This phrase rings in my ears from decades ago … and it is not a pleasant memory.
As a young Army officer, I remember being very uncomfortable when a group of us officers and “noncoms” would enter a mess hall during a basic training cycle. Someone would loudly announce our presence by yelling “Make Way“. Recruits, often showing the rigor of becoming soldiers in a compressed and arduous process, would flatten themselves against the wall, as we lordly creatures would make our way to the front of the line.
This did not feel like leadership to me. This felt like entitlement.
Others would explain to me that our time was valuable, since we were leading the training effort and things like this allow us to continue to do so in a military and effective way.
Reality … we just didn’t want to wait in line. Leadership fail …
As I continued in my reserve officer military career, I chose to follow other advice, the original source of which has been lost. The only specific statement I remember is “Leaders eat last“, which has been mentioned by many others over the years as good leadership behavior. It just felt right to take care of the needs of the people in my unit and then satisfy my own needs.
While I claim no great distinction or accomplishments for my military service, I believe that I had a positive relationship with those I served and I know that they were exemplary in responding to my direction and supporting our missions. We respected each other and I believe my willingness to not indulge in special privileges due to my rank or title contributed to our positive interactions.
Serving others means clearly understanding and behaving with the idea that leadership is not an attribute for special treatment, but involves helping others accomplish their tasks and grow in their abilities. The Harvard Business Review has a good post which highlights another spin on this idea of leading by serving, exemplified by George Washington, one of our country’s early leaders. In part, Washington led not through accepting or insisting on special privileges, but by simply sharing the discomforts of those you lead. Click the link below to read more:
The leadership point in all this …. your primary role is to serve others.
I will be talking more about leadership as service to others next month, as I participate in the launch of “The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do” (Tenth Anniversary edition) by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller. This is an easy and enjoyable read, which contains real-life examples of how to put others first and win. We do not have to endure Valley Forge in order to put others first.
If you just can’t wait, click The Secret Sample Chapter for a taste of what is coming.
Looking forward to the coming launch in the Heartland ….