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Why Service And Success Are Siblings

(Source: forbes.com)

Day 9: Give before you get. This post is part of Forbes’ Career Challenge: Build Stronger Relationships In 15 Days.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you’ve said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou

To understand the best way forward, we often have to look back.

A typical beginning for any career is figuring out how to get the best job, with the right title and the highest pay. A typical ending to any career is figuring out how to give back. The wise ones figure this out sooner rather than later. The even wiser figure out that the quickest path to the getting is in the giving.    

An Itch To Give Back

In a recent article in the Atlantic, “What I Learned About Life at My 30th College Reunion,” writer Deborah Copaken observed a number of trends from attending her 30-year college reunion at Harvard. 

  • “No one’s life turned out exactly as anticipated, not even for the most ardent planner.”

  • “Every classmate who became a teacher or doctor seemed happy with the choice of career.”

  • “Nearly every single banker or fund manager wanted to find a way to use accrued wealth to give back….”

  • “[T]hose who went into [art] as a career were mostly happy and often successful, but they had all, in some way, struggled financially.”

  • “In our early 50s, people seem to feel a pressing need to speak truths and give thanks and kindness to one another before it’s too late to do so.”

The doctors, teachers and artists―careers fundamentally focused on giving―were notably fulfilled. Those who had followed the money were now in search of a way to contribute and give back. But giving seems to be so core to who we are that somehow as we grew older, an internal need arises to give back “before it’s too late.”

Giving is often misconstrued as a quid pro quo. Our gut reaction is to think, “If I give, what will I get in return?” But giving plays an unrecognized role in getting. Former Girl Scouts CEO Frances Hesselbein is just one example. 

Flipping Our Mental Switch From Getting To Giving

Management expert Peter Drucker, largely credited for founding modern management, praised Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of Girls Scouts, as one of our greatest leaders.

Hesselbein is 102 years old. She volunteered for the Girl Scouts in 1965, at the age of 50, and within 11 years, rose to CEO. Once promoted to CEO, she served for the next 14 years through 1990.

She was instrumental in reviving its membership and its brand to how we view the company today. Over the course of her career, her work has been recognized with almost three dozen different awards. But what is it, exactly, that makes Hesselbein such a good leader?

We can explore the answer in the book, Work is Love Made Visible: A Collection of Essays About the Power of Finding Your Purpose from the World’s Greatest Leaders (John Wiley & Sons, 2018). The book is a collection of essays by a variety of leaders curated by Hesselbein and two other management experts. The purpose of each essay is to get at the core of a person’s leadership philosophy. Hesselbein set it up by asking: “What is it you see when you look out the window that is visible but not yet seen?”

For Hesselbein, her answer has five tenets.  

  • Leadership is a matter of how to be, not how to do. Leadership is not about title or destination; it is about our character. Good leaders have strong characters.

  • To serve is to live. The joy and responsibility of being of service goes beyond our current condition or place of employment.

  • Defining moments. Defining moments are those experiences we have when we become aware of something of which we previously had no consciousness. These moments shape our character and are the inspiration for many of our choices in life.

  • Be ye an opener of doors. What does it mean to open doors―for ourselves and for others….

  • Bright future! [The] hopes for tomorrow and solutions to challenges arising today that will lead us toward the bright futures that we envision.

Hesselbein’s leadership philosophy is fundamentally about serving others. Not simply internally at an organizational level, but externally too, with the organization’s mission. “Today, we need leaders who help distill [the] concept and language of mission: why the organization does what it does, its purpose, its reason for being.”

Co-author of the book, Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, says of Frances:

“As a CEO, Frances was remarkably ahead of her time . . . Frances saw herself as a servant leader who was there to facilitate the success of her team―not as a boss who was there to tell people what to do and how to do it. She was constantly learning and helping others learn. She encouraged constructive disagreement. She did an amazing job of building alliances inside and outside the organization.”

We Succeed Or Fail . . . One Conversation At A Time”

When people think of giving, they often think of big philanthropic acts. But really, giving comes in small acts of kindness all the time, every single day. In one of the book’s essays, executive Susan Scott writes, “Our careers, our companies, our relationships and indeed our very lives succeed or fail, gradually and then suddenly, one conversation at a time.”

Giving starts with small acts, every day at work and at home. Maya Angelou famously said people won’t remember what you said or did but how you make them feel. Angelou’s quote points to the right barometer, a good test to evaluate what kind of impact you’re creating in the world.

Most people want to have a positive impact in the world and on others. The intention is there, but they flub the execution. As Taavo Godtfredsen writes in his essay, “Scaling Your Impact as a Leader”:

“Rather, your success is based on your impact. When there is a misalignment between your intentions and your actions, you can be operating at a fraction of your capability as a leader. This is the single greatest leadership challenge I see today―the lack of awareness in leaders of the gap between how they intend to lead and how they actually lead.”

In one scary statistic, he cites a study conducted by an organizational psychologist, Tasha Eurich, on self-awareness which “found that 95% of people think they’re self-aware, but in reality only 10% to 15% really are.”

It’s our incessant focus on ourselves rather than others that cripples the execution. Shifting this perspective not only helps others, but ultimately helps ourselves. Management expert Meg Wheatley writes:

“How many of us understand that we have a choice? Consumed by tasks, addicted to distractions, avoiding thinking, we have become the most endangered of all species. And this has happened because we fail to use the essential freedom that all living systems possess: choice. Everything alive is free to choose to notice what’s happening in its environment, and then free to choose how it will respond.”   

We often judge our lives based on what we get, rather than what we offer. But getting blossoms from giving. Giving, or being in service of others, is what leads to achievements, accolades and fulfillment. 

Take Hesselbein’s word for it. Or wait for your 30-year college reunion to find out.

Ready for the next challenge? Click here for Day 10: Make human connections in the digital age.

Miss a challenge? Click here for Day 8: Pay attention to the little things.

Follow Stephanie Denning on Twitter:@stephdenning

More Info: forbes.com

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