I enjoy helping people.
So much so that I have staked my professional career on it.
This urge to help started way before I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I can remember as a kid looking out my back door each Saturday, hoping to see our neighbors, the Burkles, doing yard work. I was delighted when their garage door lifted and the family trudged out—each with a garden tool.
Weird, I know.
One particular Saturday, we worked all morning mowing, clipping, pruning, and raking. As we crammed the last pecan leaves into the bag, I noticed Mrs. Burkle slip inside. She came back out brandishing a dollar and offered it to me. (For those of you playing at home, a dollar would buy fifty pieces of gum in 1977.)
I resisted the money. I didn’t really tell anybody this, but I had a secret motive.
The real reason I helped was because the Burkles had this nuisance of a rule—work first, play second. This was a foreign concept to me, but I respected it. Darn Germans. So serious.
In my ten-year old mind, my landscaping labor was simple math. More hands equaled more help equaled greater productivity that shortened work, which led to more play time with their youngest son Derrick. I had a consultant’s mind even then.
As I grew older, my desire to help others never went away. In fact, my family and life experiences only fanned the flame. The more roles I could serve in, the better. Whether it was in the secular world or in my church, the service outlets were endless.
Deep within, however, my secret motive remained.
It wasn’t playing with Derrick anymore, but it was still self-centered. This all came clear to me during what most people would consider a beautiful act.
My wife Christy heard the story of a woman who had her heart ripped out by an unfaithful husband who left her and her teenage girls. Just walked right out. Rumor has it that he even took food out of the fridge. His selfish acts tore the family apart and left gaping holes in their emotions, finances, and trust.
A perfect match for the helper in me.
With the help of some generous friends, we injected some financial aid to right the boat. We used our professional skills to help with other decisions, such as housing, budgeting, and education to smooth out the rough waters.
Like a special forces military team we were in and out before the locals knew of our incursion behind enemy lines. We carried out our mission with surgical precision. No collateral damage and minimal involvement. Effective, efficient … but hollow.
The real need was not financial—although that was significant. The real need was that family needed someone to wade deeper into their struggles alongside them. To rebuild the foundation of trust in people. To offer hope in the form of friendship.
To be human with them.
Life is messy. So is leadership. The common denominator between life and leadership is that both involve human beings. Humans that think differently than us. Or act differently. Or whose marriages have crumbled.
Jack Welch, former CEO at General Electric, once gave this advice to one of his young vice-presidents struggling to lead people, “You’ve got to wallow in it with them.” In other words, to figure out what to do for people and what decisions to make, you have to move toward the mess.
Evidently, I missed that memo. For years, people have told me that I have a servant’s heart. My “involvement” with this family brought back memories of raking leaves with the Burkles. Even as a kid, I knew turning down a dollar for my labor would add to the legend of the little boy who worked selflessly. But deep down, I wondered then as I did with this family—Who was I doing it for?
That is a good question for every servant, every leader … who are you doing it for? Never has this been more clearly illustrated to me than when I recently read Move Toward the Mess by John Hambrick.
Hambrick’s book is actually written as a prescription for “bored” Christians—that is, move toward the messiness of people and your faith becomes real. Leaders should take the same advice.
When we turn into the problems that confront us instead of just skirting around the edges two things happen:
- Life becomes richer.
- Leadership turns genuine.
As a leader, I failed to make a difference with this single mom and her family, but you don’t have to. Do you want to succeed as a leader? Turn into your people. Wallow in it with them. Serve them. Move toward their mess.
Genuine leadership never disappoints the leader nor the follower.
*I am giving away a FREE copy of John’s book–Move Toward the Mess. Post a comment to enter your chance to win the book!!! You can also find it at www.johnhambrick.net/