My job as a servant leader is twofold: create better leaders and empower them with the skills and tools to “pay it forward”. I’ve been the (sometimes silent) executive coach for leaders even when they didn’t know that they needed it. Most benefitted greatly from my leadership advice and even if they didn’t have a chance to thank me personally, the legacy that is left behind is thanks enough.
If the number of messages, emails, texts and calls I get from ex-coworkers and colleagues is any indication of the impact that I had on the organizations that I have supported, then I have served well. Honestly, when I see something that I helped build to realize success, I feel accomplished. Feeling accomplished is quite different from being recognized. The latter is an outward and public acknowledgement that can have a short-lived impact if not accepted and nurtured correctly. My legacy is my character, my heart and my integrity. I’m blessed to have met the people that I have-I know some amazing leaders and have learned a lot from my interactions with them.
I strive to be a better servant leader every day. I have a constant drive to become better at serving, no matter how good others may say I am at leading (and vice versa). This allows me to grow alongside the leaders I come in contact with and helps to build the strength I need to serve them effectively. In reviewing a recent evaluation, I was told that I was too hard on myself; others rated me higher than I rated myself. Isn’t this the way that it should be? Is not the mark of a good leader the expectation of continuous self-improvement? Sure, I could have said that I was pretty much amazing in a lot of the areas that I was evaluated in. But then, what’s next? What legacy can I leave if I think I am the best that I can be already?
Recently, I saw a picture on social media from a nicely-appointed corner office of a young man that I mentored in the late 1990s. His caption read something akin to: “Who would have thought I would be here? Can you believe that I have my own team, my own office? Who knew?” My reply was short and sweet. “I knew.” I knew he would do it. I remembered the talks we had when he worked for me and how I encouraged him to go after his dreams, no matter how big. He is an amazing leader and AS A BOUNUS he is a great husband and father too! He will leave an awesome legacy of leadership. He is one of the many reasons I love what I do. He thanked me both in the social media space along with a private email that brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart.
I have also witnessed quite the opposite response. I have been an advocate for employees at companies were there was no one to speak for them and have been reprimanded and reminded that my job was managing, not leading. I’ve worked to build up organizations, teams and business lines from the inside out. I’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty because it was the right thing to do, only to be asked to let others fend for themselves. In these rare cases, it meant that I had to be “The Bad Guy”. Some senior executives didn’t want to hear what was broken or even that there was a solution in the works. Some leaders wished to be surrounded by those that will agree with them no matter what. Some only want to hear solutions that fall in line with the status quo. A servant leader’s legacy continues to grow even in those scenarios because those that needed a voice will remember one who was exactly that. A few will recall how it felt to know that someone had their backs. Someone remembers a leader that tried to make their journey a bit easier every day. In all, even in the situations where I ended up in the crosshairs, a legacy of leadership from a servant’s heart remains in place.
“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” – Max de Pree