Guy Kawasaki links to a sermon by Nancy Ortberg of the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church on the nature of leadership and work.
What Nancy is talking about is what led me twenty plus years ago to move out of a career as a typical parish minister in the Presbyterian church to focus on leadership. I found in the task of leadership development exactly what Nancy illustrates. The opportunity to do meaningful work and to do it in relationship with others. The opportunity to help others learn to lead.
It is where my Rule of Thumb comes from. Simply, people want their lives to be Personally Meaningful and Socially Fulfilled. People want to make a difference, to have an impact in the world. They also want to do this with others in a social environment that we have come to call community. Of course this involves more than work, but also vocation, calling, career and the professions.
Her reflection on The Nobility of Service is an important statement about leadership and work. Her illustration of this physician whose example early in her career influenced her understanding of leadership.
I've always made it a practice to get to know the people who are the support team, not the upfront stars, but the people behind the scenes that no one notices, but are essential to success. As a consultant, I feel like I am also one of those behind the scenes, invisible workers who rarely get the recognition, and when they do, are embarrassed by it.
For example, at my car dealership. I know the General Manager and his family well, and the sales person who has sold us two cars, knows us well. Because of my old Volvo, that finally died last spring after 317,000 miles, I used to spend a lot of time at the dealership having service work done. What surprises me are the people who know me by name, and always speak to me.
Nancy makes the point that as leaders our relationships are to provide a place where people can be known. It is about the inherent dignity that is their right as a person. This is easy to lose sight of when we are in situations of crisis and chaos in an organizational setting. But it is essential for the effective working on a team.
I love the work I do because it gives me as an intimate outsider the opportunity to know people who are often unknown, forgotten or taken for granted. It provides me every day in Nancy Ortberg's words, "An opportunity to make a meaningful and significant contribution to the world." This is why work is not something I will do until I stop to do something else. It is my life.
A week ago as I was leaving church, I had a brief conversation with a woman who is the parish associate for pastoral care at our church. She happened to be my mother's roommate in college, and spent her "career" teaching at the collegiate level. We chatted briefly about work, and how she, even now in her late 70s, cannot imagine not having significant work to do. I feel the same way. I'm working on my 30 plan that will carry me to my 80th year. This can only happen when you believe what Nancy is presenting. That work is good, that it creates value, that is lends dignity to life, and provides a context for people to learn to work in relationships of trust and respect.
I've reached the conclusion that if more people were to work and lead as Nancy Ortberg describes, that we'd have fewer people who would spend their days looking forward to quitting work, and more who would see work as the door through which the goodness of life can be found.
The secret is attitude and relationships. If we understand that work is service to create value through relationships, then we'll mostly likely find that our lives are exhibits of that very philosophy.