To serve when you yourself are in need is the ultimate act of leadership.
The new year has started and, unfortunately, things are not getting easier. The Fed continues to raise interest rates in an attempt to manage historically high inflation. Companies continue to lay off employees, correcting for the exuberant excess of the last few years. The pandemic has evolved into a manageable endemic, but one-seventh of the world’s population is just now being exposed to the pathogen without sufficient protection or preparation. War still wages in Ukraine, part of a worrisome trend of rising authoritarianism. And society continues to polarize in ways that threaten to irreparably pull apart the social fabric required for communities and nations to flourish.
In response, there has been a loud call to hunker down. To survive. To adopt a wartime orientation. To focus on self. This is understandable. Families, communities, institutions, and businesses are justifiably focusing on rethinking their strategies to adapt to and survive in a very different external environment. I myself have been adamant about the need for leaders to be decisive, courageous, and willing to confront the harsh realities of a changing world.
In the understandable rush to focus and survive, however, we risk overlooking something fundamental: Times like these are times of need. And times of need are times to serve. To serve can be as simple as a warm smile offered to a stranger or an extra tip to a hard-working server. It can be a dose of appreciation to a co-worker for a job well done. It can be a surprise call to a friend or an extra “I love you” to your partner or child. It can be the gift of time to someone reaching out for career advice. In many cases, to serve may mean going the extra mile for a customer or client even (or particularly) when they have decided to pause doing business with you.
To serve when you yourself are in need is the ultimate act of leadership. It means you have the maturity to hold both the need for self-preservation and the capacity to give to others. Above all, it requires an underlying belief in the inherent abundance of life.
The days, weeks, and months ahead may be filled with uncertainty and surprise. Much of this, like most of life, will be beyond our control. But the capacity to give to others in time of need is always present. Now is not a time to use this capacity sparingly. Generosity and service are actually what make families, communities, and businesses flourish. May 2023 be a year that reminds us of this important truth.
David Brooks writes a convincing case for American optimism in The Atlantic.
“Repair and Remain: How to do the slow, hard, good work of staying put,” is worth the read.
If you want to understand what it takes for teams to be great, watch this 6-minute tribute to the San Antonio Spurs.