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!

Mondays and Fridays Are All About Perspective

I was reading recently about how some folks are “Thank God it’s Friday” people and others are “So glad it’s Monday” people.

Some might think that people who are thankful for every Friday must not enjoy their work—or that people who are excited about every Monday must be workaholics. To me, it’s not an either/or choice—it’s more of a both/and situation. I love the weekends for spending time with family and friends and doing things I don’t normally have time to do during the week. But I also really enjoy my work and don’t mind when Monday comes around.

So where are you on the Monday/Friday spectrum? As with anything, it really comes down to your mental attitude. You can choose to be upset and negative about Mondays or you can choose to be positive and optimistic about the coming week.  If you can stay positive whether it’s the weekend, the work week, or what have you—life will turn out to be that very special occasion I like to talk about all the time.

This concept reminds me of the joke about how different types of people perceive a glass that is half filled with water. Optimists (like me) see the glass as half full. Pessimists see the glass as half empty. Realists see the glass as full—half with air and half with water. But professional trainers don’t care—they just know that starting the half full/half empty discussion will give them ten minutes to figure out why their slide presentation isn’t working! (People in the leadership development business will like that one 😊)

I hope you have both a great week and a great weekend!

Managing the Ups and Downs of Performance

Every year we have a Final Four basketball week at our company. Teams of three from departments around the company compete with each other for the championship. We also have a free throw contest from the foul line. The prize goes to the person who hits the most out of 20.

In the past, I’ve won the free throw competition a number of times.  I was a basketball player when I was younger and known as an outstanding foul shooter. This year the score I had to better was 14 out of 20. When I stepped to the line, I made eight in a row. Everybody was cheering, because they thought I had it made.

Suddenly, I couldn’t hit the proverbial bull in the rear with a handful of rice. I lost.

The experience reminded me of golf. It’s been said about golf that you never own it; it’s just on loan. Just when you think you’ve got it, you don’t—and just when you think you don’t, you do.

What I should have done after missing a couple of free throws is step back, take a deep breath, and regroup. I do that on the golf course, but I had never experienced such a dry spell with my foul shooting. Live and learn!

Fluctuating performance happens in the professional arena all the time. For example, when sales go down, rather than charging on in hopes they’ll go back up, it’s beneficial to take an organizational deep breath, gather people together, and determine what might be causing the drop in sales. Whenever our company has done that, we get great feedback from our people, develop new strategies, and get back on track.

What do you do to get back on track, individually or organizationally? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

3 Actions Every Leader Can Take to Serve Their People

Over the years, I’ve written a lot about servant leadership. I was recently reviewing Ken Jennings and John Stahl-Wert’s book, The Serving Leader (Berrett-Koehler, 2003 and 2016) when I realized how much I like the term serving leader—it makes the point that leadership is about doing something, it’s not just a philosophy. When you are serving, you are taking action.

In my recent work on servant leadership, I’ve been focusing in on three actions every leader can take to serve their people more efficiently.

The first action is about Presence. Be present when you’re with your people. Focus directly on them—not on the next meeting, or the call you need to make, or the text message that just came in on your phone. Don’t let distractions take you away from a living person who is right in front of you. As a serving leader, you need to listen with the intent to learn, ask questions for clarity, and offer the support and direction your staff needs to be able to perform at their highest level. Each person has very different needs, and as a serving leader it takes your concentration and attention to be truly present with each individual. In this 24/7 world, this skill takes practice and commitment.

The second action is Acceptance. Serving leaders look for and build on the strengths each direct report brings to the job. And, realizing no one is perfect, they also identify weaknesses—areas where they might be able to help the person learn and grow. Helping someone develop new skills is perhaps the ultimate act of serving. Accepting people as they are and paying attention to both strengths and weaknesses allows serving leaders to set team members up for success, which serves not only the individual but also the entire organization.

The third action is Creativity. Leaders work with teams made up of many different personalities and temperaments—and when you add the complexity of multiple generations in the workplace, the job of managing people can seem overwhelming. Some may see this as a challenge to be managed carefully, but the serving leader sees it as a chance to be creative and invite different perspectives to each project. Magical things can happen when different voices and opinions are shared in a trusting, collaborative environment. It brings about something I call one plus one thinking—where one plus one is actually greater than two. The job of the serving leader is to build a community where everyone feels they are part of the big picture.

I hope you think of yourself as a servant leader—but take it a step further and make sure you are taking the right actions to actively serve your people. Be present and focus on each person individually, accept people’s strengths and help them overcome weaknesses, and encourage creativity by inviting everyone to share their perspective. I guarantee that you’ll unleash talent and potential that will transform your direct reports, your team, and your organization.

PS:  Interested in learning more about servant leadership?  Join us for the Servant Leadership in Action Livecast on February 28.  The event is free courtesy of Berrett-Koehler Publishers and The Ken Blanchard Companies.  Twenty different authors, CEOs, and thought leaders will be sharing how servant leadership concepts work in their organizations.  You can learn more here!

Apologize Already!

Time and again, I’ve noticed that many of us have a lot of trouble apologizing. I’ve observed this in myself, as well. One reason it’s hard to take responsibility for our bad behavior is because doing wrong is inconsistent with our view of ourselves as ethical people. As a result, many of us avoid apologies like the plague.

What I’ve realized is that difficulties apologizing are tied to pride and ego. When we sincerely apologize, we are taking our egos out of the equation and being honest. We are practicing integrity when we apologize, because we are acknowledging that what we did or failed to do is inconsistent with who we want to be.

Despite the challenges they pose to our egos, sincere apologies are one of the most powerful tools we have. In fact, the act of apologizing is so powerful that Margret McBride and I wrote a book about it called The Fourth Secret of the One Minute Manager.

I try to practice One Minute Apologies whenever I feel I’ve done wrong by someone. In a One Minute Apology, you:

  • Admit your mistake and apologize.
  • Take full responsibility for any harm you did.
  • Make amends by committing to change your behavior.

You might wonder why I don’t say that you should ask for forgiveness at the end of a One Minute Apology. It’s because I don’t think you should. Asking for forgiveness puts the person you’ve hurt or wronged under pressure to decide whether or not to forgive you. With a One Minute Apology, you keep the responsibility in your court. That’s why you end the apology with a commitment to change your behavior instead.

One of the greatest advantages of apologizing is that it gives you an opportunity for completion with that relationship. When you’ve done something wrong and haven’t dealt with it, it hangs over you and drains your energy. When you deal with it, you get closure.

An example from my own life involves Annie, a woman who was Margie’s sorority sister and a classmate of mine from Cornell. Her daughter, who also attended Cornell, was just fabulous. A number of years ago, Annie’s daughter was killed while jogging; they found her body up in the hills.

After that happened, I meant to reach out to Annie and her husband, but I just never did. Even though I was really taken aback by their daughter’s death, I didn’t send them any flowers or a note. I was too busy and never got around to doing or saying anything—and that always bugged me.

A few years later, I saw Annie out walking, so I crossed the street, went up to her, and gave her a big hug. Then I said, “Annie, I just want to apologize to you. When your daughter died, I meant to reach out to you. That was such an awful thing and she was such a great kid. But I didn’t and I feel really badly that I didn’t.” She got teary-eyed and said that she so appreciated my apology. She had often wondered why she hadn’t heard from me. I think we both felt completed.

So the next time something you’ve done wrong is hanging over you, don’t let it eat at you. Challenge yourself to take ownership and see firsthand how powerful a One Minute Apology can be.