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It’s Not About You

“Think back to the first time you were asked to manage. How did it feel to lead? What got you to where you are now?” So opened an informative and inspiring presentation by Pat Falotico, CEO of the Robert K Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. Our Dec. 2nd leadership forum, co-hosted with Randy Hain of Serviam Partners, was attended by more than 70 senior Atlanta business leaders, all of whom expressed varied feelings in response to Pat’s opening questions about leading teams.

As Pat spoke more about what defines true servant leadership, she asked us, “Who are you for yourself, for others, and for your organization?”

Who are you for yourself? Leadership begins with the innate feeling that you want to serve, and serve first. Pat zeroed in on this conscious choice we’re required to make as leaders. Many of us have had a manager who tried so hard to be sincere, but it was clear they were not meant to lead. There is no place for pretending to be authentic, and no one is buying it anyway.

Self-awareness plays a huge role here. Pat used an example from the TV classic, Seinfeld, where George believes every decision he’s made in his life has been wrong and decides to do the opposite of everything. To his surprise, this approach actually worked for him. As Robert Greenleaf said, “Awareness is not a giver of solace, it is a disturber and an awakener.” Once we are aware of our weaknesses, we can try different approaches and become a more purposeful leader.

Pat’s next question: Who are you for others? It becomes more difficult to nurture and reach the people we serve as we move up the managerial ladder. As the distance grows, a testament of a true leader is in his or her ability to remain focused on the team. Servant leadership is about bridging this distance. Pat said, “Listening is one of the biggest factors when reflecting on if you’re good with and for people.” She went on to say, “True listening builds strength in other people.” When we listen, we build capacity in others by understanding, accepting, and practicing empathy.

Pat’s last question spoke of being a good leader for the organization. On this point, her focus was on practicing foresight. Greenleaf said: “The leader needs to have a sense of the unknowable and foresee the unforeseeable.” Good leaders use their experience of the past while keeping the future in mind. We are tasked with making the best decision for not only for our team, but also for our organization and its strategic goals. Pat’s final mark on this section was, “Remember that today you have options. Don’t limit yourself by making a rash decision – look at the whole picture.”

In reflection, it is important to ask, “Do the people you serve grow as people and as servants, and do they benefit from your interactions?” Leadership isn’t for everyone, nor should it be. It requires care and compassion in our heart. True servant leaders understand the need to achieve the goals that are set, while helping our team grow and be successful. Pat’s closing quote from Robert Greenleaf was, “The best thing we can do is wait to serve as asked and as instructed by those who are seeking our service.”

A wonderfully simple statement with complex meaning and implications. How can we better serve, guide and improve the lives of the people around us? If you are interested in learning more about servant leadership and connect with other like-minded professionals, consider becoming a member of the Robert K Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.

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