One of the keys to the growth in our school’s Student Leadership program, and the impact it has on our school community, has been a focus on the concept of “Servant Leadership”. To help everyone understand the foundation of servant leadership we summarize it by using the phrase, “It’s not about you.” This indicates to our leadership group that their main focus will be to serve our school community, not their own interests or agenda.
This concept is the power of “Servant Leadership”, but it is also the power of everything else foundational to healthy relationships and community. In describing the importance of this little phrase, I considered calling it “the secret” of servant leadership and everything else, but it so much more than that. And with everybody on the internet claiming to have the secret to this and that it is hard to believe there are many secrets left!
The word ‘power’ has two meanings. The first is the power a person or object has to accomplish things, such as the power of Niagara Falls to produce electricity. It can also mean what lies behind a person or object that makes it strong. For example, Martin Luther King’s power could be found in his ability to move people to action through his eloquence and example.
Let’s start with the latter notion. The idea “It’s Not About You” is the power behind servant leadership because it makes it difficult for those being served to take issue with the methods or motivation of an effective servant leader. With an extensive outward focus on helping new students make the transition to high school, supporting many local, provincial, and national charities, and offering events of interest to a wide range of students, not just themselves, the actions of our school leadership group matches their words. This is vital, as nothing can undermine the effectiveness of a leader faster than the perception that they are in it for themselves.
Having a group buy into the notion “It’s not about you” provides the coherence and togetherness necessary to have an impact on the community they seek to serve. Individual agendas and the desire to be in charge or to control others all have the potential to undermine their overall mission. Understanding, and trusting, that everyone is on the same page with respect to setting aside selfishness frees up our group to focus on their mission of “leaving our school a better place than we found it” and minimizes internal drama. Like the water flowing through the generating stations at Niagara Falls, the force of a group focusing outward on common service is relentless and can light up a community.
Most of you, I suspect, may not have the privilege of working alongside students over a period of time and shaping a positive leadership culture. However, all of you function alongside people in a myriad of other settings. And in those settings you are a leader, regardless of your title or lack thereof. After all, as John C. Maxwell explains, “Leadership is influence, nothing more nothing less.”
Imagine the possibilities if you adopted the mantra “It’s not about you” in all of your relationships. Might your marriage be transformed if your spouse came to trust that your actions were focused more on their interests and less on yours? Would your children respond differently to your requests if they could see that their thoughts and concerns carried as much weight in family decisions as yours (when reasonable to do so of course)?
Bringing this paradigm to ones work community would have positive effects on your place of employment too. Would co-workers not be easier to work with once they realized you were there to serve? Your relationship with your direct reports would flourish as they understood that you were there to advance their career interests as well. And what boss wouldn’t be happy to promote a faithful worker with a servant leadership view of the company? A change of focus from ‘what’s in it for me’ - which can make everyday a battle to exploit every situation for one’s own good - to ‘who can I help today’ moves you closer to the magic place where you never really work a day in your life.
A lot of power, and potential, in a little phrase. I urge you to check it out for yourself. I would love to hear about the difference it makes for you.