No job or task is “beneath” a leader to do or smaller than a leader. Part of servant leadership is stepping in to help where needed to do what needs to be done.
Flickr Photo Credit: thekirbster
When attending the Tony Robbins Life Mastery event in 2009 I heard a story which showed that no task is below a leader. Even though Tony Robbins was not scheduled to speak at this particular event he was there the day prior to the first day of the event to meet with staff and help them prepare. There were a few things which had not yet been done that had to be completed before the seminar began. One of those tasks was placing out the conference chairs in neat rows for attendees to sit in.
Robbins proceeded to help his staff by grabbing some chairs and began putting them in rows. Consider that Robbins is the President and CEO of his own company, the founder, and the head honcho, I’m sure he doesn’t have to help put out chairs, but he did because it was a simple task that needed to be done as an example of servant leadership.
Every time a leader does a small task that is “below her” she is influencing the people she leads. Why, because this shows that she is human and that she does all work, not just the “important work.” This is servant leadership.
The topic of leaders focusing on their strengths and “only do what only you can do” is a popular opinion (and a correct one), but at times leaders need to simply do tasks that might not be part of their normal routine. They might need to get their hands dirty and to do work that might be “below their pay grade” or “beneath them.” Additionally, there is always someone who must take out the trash. Regardless of what the strengths are of everyone in the organization, there always is someone has to take out the trash.
Why should leaders do work that is below their pay grade and level of expertise? Leaders do this type of work because they go to where their people are. Leaders go to the people, talk to them, and communicate with them. Doing normal everyday work that the rest of the organization participates in gives leaders a chance to lead people on their level and take them in a new direction.
This topic of servant leadership and doing work that might be below a leader reminds me of the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.
3Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. 6When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” 8“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” 9Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!” 10Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” 11For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.16I tell you the truth, dslaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. 17Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.
John 13:3-17 (New Living Translation)
Jesus has perhaps showed the most powerful example of servant leadership. If we (as leaders) plan to follow his example as servant leaders we must be ready to do work which is needed. Yes, most of the time we will focus on our strengths and do only what we can only do. But, there will be times when we will need to take out the trash or set up chairs like Robbins.
Question: What is an example of servant leadership you have observed? How did that shape your view of that leader?