The first part of Max DePree’s quote outlines this idea incredibly well: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”
Let’s take that in for a moment. The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. I have to admit when I first read Max DePree’s book, Leadership is an Art, I did not fully absorb or embrace the power of this concept. Today, however, this has become very important. Leading today, more than ever before, is about the moments. The moments we have interacting with our team members as we all go about our business. And it is in those moments that we have the greatest opportunity to define reality.
For the past 25 years, I’ve been coming alongside others to help their businesses become more successful, and, during this time, I’ve noticed some trends. One of the predominate trends we have today is an “oldie but a goodie”: when a perceived problem exists, it must be solved or removed before any progress can take place.
How many of our team members are stuck in this type of thinking? This is why we see individuals needing to be directed, solely working in a linear plane, or requiring immediate answers to the latest question that popped into their head. The discomfort of the problem suggests something is wrong and must be fixed so comfort can be restored. All with the implication that comfort implies progress. Not true!
The responsibility we have to define reality, and, in so doing, re-define the reality of those we lead has never been greater. Our people are our most valuable asset, and each one has tremendous potential to become so much more. Together we can create incredible value for those we serve. We cannot allow these incredibly self-limiting thoughts and beliefs keep our people from accomplishing the great work of business!
I’ll never forget one of my first lessons as a new sales manager. Our company was facing a difficult time. Doubt and worry flooded my thoughts. I went to my General Manager, wringing my hands in distress. I knocked on his door, entered, and poured out my tale of woe. I finished my expression with “what do you think we should do?“ My boss stood up from behind his desk, looked me straight in the eye, and asked “what do I think we should do? What do you think we should do? That’s why I gave you the job!“ It was exactly the right question at exactly the right moment, and it forced me to dig deep and find my own answers.
Tapping into the potential of our people is never easy, and most of the time it creates discomfort. But isn’t that the message we want to send? We believe in them, we have high expectations of them, and we know they can do it! Many individuals today are asking for more training. The world is full of books, videos, and classrooms. The real training, however, happens every day, hundreds of times a day, as we go about doing good business! These “everyday” moments are exactly the type of training our people need!
What does it actually mean to “define reality” for our people in these “teachable moments”? Let’s understand this in practical terms:
So, when a team member comes to you seeking guidance, consider these responses:
How can we re-frame this “problem” as a “challenge”?
Is this is the exact challenge you need to overcome in order for this project to move forward?
Try answering these questions from my perspective of: what do I think you should do?
There are many great questions we can ask our people that support our belief in them, and help them take ownership of their role. I believe more than anything that our people want to go about their work with a quiet confidence, committed to others, all the while knowing they are a part of something meaningful and significant. It’s absolutely true when we have faith and choose to operate from this perspective.
There’s been much written and much discussed about those who “run into danger”. Over and over again we hear of brave men and women who set aside what would protect themselves to face danger in the service of others. And when we hear these stories each one of us is humbled, encouraged and deeply moved. We are humbled because we hope that we, facing similar circumstances, would do the same thing. We are encouraged, because this courage, these acts of bravery, helps us believe that we can make a difference for the better in our world. And we are deeply moved because that’s the only possible response when we see the power of love demonstrated so clearly in the lives of others.
So why is this so important? Because this reflects the way in which we are called to live our lives! This is how it really works! This doesn’t mean that we are to run out like storm chasers to find danger and run into it. No! But it does mean that we are supposed to live our lives in such a way as to be a service to others. Imagine going out every day with a single focus; to help others succeed first. You’d be on the front lines of fulfilling the Ultimate Success Principle! You’d be making a difference in the lives of others and contributing to making our world a better place. Will it be hard? Probably. Will you have to sacrifice? Sure. But anything worthwhile has a price to pay. So what’s the alternative? It’s much of what we see today: It’s all about serving ourselves, making sure we’re covered, making sure we’re safe. That’s the real danger: living with low expectations, settling for less and making it all about me. These are some of the real tragedies today.
So, let’s risk it! Let’s “run into danger” and choose to hold ourselves to high expectations, to not settle and to make it about serving others. It’ll take bravery and courage and, in the end, we will leave others humbled, encouraged and deeply moved! It’ll be a great story!
There’s a tremendous amount of focus on what we do and not so much on why we do it. And that is, by far, the most important part. The Ultimate Success Principle states: “if I help you succeed, I’ll succeed. If we help others succeed, we’ll succeed”. It’s pretty simply, not always easy. What determines whether or not we’re helping others succeed? It’s not “what” we do for them, it’s “why” we do it. The “why” makes all the difference in the world!
Allow me to illustrate: let’s say that I go out and buy you a very nice gift. It’s something you most definitely want. And when I present it to you it’s wrapped very nicely with very appropriate bow. When you open the gift and you see what’s inside, you’re absolutely thrilled to have received it. Now, here’s the real question: what really makes it a gift? It’s not the gift itself. If that were the case we could stop right here. No, it’s deeper than that. It’s the reason, the motive, my “why” for getting you this gift. If I did it just because I wanted you to have it and I knew you would thoroughly enjoy it, that’s a good “why” and one that serves you. I have fulfilled the Ultimate Success Principle. If, however, I gave it to you so that you would buy me a gift (a nice one!) or that you would think well of me or that you would owe me a favor then this is no longer a gift. At the very least it’s a bribe and at the worst it’s extortion. And this applies to all those things we do with and for others. If our motives are pure and all about serving others, it’s all good, it all works. If are motives are selfish, serving ourselves, then we are violating the Ultimate Success Principle. As I said simple, not easy. This applies to every single thing we do with and for others. Only we know deep down inside what are true motivation is but others can see the “fruit” or result of our motives. Inward focus, serving self, bad “fruit”. Outward focus, serving others, good “fruit”. What do I mean? If someone tells you that they’re doing all the right things and yet most things never really work out, the problem is their motivation, their inward focus. If someone, for the most part, let’s their actions speak louder than their words and they produce good results in many different ways, they’re serving others. They have an outward focus.
What drives an inward or outward focus? Here comes the real why! One makes us selfish, is the worst of us and is a lie. The others makes us selfless, is the best of us and is the truth. An inward focus is born out of fear. An outward focus is born out of love. We are here to serve God and others, to love and not be afraid. Next time I’ll share about the power of love and the power of fear.
I’ve spoken many times that our belief is a very powerful yet fragile thing. This is especially true when it comes to what people believe about themselves. A firmly held belief can power us to do amazing things while the seed of doubt can stop us dead in our tracks. Powerful yet fragile. This is why we have to be very careful about listening to what others say about us. And why we have to be careful about listening to what we say about ourselves! The first numbers I ever read about self talk claimed that 87% of the time we are negative and 13% of the time we are positive! That’s incredible! Almost 4 out of 5 times we speak negatively about ourselves! When you think of all the dream stealers out there, those that are afraid for us or of us and then add to it our own negative self-talk, well, you can see why there’s almost no reason to get out of bed in the morning! How could we possibly believe in ourselves?
There’s just one thing: Each one of us was created for a mission, a calling, a purpose. We’ve each been given gifts and talents with which to fulfill that mission. And work prepared in advance to do. This is the truth about each and every one of us. The real work on this planet is to believe in who you were created to become! And the real work needed is to really listen to how you talk to yourself and how you let others talk to you as well. I have a saying about this: “Do not give undue power or influence to those who cannot or will not have your best interest at heart!” That includes you! If you are not in a position to be as kind to yourself as you would someone else, then I would ask you to challenge your own thinking!
Deep down inside you know you were meant for more and I’m not talking about just fame and fortune. I’m talking about that place where you are valued and respected and can best serve others. I love how Fredrick Buechner said it: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Isn’t that awesome? You do have a purpose! You are endowed with gifts and talents! And you will serve others in order to make the world a better place! Deep down inside you will know that’s the truth and what we’ve been listening to is the lie. No more! Choose to believe in who you’ve been created to become!