What are the attributes of a great leader? We should all be interested in knowing this, even if officially we are not a leader yet. We could be volunteered to lead a task, at work, in the community, in social circles or with kids. A few years ago, I would have answered by saying, great leaders achieve results. Even if they have to constantly fix and help to achieve results. Today, I still feel that great leaders achieve results. However, today my humble opinion is that great leaders achieve results by minimal fixing or helping but by serving in abundance.
So in the past, why was I eager to fix and help? I can think of 3 reasons, First, as a young engineer I received very little help and guidance from my superiors. Later in my career when I got into leadership tasks, perhaps I over-corrected for this, by being too eager to fix and help others. Secondly, I never received any formal leadership training. I was a doer and continued to be a doer even as a leader, instead of leading and coaching. Third, and perhaps a bit darker reason, maybe, I was being a narcissist. Fixing and helping made me feel good. Made me feel important and wanted.
I did achieve results in many situations by fixing. However, there were many times when the person originally in-charge did not appreciate my fixing. They felt micro-managed. My sense is, that by fixing I probably prevented the person originally in-charge from making their own mistakes, learning from those mistakes and perhaps eventually achieving success. Making mistakes and learning from them is a crucial part of the growth process. So by fixing others I probably stunted their growth.
When I helped others, I consciously or sub-consciously saw them as weaker. This created an inherent inequality. The person being helped can sense this inequality. Hence, helping can in fact lower the self-esteem of the person being helped. It can re-in force the idea that "I am not good enough" and can create a vicious cycle that becomes hard to break and the helping delays the growth process . In the long run, maybe by the act of helping, I hurt more than I helped. In contrast to fixing and helping which can induce the images of something being broken or weaker, when we serve others we see others as capable. We see life as wholesome. Fixing and helping stem from our ego. It’s about US. Serving comes from the soul. It’s about OTHERS. If you want to truly lead, you must serve.
Great leaders rarely fix or help, they serve. They serve by doing three things. First, they authentically care about others, love others. They connect with us, feel our pain and our joy. They want others to succeed, not just in the task at hand but in the long run. Secondly, leaders that serve, see others as inherently capable. Each of us is capable of doing some things better than anyone else. True leaders help us discover those strengths, build upon them, realize our true calling. Finally, leaders that serve, avoid the instinctive urge to fix and help. They achieve this by listening, a lot, with true empathy and by asking lots of questions. Probing questions, intelligent and thoughtful questions. Questions that guide us into thinking and discovering the solution on our own, whatever the solution may be. They stay in the background and allow others to take credit. So, leaders that serve, act as a catalyst. They help others grow- grow stronger, grow independent, realize their true potential. That is how they achieve results!
I am still learning to serve and by no means perfect. However, I can say from first hand experience that in the short duration that I have tried to practice serving in my personal and professional life, caring for others, allowing them to grow, the success others have achieved has been amazing, the feedback from others has been inspirational.
So, if you are ever asked to lead a task, remember to stop, pause and consciously decide, are you going to fix, help or serve?