Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Servant Leadership

I first heard this oxymoronic term in my corporate life about fifteen years ago.  As a member of my firm's executive staff, I was required as so were my colleagues, to take some form of annual training. Each year, it was something we all dreaded.  Our CEO however, an excellent strategic planner, had arranged for each of us to take the same course together maximizing the effectiveness of the training with minimal time away from the office.  The course was aptly titled "Servant Leadership".  Everyone in that room, myself included, were responsible for managing a major division.  We were "important", we were "leaders".   

The instructor began by asking us to look around the room and to single out our business nemesis, the one colleague that got under our skin.  That was easy.  As seniors, we were all extremely territorial and competitive.  There were definitely a few rivalries each vying for the favor of the CEO.   The instructor asked us to write down five work-related things we disliked about the person we selected.  We had ten minutes to do so.  Easy.  I jotted down seven things in two minutes.  Then the instructor did something interesting...he gave us ten more minutes and asked us to write down five work-related things we "liked" about the same person.  hmm.  Not so easy.  I managed to jot down just two things before the time ran out.  Everyone in the room had the same experience.  The instructor told us that our egos had lead us to feel superior and competitive , that we felt we could display negativity and judgment regarding someone's else work.   We had each objectified the people we had selected, failing to see their humanity. This same ego prohibited us from possessing the humility needed to acknowledge the goodness in our colleagues' work; that just as easily as we selected someone to "dislike", someone else had most probably easily selected us also.


The point of the exercise was to learn how to "see" people and how to be humble.  The instructor told us that "you can't lead unless you know how to serve".  How profound.   When you quiet your pride, you open your heart and your hands to humility and servitude.  Our CEO got it!  By serving the needs of her egotistical staff, she had broken barriers which resulted in a more cohesive, successful organization.  She saw that she could not lead the organization forward if the senior staff did not get along.  Under the auspices of "mandatory training", it was brilliant leadership.

Prepare to serve.  Humble yourself.
  I've never forgotten this lesson and was grateful to receive it early in my career as I used it to "pay it forward" and I learned to serve my staff as I led them.  I never thought this concept could be used outside of my corporate world.  More and more, I am finding that the more I humble myself to service the needs of others, the more I find myself in a position of leadership as opportunities to teach, coach, direct, guide and share continue to present themselves.

The vegan and yogic community is a "pay it forward" world.  As someone helps you, you help someone else, who in turn helps yet another.  You can only give and receive help if you are humble enough to admit that you need help, and are grateful when you receive it.  It is a positive cycle.  Thus, serving and leading are one and the same, a strong servant also leads and directs the manner in which those they serve shall go.


I've had the pleasure of meeting Jen McGown.  Jen is the humble leader of One Yoga Philly yoga studio and is also the founder of the, Yoga on the Parkway, which fulfills her dream of serving the citizens of her city.  It is an event that promotes health and wellness.  It is the ultimate example of paying it forward.

I am certain that those who attend or lend a helping hand will be touched in some manner and will reach out to someone else.  No ego's here.  I am most impressed with Jen because she has used her hands to create this event first to those she served, and then led, folks whose hands now work in her stead spreading a positive message with infectious enthusiasm.  She so eloquently  wrote about it a very moving blog entry in which she shares her gratitude.  What touched me about this entry is that it reminded me of the training I mentioned earlier.  Jen, like the instructor, had removed the objectivity out of leadership and made it real, made it "human".

As I wrote to her in response to this post, I stated that it all begins with the hands.  Hands are tangible and hold your truth.    Using your hands to effect change shall be returned in abundance. How you use them will either condemn you or reward you. Why not use them positively?

King or King Maker

Ask yourself.  Who is more powerful, the King or the King Maker?  A wise man will tell you it isn't the king.  It is the servant, the king maker.  If the king is powerful, how powerful is he who makes the king?  The servant is the person behind the scenes "making it happen".  If you are the king:
  • be sure to serve the king maker and your reign shall be long and prosperous for the king maker shall lend their hand to help you serve the people
  • remember to pay it forward by mentoring and becoming the maker of future kings
Think of those you consider great leaders albeit personal, historical, or famous.  What did they have in common? What made them great?  Can you recognize their servitude and humility?  If you can not, then you have not identified a true leader.  You have mistakenly identified a dictator, one who abuses power, one who lets their egos take over, one who consumes and uses their hands to break instead of build.

We are all born with the capability to become leaders.  How we choose to develop our inner leader is determined by our actions:

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others"~Gandhi 

Identify your leadership.    Look, see, attend.  Focus on five good things in a person instead of five that aren't. Define your servitude.  Embrace your humility. 


Yoga:  Mudras (Healing Hand Movement)

When you think of serving, you usually start with your hands.  In yoga, the hands play an important role in practice.  Hands are used to perform mudras. Mudras begin with the hands but can encompass the entire body.  People use mudras without even realizing it as hands in prayer position is a common mudra used in several religions.

Guyan Mudra
Stimulates knowledge, ability, receptiveness and calm.
According to Kundalini Yoga.org, "a mudra is a gesture or position of the hands that locks and guides energy flow and reflexes to the brain.  By curling, crossing, stretching, and touching the fingers and hands, we can talk to the body and mind as each of the area of the hand reflexes to a certain part of the mind or body."  In Buddhism, a mudra is the beginning of cleansing on the path to enlightenment.

A mudra prepares the mind and the body for service and for leadership.


jen mcgown said...

Tracy, thank you for sharing your light and YOUR gift of servant leadership. I am honored to be featured in one of your very moving posts, but I must say that it's YOU that inspires me!
And I have to say that the universe is sending me msgs in advertisements on your blog. The customized wristband logo appearing on your site was the site we used to create this year's Yoga on the Parkway Simply Breathe bracelets. I'm finding that profound as for me Breath allows me to get out of my head, and back into what is authentic and real, and from here is where I lead, and here where I am transformed.
Thank you again dear friend.
With love and light,

Yoga Girl said...

Om Shanti and Metta dear Jen! Thank you for the warm, positive energy. Love and light to you in return. Namaste.