Serving vs. Enabling

I am a huge believer in servant leadership. It is the idea that great leadership is achieved through serving those who are being led. Servant leadership leverages influence instead of authority.

In the dictionary, the word “serve” is defined as “performs duties or services for another person or organization.”

Simple right? Service essentially breaks down to “do for others.” You see this is where I got stuck. My definition was incomplete.

You rise and fall in your definitions.

Service is not simply about doing for others. There has to be an end goal in mind, or you will fall into the trap of enabling.

It’s the old give a man a fish metaphor.

A great servant leader has one goal in mind: improve the lives of those he or she serves.

It is do for, not do instead of.

Let’s take parenting for example. You are teaching your 4-year-old to tie his shoe.

Sure you can tie his shoe instead of him. His shoe will be tied and you will have performed the service of tying his shoe. But does this improve him?

The alternative is you spend the time to help him tie his own shoe. You sympathize with him through his frustration. You don’t give in to his pleas to have you just step in and tie his shoe for him. You stay with him as he fails over and over and over until…he finally gets it. This is a far better investment. This is true servant leadership.

Don’t get miss this point because of the simplicity of the example. This applies in all areas of your life.

At work, are you failing to invest in your team because you know you will do a better job yourself?

In your marriage, are you failing to have a tough conversation with your spouse because it is easier to just smile and ignore it?

With your kids, are you giving into their will and sacrificing teachable moments to avoid making them upset?

Or are you willing to step into a tough situation, walk alongside another person, set a standard, encourage them, teach them, and ultimately help them. Are you willing to do this even if they may get angry with you for a moment in time? Are you able to extend them grace and keep your composure?

I have been on sides of this paradigm. One leads to frustration, exhaustion, and feelings of anger. The other leads to progress, fulfillment, and improved relationships.