Servants by example

charleyalchrismissyI met Charley on my first day of high school. Standing outside the door to our Spanish classroom, I was wearing a Star Wars t-shirt and he was carrying a Star Wars book (or vise-versa, I really can’t remember anymore). It was nerdy-friendship at first sight. I met Al (Alexis, we all used to call her Al) at church youth group shortly thereafter. We three spent a lot of time together those four years at church events, high school classes, and after school shenanigans; you couldn’t have asked for better friends. Al and Charley got married shortly after Missy and I did back in 2004. They chose to donate a kidney each, first Charley, then Alexis. They are the only married couple in America to have done so.

To my mind, these two epitomize the “servant” portion of “Servant-Leadership” (for more on SL, visit Christ led by serving: that is the foundation of the leadership model. While donating a kidney might not directly correlate to workplace activities, I can’t imagine that a comparison can’t be drawn from that selfless act to valuing employees.

Giving of yourself to an anonymous person who desperately needs your help might take the concept of Servant-Leadership to an extreme that many people are unwilling to consider, but I urge you to think on what you are willing to give of yourself to the people who look to you for guidance.

This from Alexis: “Australia has around 300 non-altruistic kidney donors a year and the US around 6,000. So based on populations there are about as many donors in both countries. And that’s not enough but numbers in both countries are on the rise as awareness and education spread. Australia doesn’t have kidney chains, just direct swaps, so Charles being able to explain how it works will hopefully open some doors too.”

Philippians 2: 3-4 (NIV): Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

True to their sense of self-deprecating humor, Alexis also adds this: “…now that we have done a few interviews I think our stage names of twitchy (I never know what to do with my hands or face) and zombie (Charles has the opposite problem) are solidified.”

Please take a moment to watch the video here:

Coping as a young leader

Business Baby Pointing

I’m sure many of you have experienced it; the feeling that you are being scrutinized and perhaps looked down upon based on your age. I’ve been leading outstanding individual contributors and have managed supervisors for most of my professional career and, more often than not, my subordinates and peers have been older than me.

I love working with experienced individuals. Experience teaches invaluable lessons about your function, your industry, and helps employees mature as people. I also like working with “newbies.” The potential that new employees bring to the table, coupled with their willingness to be molded and their initial optimism is a powerful combination. Working for older people is, by and large, normal. Most bosses are older than their employees. When you are a fast burner, however, you might encounter resistance where a more “experienced” person wouldn’t.

I’ve been fairly lucky, since separating from active duty military service, to supervise some excellent technicians, work with educated and considerate peers, and work for mature, understanding bosses. This has not always been the case.

“Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example…” -1 Timothy 4:12 (KJV)

When I encountered (what I considered) age-based discrimination, I was not shy about saying something about it. This was often received with surprise and disbelief and was often a mistake. The negative reaction by my peers and supervisors might be at least partially explained by the fact that “the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said federal law prohibiting age discrimination applies only to people age 40 and older” in a statement captured in this article. It is rare for anyone to consider a younger person to be considered in an age-related discriminatory situation.

Though not necessarily easy to capture in statistics, my personal experience has been that when a well-spoken, politically astute, educated younger manager appears on the scene in a workplace, there is a certain level of unease in the “older” and “more experienced” crowd. In more hierarchical organizations, my experience has been that the effect can be amplified.

That begs the question: What is a young, ambitious leader to do? I advocate an approach that emphasizes humility and competence. Getting upset or calling attention to unfairness can lead to the perception of a lack of self-confidence in the person making complaints….whereas…working hard, meeting goals, and treating everyone around you with respect, while holding yourself to high standards of personal and professional conduct allows you to be an example, as Paul points out in 1st Timothy; to earn the acceptance and respect that all people desire (see Maslow’s hierarchy).

photo by: the UMF

How I found my voice

Chris and GregIt isn’t as serious or sullenly introspective as it sounds. I had always felt fairly timid as a leader. This was due to a number of factors, I imagine; I was raised by an ambitious and hardworking, but humble enlisted man, in my mind I mistakenly confused the virtue of leading with humility with a more relaxed and quiet approach, and I was trained from my earliest training in the Air Force to be risk averse in my decision making (filtering all the way down to social interactions). It seemed that the game of politics and promotion were fraught with complex social punji traps; easier to remain quiet and complimentary.

I wasn’t even aware of this leadership fault until I deployed to Iraq in support of the Army’s counter IED (Improvised Explosive Device) mission. I was embedded with the Army in a Navy unit in the Ninewa Province in Iraq in late 2008-2009 as an Electronic Warfare Officer. A good friend and mentor, a Naval Chief Petty Officer named Greg, took me under his wing and taught me to recognize and control my interaction with the fine line between command voice and disrespect.

“The first sign of greatness is when a man does not attempt to look and act great. Before you can call yourself a man at all, Kipling assures us, you must “not look too good nor talk too wise.” Dale Breckenridge Carnegie

It was often necessary to control the soldiers I trained through command presence, something that I had never successfully done before. Few lessons I learned have been as valuable to me as this one; the ability to control physical and vocal bearing regardless of audience has factored into many of my successes.

Among the many things I learned from Chief is that humility is internal, but can be projected through deeds, though it did not necessarily need to manifest itself in a timid demeanor. Remaining respectful, approachable, and forthright in word and deed is the cornerstone of a humble and credible officer.