and Serving, Not Taking

Give without remembering and receive without forgetting.

Today, many people seek leadership positions not so much for what they can do for others, but for what the position can do for them: status, connections, money, perks, or future advantages. As a result, their so-called “leadership” is primarily an investment in themselves. It’s a way to build an impressive resume.

Yet, in my study of leaders and leadership, I’m convinced that the best leaders are NOT self-serving takers. They’re SERVERS and GIVERS. And in the process of serving and giving, they bring out the best in themselves and others.

Of course, some people never quite understand the concept of a serving-giving leader. So let me give you two stories to illustrate how it works.

=> 1. The leader as SERVER

Brother Leo is a good example. As the legend goes, he was well-known throughout Europe because of his extraordinary leadership. So people wanted to meet him.

One day several monks began a pilgrimage to visit Brother Leo to learn from him. Almost immediately, the monks began to bicker as to who should do various chores. On the third day they met another monk who was also going to the monastery.

This monk never complained or shirked a duty. Whenever the others would fight over a chore, he would gracefully volunteer to do it himself. By the last day, the other monks were following his example, and everyone worked together smoothly.

When they reached the monastery and asked to see Brother Leo, the man who greeted them laughed. “But our brother is among you!” pointing to the fellow who had joined them late in the trip. As Michael Josephson points out, “The parable about Brother Leo teaches another model of leadership, where leaders are more preoccupied with serving than being followed, with giving than getting, with doing than demanding. It’s leadership based on example, not command. It’s called servant leadership. Can you imagine how much better things would be if more politicians, educators, and business executives saw themselves as servant leaders?”

Absolutely! I can imagine that, and hopefully you can too. If you’re ever going to be an effective, respected, inspiring leader of a company, team, or family, you’ve got to focus more on how you can serve others than how they can serve you.

And then, you must also learn to be…

=> 2. The leader as GIVER

I suppose that’s why everybody loves Santa Claus. Santa’s a giver, and when he’s out there giving, there’s a certain spirit in the air. Just about everyone seems to feel better and do better. The spirit is a bit contagious.

That’s why I like the anonymous story of … “The Grandmother And Her Grandson.” I don’t know who wrote it … despite all my research … but the story makes an extremely valid point … that when one person starts leading by giving … others join in.

Notice how the leading starts with Grandma but goes on to touch the store clerk, the grandson, the recipient, and who knows who else. Here’s the story.

“The Grandmother And Her Grandson”

I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma. I was just a kid. I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her on the day my big sister dropped the bomb: “There is no Santa Claus,” she jeered. “Even dummies know that!”

My Grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her “world-famous” cinnamon buns. I knew they were world-famous, because Grandma said so. It had to be true.

Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me. “No Santa Claus?” she snorted. “Ridiculous! Don’t believe it. That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad!! Now, put on your coat, and let’s go.”

“Go? Go where, Grandma?” I asked. I hadn’t even finished my second World-famous cinnamon bun. “Where” turned out to be Kerby’s General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything.

As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in those days. “Take this money,” she said, “and buy Something for someone who needs it. I’ll wait for you in the car.” Then she turned and walked out of Kerby’s.

I was only eight years old. I’d often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself. The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping.

For a few moments I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten-dollar bill, wondering what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for. I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, the people who went to my church. I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock’s grade-two class.

Bobby Decker didn’t have a coat. I knew that because he never went out to recess during the winter. His mother always wrote a note, telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we kids knew that Bobby Decker didn’t have a cough; he didn’t have a good coat. I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat!

I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked real warm, and he would like that. “Is this a Christmas present for someone?” the lady behind the counter asked kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down. “Yes, ma’am,” I replied shyly. “It’s for Bobby.” The nice lady smiled at me, as I told her about how Bobby really needed a good winter coat. I didn’t get any change, but she put the coat in a bag, smiled again, and wished me a Merry Christmas.

That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat (a little tag fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it in her Bible) in Christmas paper and ribbons and wrote, “To Bobby, From Santa Claus” on it.

Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker’s house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever, officially, one of Santa’s helpers.

Grandma parked down the street from Bobby’s house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then Grandma gave me a nudge. “All right, Santa Claus,” she whispered, “get going.” I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on his step, pounded his door and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma.

Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobby.

Fifty years haven’t dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker’s bushes. That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were … ridiculous. Santa was alive and well, and we were on his team.

I still have the Bible, with the coat tag tucked inside: $19.95.

Action:  Take a moment to reflect on your leadership style on the job or at home. Would people describe you as more of a “giver” or a “taker?” For your own happiness … as well as the success of your endeavor … I hope everyone would describe you as more of “giver.”