What is service? Our service is how we give of ourselves to others. It comes from our desire to connect with, support, and help others to succeed on The Pathway to Excellence. It goes beyond the simple exchange of self-interest and transactions. We become motivated to transform the lives of others through the habit of kindness, the instinct to serve, and the will to give. It is our tangible actions that shows how “us” transcends “me”.
The call to serve others is, at its core, a call to lead. All of us have the capacity to lead as servants. This means that we put the interests of others before ourselves and take positive steps to ensure that their needs are met. It does not mean that we are weak and deferential. We must seek to be humble, however, because service requires us act on an instinct that we not inherently better or worth more than anyone else. We need to recognise that while different people bring different strengths and weaknesses to any situation, no life is worth more than another. We need to look after ourselves but not in a way that causes harm to others, either by our intention or through neglect of their potential to grow and experience progress and wellness.
Context is important because all of us in different ways are called on to lead. Some do this on a grand scale in the leadership on a political or corporate scale, while others pursue this in quieter ways through their families and friends. For all, our leadership is the capacity to influence, motivate, direct and inspire others willingly to achieve that which they might not do otherwise – to put the interests and goals of the team or group before their own biologically-programmed self-interest. In other words, our service leads other not only to achieve the goal, but to adopt a culture where they support each other through their service. It is compelling and infectious in nature. It is mutual and reciprocal in kind. It starts with the example we set and then calls on us to do what we can to help others, not for our own sake, but because it is good and right to do. Our servant leadership is, therefore, not only a reflection of our acquired civic, performance and moral character and competencies, but the outpouring of what is inside us. It is as much (if not more) the work of our hearts as it is the work of our heads. It is leading through our kindness.
“To serve is to have a compassionate awareness of others, to be attentive to the deep human need of another person and to respond to this need in love. To serve we offer another the generosity of our time and the presence of our heart.”
Adriano Di Prato
The realisation of our kindness through our service as leaders, therefore, is exercised in relationship with those around us and our environment. It is the articulation of a desire to achieve better outcomes for others through an inside-out process of development that models inquiry for all:
The inside-out nature of this process is critical. Leadership is learned and revealed from the inside-out; that’s why The Pathway to Excellence is structured according to these four questions. The process we have described tells us the questions we need to answer to integrate the personal with the aligned. We should all be able to recognise how hard-heartedness can defeat any and all of these questions. The sooner we realise that the answers lie more tangibly in our selflessness and our calling to serve, then the more likely it is that we will commit ourselves not to the self-centred (and ultimately self-defeating) pursuit of a pathway to perfection, but more likely to the imperfect commitment to a pathway to excellence. There is a corresponding scope and sequence for the milestones along the journey: self-awareness, relationship, service, and vocation. Doing good things for people invokes both an awareness of the other and the self. This is, therefore, a critical factor in helping to answer the question, who am I? Self- awareness is not simply a solipsistic exercise; it is always truly grounded in location to the situation of others – relationship, the choice to place their needs before one’s own – service, and the development of a sense of purpose that goes beyond the simple acquisition of resources and becomes a genuine consideration of how one might act to better the condition of all – vocation.
At the same time, we need to grow in kindness through encountering and taking on the qualities of warmth, openness, and generosity of spirit. Above all, it is the willingness to give that might be described as the essential character of kindness on which our service might be founded. In a perfect world, we would all be perfectly formed with everything that we need; we would have no need of each other because we would be complete in and of ourselves. Yet we know we don’t live in such a world. All of us are flawed, all of us are broken. This is why the act of giving that characterises our service and its underlying kindness are so important.
The habit of kindness, the instinct to serve and the will to give must all be learned and incorporated into our character as with any other so that they become innate to who we are and how we lead. There are some for whom this seems to flow naturally from their inner being all of their lives. For most of us, however, we need to learn in community how to become less focused on self and more focused on others. It is the by-product of a lifelong process of formal and informal education. In time and through the example and shared expertise of others, we can come to recognise that our leadership should begin with who we are as a person, flow into who we want to become, and be demonstrated through our actions in service of others.
For most of us, this instinctive philanthropic intent can only be the result of a deliberate, targeted and planned process of learning the character and competencies of leadership, and service. Accidental transmission of values and attitudes through the chance of the moment is not enough. We all need to understand that there are specific ways to teach and learn kindness, service and giving that are both intentional and spontaneous, explicit and implicit. Great leaders, mentors and teachers manage to balance all four of these approaches, teaching us as much about kindness, service and giving by their own example as well. Thus, if our teachers teach who they are, and kindness is essential, then they also must be kind to us revealing it through their service and acts of giving. This is because when we give to others, we shine a light into the dark crevices of their brokenness. Without brokenness, the light would be deflected and diffused from an impermeable surface. Without imperfection and vulnerability, we could not share in our humanity. We could not console or bring joy. We could not give. The act of giving, therefore, and the qualities of kindness and service that it embodies, must be located within any process by which we seek to gain in character and lead others. For if we apply the development of character simply to ourselves and the power of leadership only for our own benefit, we miss the point.
Many approaches to learning and teaching leadership work on the exterior first: skills, capabilities, competencies. Yet doing this is a bit like working on a house; we can paint the exterior any way we like but without solid construction and a fitting place within its surroundings, no amount of surface modification can make up for poor architecture. In the same way, we cannot “make” leaders anything other than who they are. They must lead from the core of their being and express their service as a by-product of this character. The funny thing is that people will forgive authentic leadership that is at the same time poorly executed; what we will not tolerate is that which is disingenuous, cynical and self-serving. We will not accept populism when it is revealed to lack the courage of conviction and the commitment of selflessness. We become wary of grand words that are not backed up in the long term by results. We look to see how the actions of leaders reveal what sort of a person they really are and whether or not they are worth following. There are any number of ways in which people can project leadership into their surrounds, but unless these are imbued with a critical set of values that run all the way through the leader’s being and work, then we are all too often left with hollow and meaningless words.
Sacred scriptures teach us the golden rule to do unto others as we would have done to ourselves. Even in a world without religion such as that humans cannot simply do and act as they please. We need to act in accordance with principle. So, whether we are coming from a faith basis or whether we are grounded in secular humanism, we need to align both the habit of kindness and the instinct to serve to how we learn and master the will to give. This allows us to complete the asking and answering of the questions on the four steps of The Pathway to Excellence: giving in to the need to learn and grow allows us to come to know ourselves by asking “who am I?”; giving out our gifts and talents allows us to earn our places by asking “where do I fit in?”; we give to the journey from me to you to us by asking “how can I best serve others?”; and giving up control of others allows them to take full responsibility for their own progress and find their calling by asking “whose am I?”.
In the end, we believe people can grow in the habit of kindness, the instinct to serve, and the will to give by: