The Unselfishness of Love in Action

Time for Part 4 of my “Elements of Love” series based on Henry Drummond’s nine elements of love from his book The Greatest Thing in the World.

Drummond’s sixth element is Unselfishness. Here’s what he writes about it:

“Love as unselfishness never seeks its own to the harm or disadvantage of others, or with the neglect of others. It often neglects its own for the sake of others; it prefers their welfare, satisfaction, and advantage to its own; and it ever prefers good of the community to its private advantage. It would not advance, aggrandize, enrich, or gratify itself at the cost and damage of the public.”

I interpret Drummond’s definition of unselfishness in many ways as being related to humility. It’s all about moving from a focus on yourself to concern about helping others. This is really a journey in life. How many of you have ever known a baby who came home from the hospital asking “How can I help around the house?” No, they’re screaming for what they want! Humans are naturally selfish beings. Being unselfish is a learned behavior.

My father modeled unselfishness for me when I was very young. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1924. Since World War I had ended and people thought that was the war to end all wars, the Navy didn’t think they needed as many officers at that time. As a result, my father was released after his senior cruise. In January 1925 he entered Harvard Business School with a major in finance and then headed to Wall Street to begin his career.

In 1940, when I was one year old, he was about to be made a vice president of National City Bank. Instead, he came home and said to my mother, “I quit my job today.”

My mother said, “To do what?”

“I rejoined the Navy.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me!”

My father responded, “Remember when we got married, I said that if the country ever got in trouble, I owed it something. Hitler is crazy and pretty soon the Japanese will be in this war.”

So my father went from being a potential bank vice president to a second lieutenant at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. When Pearl Harbor happened in December 1941, it looked like he was going to stay there because he was 40 years old with no naval experience. But that wasn’t my father’s style—so he called one of his classmates from the Academy who was a top person at the Bureau of Naval Personnel in Washington and said, “What do you have for an old fart with no experience? I’ve got to get in the action.”

His buddy said, “Let me see what I can find and I’ll get back to you.” A few days later he called my dad and said, “All I have for a guy with your experience is heading up a suicide group going into the Marshall Islands.”

My dad immediately said “You’ve got your man!” Of course, he didn’t tell my mother what his friend had said. He was given the command of twelve LCI (Landing Craft, Infantry) leading the first wave into the Marshall Islands. Well over half of his men were killed or wounded. I have a picture of me at five years old in a sailor suit saluting him as he got off the train, returning home after being away for more than two years.

All this to say my dad was the most unselfish person I have ever met. How about you? Who models or has modeled unselfishness for you in your life? Remember—just because we were all born selfish doesn’t mean we can’t master unselfish behavior as adults!

The Humility and Courtesy of Love

If you’ve been reading my blogs, you’ll know this is Part 3 of my series about the nine elements of love as written by Henry Drummond in his book The Greatest Thing in the World.

We are on the fourth element, which is Humility. Drummond wrote:

“Love as humility does not promote or call attention to itself, is not puffed up, is not bloated with self-conceit, and does not dwell upon its accomplishments. When you exhibit true love, you will find things to praise in others and will esteem others as you esteem yourself.”

When some people hear the word humility, they think of it as a weakness. Even Jim Collins, the author of From Good to Great, told his researchers to recheck the data when humility came up as the second trait of great leaders. He couldn’t believe that humility could be one of the top two traits! But I’ve always thought of humility as a strength. In fact, one of my favorite sayings was coined by Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County, California:

“People with humility don’t think less of themselves, they just think about themselves less.”

If this statement applies to you, there is a good chance that you have what it takes to be an effective servant leader. Rather than spending your days doing things that benefit yourself, your loving spirit wants to serve others.

I learned this lesson early in life from my father, who retired as a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy. When I won the presidency of the seventh grade in junior high school, I came home all proud and told my dad that I had won. He said “Congratulations Ken—but now that you are president, don’t ever use your position. Great leaders are great not because they have power, but because people respect and trust them. Leadership is not about you, it’s about the people you’re serving.” Quite a lesson for 13-year-old kid!

Here’s what Drummond had to say about the fifth element of love, Courtesy:

“Love as courtesy is said to be love in little things. It behaves toward all people with goodwill. It seeks to promote the happiness of all.”

It’s all about being polite—holding a door for someone, saying thanks when someone does something nice for you, and the like.

In the Disney parks, their first value is safety, followed by courtesy—the friendly, helpful service you get from each cast member every time you visit one of their parks or hotels. It can be as simple as a smiling face or a “My pleasure”—whatever brings happiness to their guests.

So this week, remember to reach out in love with a humble heart and be a courteous and considerate person in all your interactions with people. You’ll be surprised how good it feels when you make somebody else feel good!

Vulnerability in Leadership: a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

Every day, one of my friends sends me a quote from a little book called Live and Learn and Pass It On, edited by H. Jackson Brown. Here is one I particularly enjoy:

“I’ve learned that everything I truly value has been gained by vulnerability on my part. It is the secret to life.”  (Anonymous, age 21)

The reason I love this quote is because it reminds me of the work of Brené Brown, who describes herself as a researcher and storyteller. Brené spoke at our client conference last fall and was one of the first people to study and write about the power of vulnerability.

As a leader, you might think that if you admit to your people you don’t know how to solve every problem, they will see you as weak. Quite the contrary. When you show your vulnerabilities, rather than thinking less of you, people will think more of you. Why? Because they already know you don’t know everything!

Colleen Barrett, president emeritus of Southwest Airlines and my coauthor on the book Lead with LUV*, has been known to say, “People admire your skills, but they love your vulnerability.” When you are willing to acknowledge that you don’t have it all together, your people—including customers and family members—know they might have a chance to play a part and make a contribution.

Brené Brown says being vulnerable requires courage as well as humility. Most people who aren’t willing to show their vulnerability don’t want to admit they are scared little kids inside. Being humble is not the same as lacking confidence. I have always said “People with humility don’t think less of themselves; they just think about themselves less.”

So, have a vulnerable, courageous, and humble day. Isn’t it great to know you don’t need to have all the answers to be admired by others?

 

*LUV is the stock symbol for Southwest Airlines.

Humility, Courage, and Vulnerability

People have studied the character traits of great leaders for years, and I believe humility is one of the most important qualities of a successful leader. I’ve always described humility in leaders like this—people with humility don’t think less of themselves, they just think of themselves less. They put others first.

I recently spent some time talking with Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly and Rising Strong. She also has one of the most popular TED talk videos on vulnerability that has been viewed by more than 25 million people. Brené researches and writes about courage and vulnerability. She explains that leaders need to be courageous and take chances that allow them to make a difference, but they also need to be vulnerable because they will make mistakes along the way. When leaders admit to those mistakes and ask for help, relationships grow stronger and more respectful.

Being humble, courageous and vulnerable just means being yourself—and keeping it real. If you need help, ask for it. If you make a mistake, admit it. That doesn’t seem so hard does it? Give it a try and see how your relationships improve.

Why Isn’t Every Leader a Servant Leader?

My wish is that someday, every leader will be a servant leader. Unfortunately, the human ego can make it difficult. There are two ways we let our ego get in the way of leading with a serving heart and mindset.

One is false pride—thinking more of yourself than you should. You push and shove for credit and think leadership is about you rather than those you lead. Leaders who operate with false pride spend time doing a lot of self promotion. Another way the ego gets in the way is through self doubt or fear—thinking less of yourself than you should. You become consumed with your own shortcomings and are hard on yourself. Leaders who operate with fear spend time protecting themselves because they don’t really believe in their own talents.

Managers with either of these ego afflictions are not effective leaders. Let me explain what false pride and self doubt look like in action.

Managers dominated by false pride are often seen as controlling. Even when they don’t know what they are doing, they have a high need for power and control. When it’s clear to everyone they are wrong, they keep insisting they are right. In addition, they don’t support their staff members very well. When things are going well and people are feeling upbeat and confident, controllers tend to throw a wet blanket over everything. They support their bosses over their people because they want to climb the hierarchy and gain more control and power.

On the other side of the spectrum, fear-driven managers are often characterized as do-nothing bosses. They are described as never being around, always avoiding conflict, and not very helpful. They tend to undermanage even when people are insecure and need support and direction from a leader. This is because do-nothing bosses don’t believe in themselves or trust their own judgment. They value the opinions of others more than their own—especially the opinions of people they report to. As a result, they rarely speak up to support their own people. Under pressure, they tend to defer to whoever has the most power.

If any of this sounds a bit too close for comfort, don’t be alarmed. Most people have traces of both false pride and self doubt. The good news is that there is an antidote for both.

The antidote for false pride is humility. According to Jim Collins in his book Good to Great, there are two main characteristics that describe great leaders: will and humility. Will is the determination to follow through on a vision, mission, or goal. Humility is the capacity to realize that leadership is not about the leader—it’s about the people and what they need to be successful.

The antidote for self doubt is unconditional love. If you have kids or are very close with other family members or friends, you know that your love for them doesn’t depend on their success. You love them unconditionally whether they are successful or not. Loving yourself as a leader will help you operate with confidence and put self doubt to rest.

The best way to start serving others is to be open to the concepts of humility and unconditional love and practice them until they become habit. When that happens, you are well on your way to becoming a servant leader.