The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership
James C. Hunter
I don't necessarily have to like my players and associates but as the leader I must love them. Love is loyalty, love is teamwork, love respects the dignity of the individual. This is the strength of any organization. – VINCE LOMBARDI
IT WAS FOUR O'CLOCK Wednesday morning and I found myself wide awake in my bed staring at the ceiling. Although the week was already half over it seemed like I had just arrived. Much as the sergeant annoyed me, overall I was very impressed with the caliber of my fellow retreat participants and I found the lectures to be engrossing, the grounds beautiful, and the food great.
Most of all I was intrigued by Simeon. He was a master at facilitating group discussion and bringing forth gems of wisdom from each participant. The principles we discussed were simple enough for a child to grasp but profound in ways that kept me awake at night.
Whenever I spoke to Simeon, he seemed to hang on every word, which made me feel valued and important. He was skilled at reading situations, at cutting through the fluff and getting to the core of the matter. He never became defensive when challenged and I was convinced he was the most secure human being I had ever met. I was thankful he didn’t push his religion or other beliefs on me, but then again he wasn’t passive either. I always knew where he stood on things. He had a disarming and gentle nature, a perpetual smile, and a sparkle in his eyes that communicated a true joy for living.
But what was I supposed to learn from Simeon? My recurring dream continued to nag at me, “Find Simeon and listen to him!” Was there some greater reason or purpose for my being here, as Rachael and Simeon had both suggested? If so, what was that reason?
I had limited time left at this place and I promised myself that I would be more diligent in picking Simeon’s brain to see if I could find out.
THE TEACHER WAS SITTING alone in the chapel when I arrived ten minutes early that Wednesday morning. His eyes were closed and he appeared to be meditating so I quietly took a seat next to his. Even sitting in silence with this man did not feel the least bit awkward.
Several minutes passed before he turned to me and said, “What have you been learning here, John?”
Grasping for something to say, the first thing I thought of was, “I was fascinated by your leadership model yesterday. It makes perfect sense to me.”
“The ideas and the model are not my own,” the teacher corrected me. “I borrowed them from Jesus.”
“Yeah, Jesus,” I said shifting uncomfortably in my seat. “You might as well know, Simeon, that I’m not much of a religious person.”
“Of course you are,” he said gently, as if there were no question about it.
“You hardly know me, Simeon. How can you say that?”
“Because everyone has a religion, John. We all have some sort of beliefs about the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe. Our religion is simply our map, our paradigm, our beliefs that answer the difficult existential questions. Questions like, How did the universe come into existence? Is the universe a safe or hostile place? Why am I here? Is the universe random or is there a greater purpose? Is there anything after death? We have all thought about these things, of course some more than others. Even atheists are religious people because they too have answers to these questions.”
“I probably don't spend enough time thinking about spiritual things. I’ve always just gone to the local Lutheran church like my folks did, assuming it was the right thing to do.”
“Remember what we said in class, John. All of life is relational, both vertically to God, and horizontally to our neighbor. Each of us has to make choices about those relationships. There is an old saying that ‘God has no grandchildren,’ and to me that means you do not develop and maintain a relationship with God, or anyone else for that matter, through other people or through hand-me-down dogma or religions. Relationships have to be carefully developed and nurtured if they are to grow and mature. Each of us must make our own choices about what we believe and what those beliefs mean in our lives. Someone once said that everyone has to do their own believing, just like everyone will have to do their own dying.”
“But Simeon, how are you supposed to know what to believe? How are you supposed to know what is the truth? There are so many religions and beliefs to choose from.
“If you are truly asking and seeking to find truth, John, I believe you will find what you are looking for.”
AT THE END OF NINE CHIMES, the teacher was ready to go. “As I warned you yesterday, our topic today is love. I know that may be a little uncomfortable for some of you.”
I glanced over at the sergeant, half expecting to witness real-life spontaneous human combustion. No flames or smoke were evident.
After a moment or two of silence, Simeon continued. “Chris asked yesterday, ‘What’s love got to do with it?’ To understand leadership, authority, service, and sacrifice, it is helpful to come to grips with this very important word. I first began to understand the real meaning of love many years ago, while I was still in college. I was a philosophy major at the time and, a few of you may be surprised to learn, a true atheist.”
“Now I've heard .it all,” Greg called out. “Mr. Reborn Monk himself, a nonbeliever? Now how could that be, Brother?”
Laughing, Simeon answered, “Because, Greg, I had studied all the great religions and none of them seemed very plausible to me. Christianity, for example. I really tried to understand what Jesus was trying to say but He kept coming back to this word love. He said to ‘love your neighbor,’ which I figured might be possible provided I had good neighbors. But to make matters even worse, Jesus insisted we ‘love our enemies.’ To me, this was worse than nonsense. Love Adolph Hitler? Love the Gestapo? Love a serial killer? How can he command people to manufacture an emotion like love? Especially toward unlovable people? To put it in your words, Greg, ‘not in this life, big guy!’”
“Now you’re preaching, baby!” the sergeant chuckled.
“Then came a turning point for my paradigms about life and love. Several fraternity brothers and I got together one evening for a few beers at the local tavern. One of the language professors, who liked to frequent that same bar, came over to join us and soon the conversation moved to the world’s great religions and eventually Christianity came up. I said something like, ‘Yeah, love your enemies. What a joke. Like I’m going to have positive regard for an ax murderer!’ The professor stopped me dead in my tracks and said I was misinterpreting Jesus’ words, although they seemed plain enough to me. He explained that in the English language, we generally associate love with a feeling. You know, I love my house, I love my dog, I love my cigarettes, I love my booze. As long as I have good feelings about something, I can say I love it. We generally do not associate love with anything but positive feelings.”
“That’s true, Simeon,” the principal agreed. “In fact, last night as I was anticipating our topic today, I went to your library here and looked up love in the dictionary. There were four definitions and I wrote them down: Number one, strong affection; number two, warm attachment; number three, attraction based upon sexual feelings; and number four, a score of zero in tennis.”
“You see what I mean, Theresa? Love is rather narrowly defined in English and most of the definitions involve positive feelings. The language professor explained to me that much of the New Testament was originally written in Greek, one of his language specialties, and he informed me that the Greeks used several different words to describe the multifaceted phenomenon of love. If I remember correctly, one of those words was eros, which our English word erotic is derived from, and it means feelings based upon sexual attraction, desire, and craving. Another Greek word for love, storgé: is affection especially between and toward family members. Neither eros nor storgé appears in the New Testament writings. Another Greek word for love was philos, or brotherly, reciprocal love. The ‘You do good by me and I’ll do good by you’ kind of conditional love. Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, comes from this root word. Finally, the Greeks used the noun agape and the corresponding verb agapaó to describe a more unconditional love rooted in behavior toward others without regard to their due. It is the love of deliberate choice. When Jesus speaks of love in the New Testament the word agape is used, a love of behavior and choice, not a love of feeling.”
“As I think of it now,” the nurse added, “it does seem a little silly to try to command somebody to have a feeling or emotion for someone else. So he apparently didn’t mean we should pretend bad people are not bad when they clearly are or feel good about people who act despicably. But he is saying that we ought to behave well toward them. I had never thought of it that way.”
The coach jumped in with, “Of course! The feelings of love could perhaps be the language of love or the expression of love but those feelings are not what love is. As Theresa put it yesterday, love is as love does.”
“Come to think of it,” I spoke up, “there are probably . . . no, there are definitely times when my wife does not like me very much. But she hangs in there anyway. She may not like me but she continues to love me by her actions and her commitment.”
“Yeah,” the sergeant added surprisingly. “I’ve heard guys tell me over and over again about how much they love their wives – while they were sitting in bars chasing women. Or parents slobber on and on about how they love their children but can’t carve out fifteen minutes a day for them. And some of my Army buddies always tell girls how much they love them when they just want to crawl into the sack. So just saying it or feeling it doesn’t make it so, does it?”
“You’ve got the idea,” the teacher said, smiling. “I cannot always control how I feel about other people but I certainly am in control of how I behave toward other people. Feelings can come and go depending upon what you ate for dinner last night! My neighbor may be difficult and I may not like him very much, but I can still behave lovingly. I can be patient with him, honest and respectful, even though he chooses to behave poorly.”
“I think you’re losing me here, Brother Simeon,” the preacher interjected. “I have always believed, at least my paradigm has been, that when Jesus said to ‘love your neighbor,’ He was talking about having positive personal regard for them.”
“That’s just the wimpy Jesus you preachers made up to anesthetize the people,” gibed the sergeant. “Like the nurse over there said, how can you command someone to have feelings for someone else? Good behavior toward someone, I can buy that, but feelings for jerks, that’s just a load of B.S.”
“Do you always have to be so rude to people?” I practically shouted.
“Just telling it like it is, big guy.”
“And generally at someone else’s expense,” I countered, but Greg just rolled his eyes at me.
The teacher walked over to the flip chart and wrote:
LOVE AND LEADERSHIP
“The New Testament in the Bible gives us a beautiful definition of agape love that illustrates what we’re talking about. Your children may have this passage framed on their walls in their bedrooms. It’s one of our best sellers here at the Agape Press. This passage was also a personal favorite of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and F.D.R. It is almost always read at Christian weddings. Does anyone know what I am referring to?”
“Oh yeah,” the coach answered. “That ‘love is patient, love is kind’ verse, right?”
“Right, Chris,” Simeon continued. “First Corinthians, chapter thirteen. It says essentially that love is patient, kind, not puffed up or arrogant, does not behave unbecomingly, does not seek its own, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth, bears all things, endures all things. Love never fails. Does this list of qualities sound familiar to you?”
I remarked, “It sounds a lot like the list of leadership qualities we came up with last Sunday, doesn’t it?”
“Rather similar, isn’t it, John?” the teacher answered, smiling. “To paraphrase the passage into bullet points, love is: patience, kindness, humility, respectfulness, selflessness, forgiveness, honesty, commitment,” Simeon wrote each word on the flip chart. “Now where on this list do you see a feeling?”
“They all look like behaviors to me,” the coach replied.
“I submit to you that the beautiful definition of agape love, written nearly two thousand years ago, is also a beautiful definition for leadership today.”
“Agapé love and leadership are synonymous. Interesting, very interesting,” the preacher thought to himself out loud. “You know in the old King James version of the Bible, agapé was translated into the English word charity. Charity or service better defines agapé than the usual English definition of love.”
The teacher turned back to the flip chart and wrote out our qualities of character list from the previous Sunday next to the bullet points.
|AUTHORITY & LEADERSHIP
|Good role model
|Held people accountable
|Treated people with respect
|Gave people encouragement
|Positive, enthusiastic attitude
Simeon continued, “After our break, I would like to ask Theresa to bring in the dictionary from the library so we can better define these behaviors. I think the results may surprise some of you. OK with you?”
“Do we have a choice?” the sergeant asked.
“We always have a choice, Greg,” the teacher firmly replied.
THE PRINCIPAL HAD THE DICTIONARY wide open on her lap ready to go. “Simeon, I looked up the first word, patience, and it talks about ‘showing self-control in the face of adversity.’”
The teacher wrote out the definition.
Patience – showing self-control
“God grant me patience and grant it now!” the teacher said with a smile. “Ispatience, showing self-control, an important character quality for a leader?”
The coach spoke first, “The leader must model good behavior for the players, kids, employees, or whomever they are leading. If the leader is screaming or otherwise out of control, you sure can’t expect the team to be under control or behave responsibly either.”
“'It’s also important,” the nurse added, “that you create an environment that is safe for people to make mistakes without worrying about some crazy person going off half-cocked. If you spank a baby who is learning to walk every time she falls, she won’t think much about walking, will she? She’ll probably decide it’s safer to just crawl around, keep her head low, and not take risks. Just like a lot of browbeaten employees I know.”
“Oh, 1 get it,” the sergeant smirked. “If my troops screw up I should just speak real nice to them and not get mad. I’m sure I would get a lot done that way.”
I don’t think that’s what we’re saying here at all, Greg,” the principal retorted. “The leader has a responsibility to hold people accountable. However, there are several ways to point out deficiencies while allowing people to keep their dignity.”
I surprised myself by offering, “Remember, especially in our organizations, that we are dealing with volunteers who also happen to be adults. They are not slaves and they are not animals we’re free to beat. Our job as leaders is to point out any gaps between the standard that has been set and their performance, but it does no have to be an emotional event. The leader may choose to make it an emotional event, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”
The preacher piggy-backed on my comments with, “The word discipline comes from the same root as disciple, which means to teach or to train. The goal of any disciplinary action should be to correct or change the behavior, to train the person and not to punish the person. And discipline can be progressive – first warning, second warning, final warning, and fina11y ‘you don’t get to be on the team anymore.’ John is right, none of those steps needs to be an emotional event.”
“Let’s move along,” suggested the coach. “How is the word kindness defined in the dictionary, Theresa?”
Theresa flipped back several pages before answering, “Kindness means ‘giving attention, appreciation, and encouragement.’” Simeon wrote it out.
Kindness – giving attention, appreciation, and encouragement
The teacher explained, “Like patience and all the character traits we’re discussing, kindness is about how we act, not about how we feel. Let’s take the work of attention to begin with. Why would the work of giving attention to others be an important character quality for a leader?”
“Because of what we learned from the Hawthorne Effect,” I surprised myself by answering.
“And what, may I ask, is the Hawthorne Effect, John old buddy?” the sergeant quizzed me.
“Best as I can recall, Greg, some Harvard researcher many years ago, I think his name was Mayo, wanted to demonstrate at a Western Electric plant in Hawthorne, New Jersey, that there was a direct and positive correlation between improved worker hygiene and worker productivity. One of the experiments involved simply turning the lights up on the plant floor and sure enough, worker productivity suddenly went up. As they were getting ready to move on to study another facet of worker hygiene, the researchers turned the lights back down so as not to mix up the variables. Guess what happened to worker productivity?”
“It went back down, of course,” answered the sergeant, sounding bored.
“No, Greg, worker productivity went up again! So the effect of increased productivity did not come from the cause of the lights going up and down but from somebody paying attention to the people. It’s become known as the Hawthorne Effect.”
“Thank you for sharing that, John,” the teacher acknowledged. “I’d forgotten that story. Paying attention to people was what was important. And I have come to believe that far and away the greatest opportunity we have to pay attention to people is by actively listening to them.”
“What exactly do you mean by ‘active listening,’ Simeon?” the nurse asked.
“Many people wrongly assume that listening is a passive process of being silent while another person speaks. We may even believe that we are good listeners, but what we are often doing is listening selectively, making judgments about what is being said, and thinking of ways to end the conversation or redirect the conversation in ways more pleasing to ourselves.”
The principal offered, “Will Rogers once said that if we didn’t know it was our turn to speak next, nobody would listen!”
Simeon nodded with a smile. “We can all think roughly four times faster than others can speak. Consequently, there is generally a lot of noise – internal converstion – going on up in our heads as we’re listening.”
I had to admit that as Simeon was saying these words my mind was back at home thinking of what Rachael might be doing.
“The work of active listening takes place up in your head,” he continued. “Active listening requires a disciplined effort to silence all that internal conversation while we’re attempting to listen to another human being. It requires a sacrifice, an extension of ourselves, to block out the noise and truly enter another person’s world – even for a few minutes. Active listening is attempting to see things as the speaker sees them and attempting to feel things as the speaker feels them. This identification with the speaker is referred to as empathy and requires a great deal of effort.”
The nurse added, “At the birth center, we refer to empathy as being fully present with the patient. And by being fully present, we don’t just mean physically but mentally and emotionally as well. It’s not easy to do, especially when there are so many distractions tugging at you. It’s a gift of respect to be fully present with someone who is giving birth, to actively listen and anticipate her needs. In my early days as a maternity nurse, I would often be there physically but I was psychologically miles away. When we are fully present, I think that the patients, often on many different levels, sense the difference and appreciate the effort.”
The principal nodded and said, “You know, there are essentially four ways we communicate with other people – reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Statistics show that when it comes to communicating, the average person spends roughly 65 percent of the time listening, 20 percent speaking, 9 percent reading, and 6 percent writing. Meanwhile, our schools do well enough at teaching reading and writing, and perhaps they even offer a speech elective or two – but they make virtually no effort whatsoever to teach the skills of listening. And those are the skills the kids will need to use most.”
“Interesting, Theresa. Thank you.” Simeon went on, “And what are the conscious or unconscious messages we send to people when we extend ourselves by actively listening to them?”
The nurse replied, “The fact that you are willing to set aside all distractions, even mental distractions, sends a very powerful message to the speaker that you care. That he or she is an important person. You’re right, Simeon, listening is probably our greatest opportunity to give attention to others on a daily basis and convey how much we value them.”
The principal added, “Early in my career I used to believe my job was to solve every teacher’s or student’s problem when they came to me. Over the years I have learned that just listening and sharing the problem with the other person eases their burden. There is a cathartic effect in being listened to and being allowed to express feelings with another person. On the wall in my office at school I have a quote from an old Egyptian pharaoh named Ptahhotep that says, ‘Those who must listen to the pleas and cries of their people should do so patiently. Because the people want attention to what they say even more than the accomplishing for which they came.’”
The teacher smiled approvingly. “Paying attention to people is a legitimate human need and one we must not neglect as leaders. Remember, the role of the leader is to identify and meet legitimate needs. I can still recall what my mother told me the day I married my beautiful wife Rita, God rest her soul, fifty years ago this month. She told me never to ignore a woman. Not heeding that advice with Rita got me in hot water more than once! One of the primary works of love is paying attention to people.
“Now that I think about it,” I began, “when we had our union drive back at the plant I was told repeatedly that the employees felt like we had forgotten about them, that we weren’t paying attention to them as we had in earlier years. On the other hand, the union was sure paying a lot of attention to them during the campaign and the employees were eating it up. I guess people will find a way to get their needs met.”
“Thank you for sharing your comments, all of you,” the teacher responded. “Now back to our definition of kindness. Theresa read to us that kindness was giving attention, appreciation, and encouragement to others. Do you believe people have a need for appreciation and encouragement, or is that just a want?”
The sergeant snapped, “I don’t need any of that appreciation jazz. Just tell me the job to be done and it’ll get done. It’s the same way I lead my troops because that’s what they signed up to do and what they’re paid to do. Why on earth should I have to do all this warm and fuzzy stuff?”
The preacher answered first. “William James, probably one of the greatest philosophers this country has ever produced, once said that at the core of the human personality is the need to be appreciated. I think anyone who would say that he does not have a need to be appreciated would probably lie about other things too.”
“Easy, preacher,” the sergeant cautioned.
The nurse jumped in with, “Greg, I always thought the military was big on giving out medals and ribbons as a public demonstration of its appreciation for service and accomplishments?”
“A wise general once said,” the principal added, “that a man would never sell his life to you, but he will give it to you for a piece of colored ribbon.”
I also spoke up, “Imagine if I said to my wife, ‘Honey, I said I loved you when I married you. If that ever changes I’ll be sure to get back to you. And by the way, I’ll be sure to bring the paycheck home once a week.’ Now wouldn’t that be a special relationship?”
To my surprise, the sergeant was nodding to each of the comments without a fight.
The nurse volunteered again, “One of the mentors in my life was my first charge nurse in Labor and Delivery nearly twenty years ago. She once confided in me that she liked to picture in her mind’s eye that every employee was wearing one of those sandwich billboard signs. On the front side, the sign would read ‘Appreciate Me’ and on the back side ‘Make Me Feel Important.’ That woman had great authority with people. I just didn’t know what to call it at the time.”
The teacher marched on. “Kindness, one of the labors of love, can be expressed regardless of your feelings for someone. Again, love is not how we feel about others, rather how we behave toward others. Let me read to you what George Washington Carver had to say about kindness. He said, ‘Be kind to others. How far you go in life depends upon your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in your life, you will have been all of these.’”
The coach said, “I think that it’s also important to give praise to people. Catch them doing something right instead of being like the ‘seagull manager’ and constantly looking to catch people doing something wrong.”
“You know the old saying, we find what we’re looking for,” the preacher offered up. “And it’s so true. Psychologists call it ‘selective perception.’ For example, my wife and I began looking for a minivan after we had a child and I became interested in Ford Windstars. Prior to looking for one to buy, I had never really noticed them on the road. Once I became interested, however, I began to see them everywhere! I thought it was a conspiracy or something. I think the same is true with being the leader. Once you begin looking for the good in others, watching out for people doing things right, suddenly you begin to see things you’ve never seen before.”
The teacher added, “Receiving praise is a legitimate human need and is essential to healthy relationships. However, there are two important things to remember about praising people. One, is that the praise must be sincere. Two, it must be specific. Just walking into the department and saying ‘Everyone did a great job’ is insufficient and may even cause resentment because perhaps everyone didn’t do a great job. It is important to be sincere and specific by saying, ‘Joe, I appreciate the fact that you produced two hundred and fifty pieces last night. Great effort.’ You want to reinforce the specific behavior because what gets reinforced gets repeated.”
“Let’s look at the third word in our love definition, humility,” the principal suggested, leafing through the dictionary on her lap. “Humility is defined as ‘being authentic, without pretense, not arrogant or boastful.’”
Humility – being authentic and without pretense or arrogance
The principal asked, “How is this important for a leader, Simeon? Most leaders I know are very egotistical and full of themselves.”
“Damn right,” the sergeant jumped in. “A leader has got to be in charge, strong, able to kick butt when necessary. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy into that wimpy, humble stuff.”
The preacher took him on again with, “The Jewish Torah, which is the first five books of the Old Testament, claims in the book of Numbers that the most humble man who ever lived was Moses. Now remember who Moses was. He was the guy who smashed the Ten Commandments down the mountain in a fit of rage, killed an Egyptian man for hurting a fellow Hebrew, and was constantly arguing and fighting with God. Now does he sound like a wimpy, poor-pitiful-me kind of man to you, Greg?”
“What’s your point, preacher?” he replied sarcastically
Mercifully the coach interjected, “I think what we want from our leaders is authenticity, the ability to be real with people – we don’t want them puffed up and stuck on themselves. Egos can really get in the way and become barriers with people. Know-it-alls and arrogant leaders are a real turn-off for most people. Such arrogance is also a dishonest pretense because nobody knows it all or has it all together. Humility to me is not thinking less of yourself it’s thinking about yourself less.”
“We need each other,” the nurse said quietly. “Arrogance and pride pretend we don’t. The ‘lie’ of rugged individualism that is so prevalent in this country creates an illusion that we are not and should not be dependent upon other people. What a joke! Another set of hands pulled me from my mother’s womb at birth; another set of hands changed my diapers, fed me, nourished me; another set of hands taught me to read and write. Now another set of hands grows my food, delivers my mail, collects my garbage provides my electricity, protects my city, defends my nation; another set of hands will comfort and care for me when I become sick and old, in the end, another set of hands will lower me into the ground when I die.”
The teacher leafed through his notes and said , “An anonymous spiritual teacher once wrote, ‘Humbleness is nothing more than a true knowing of yourself and your limitations. Those who see themselves as they truly are would surely be humble indeed.’ Humility is about being real and authentic with people and discarding the false masks. What comes next, Theresa?”
“Respectfulness,” the principal began reading again. “Respectfulness is defined as ‘treating other people like they’re important.’”
Respectfulness – treating others as important people
“That’s it, now you’ve lost me for good!” the sergeant said. “I mean, I started getting nervous when you were talking about influence and love. Now you’re saying that I have to kiss people’s butts with kindness and appreciation and respect. Listen, I’m a butt-kicking drill sergeant and you’re asking me to do something that is just not my style. You’re asking me to do something that’s unnatural for me.
“Greg,” Simeon replied quietly, “If I were to bring the top-ranking person in the Army to your base and into your barracks, I imagine you would be very respectful and appreciative; you might even exhibit many of the behaviors we’ve been discussing. To put it in your terms, I would probably see a lot of ‘sucking up’ going on, wouldn’t I?”
Looking the teacher dead in the eye, the sergeant answered, “You’re damn right you would! The general is a very important man and he deserves and will get that respect from me .
“Listen to yourself, Greg!” I said. “You’re saying that you know how to be respectful and appreciative, you know how to kiss butt, but you’re only willing to do it for those people you see as important. So you’re capable of the behaviors but very selective of the recipients for your attention.”
The teacher took over from there. “Do you suppose we could treat everyone we lead like a very important person? Imagine treating Chucky on the forklift like he was the president of the company, or our students like they were school board members, or nurses like they were doctors, or grunts like they were the general. Could you, Greg, treat each member of your platoon like a very important general?”
“Yeah, it’s possible, I suppose, but it would be pretty difficult,” the sergeant reluctantly conceded.
“That's right, Greg,” Simeon continued, “As I keep saying, leadership requires a great deal of effort. Leaders must make the choice about whether or not they are willing to extend themselves for those they lead.”
“But I only give people respect when they earn it!” the sergeant continued to object. “After all, respect is earned, isn’t it?”
The nurse, in her usual soft and friendly voice, answered, “I’m afraid that old saying might also be a bad paradigm for a leader. I’m a believer that God didn’t create human rubbish, only people with behavior problems. And we all have a few behavior problems. But shouldn’t someone get ‘respect points’ just for being a human being? Theresa’s definition of respect was ‘treating people like they’re important.’ I think we should add to the end of that definition, ‘because they are important.’ And if you don’t buy into that idea, then try out the idea that they should get ‘respect points’ just for being on your team, in your platoon, your department, your family, your whatever. The leader has a vested interest in the success of those being led. Indeed, one of our roles as leader is to assist them in becoming successful.”
That woman continued to amaze me.
Looking at his watch, the Sergeant said, “OK, OK, I get the point but we better get going. We certainly wouldn’t want to miss the noon church service, now would we?”
? ? ?
THE TEACHER RESUMED immediately following the second chime.
“What is the next word in our definition of love Theresa?”
“First I want to ask you a question, Brother Simeon. Why are the monks so neurotic about time? I mean things are done practically to the second around here.”
“I’m pleased you asked, Theresa. Actually, I was a bit of a fanatic about time long before I came to this place. Remember, everything the leader does sends a message. If we are late for appointments, meetings, or other commitments we’ve made, what is the message we are sending to others?”
“People who are late drive me nuts!” the coach blurted out. “I am actually enjoying the fact that time is respected here because I like to know what to expect. To answer your question, Simeon, I pick up several messages when someone is late. One message is that their time is more important than my time, a rather arrogant message to be sending to me. Being late also conveys the message that I must not be very important to them because they would almost certainly be on time for an important person. It also communicates to me that they are not very honest because honest people stick to their word and follow through with their commitments, even time commitments. Being late is extremely disrespectful behavior and is also habit forming.” The coach took a deep breath after her speech. “Thank you for allowing me to preach.”
The teacher smiled, saying, “I guess there’s nothing more to be said about that. I hope it answered your question, Theresa. Now what is our next definition?"
“Selflessness, but give me a second here to find it. OK, it says selflessness is ‘meeting the needs of others, even before your own.’”
Selflessness – meeting the needsof others
“Thank you, Theresa. Now the opposite of selflessness is selfishness, which means ‘my needs first, the heck with your needs,’ right? Selflessness then is about meeting the needs of others, even if it means sacrificing your own needs and wants. This would also be a beautiful definition of leadership. To meet the needs of others even before your own.”
Surprisingly the sergeant offered, “On the battlefield, the troops always eat their meals before the officers.”
I found myself protesting this time. “But if we’re constantly meeting other people’s needs, won’t they get spoiled and start to take advantage of us?”
“You haven’t been listening too good, John old buddy,” the sergeant snickered. “We’re supposed to meet needs, not wants. If we’re giving people what they legitimately require for their mental or physical well-being, I don’t think we have to worry about spoiling them. Remember, John, meet needs not wants, be a servant not a slave. How am I doing, Simeon?”
The class roared as Simeon looked to the principal for the next definition.
“Forgiveness is our next word, and it’s defined as ‘giving up resentment when wronged,’” Theresa announced.
Forgiveness – giving up resentment when wronged
“Now isn’t that an interesting definition?” the teacher began. “Giving up resentment when someone has wronged you. Why would this be an important character quality for a leader to develop?”
“Because people aren’t perfect and they will let you down,” the nurse answered. “And I suppose in the position of being the leader, that will happen quite often. The sergeant didn’t like this one either. “So if someone wrongs me I’m supposed to just pretend they didn’t screw up,” he said. “I just pat them nicely on the head and tell them everything’s OK. Is that right?”
“No, Greg,” Simeon countered. “That would not be leading with integrity. Forgiveness is not about pretending bad things didn’t happen or not dealing with things as they arise. To the contrary, we must practice assertive behavior with others, not passive doormat behavior or aggressive behavior that violates the rights of others. Assertive behavior is being open, honest, and direct with others but is always done in a respectful manner. Forgiving behavior is dealing with situations as they arise in an assertive manner and then letting go of any lingering resentment. As the leader, if you are not able to let go of the resentment, it will consume you and render you ineffective.”
Feeling moved to speak I added, “My wife, whom I lovingly refer to as ‘The Shrink,’ is a therapist, and she often reminds her patients that resentment destroys the human personality. I think most of us have known people who hang on to resentments year after year and become bitter and very unhappy people.”
My roommate threw in, “Buddy Hackett used to say, ‘while you’re holding a grudge, the other guy’s out dancing!’”
“Thank you for all those comments,” the teacher smiled. “Remember on Sunday when I said all of us together are much wiser than anyone of us? What does the dictionary say about honesty, Theresa.”
“Honesty is defined as being ‘free from deception.’”
Honesty – being free from deception
“I thought honesty was about not telling lies,” the coach said slowly. “But being free from deception is a bit broader, isn’t it?”
“We teach our kids in school,” the principal offered, “that a lie is any communication with the intent to deceive others. Not speaking up or withholding pieces of the truth may be thought of as ‘little white lies’ and socially acceptable, but they are lies nonetheless.”
“Remember,” the teacher continued, “honesty is the quality most people put at the top of their list of what they want most from their leader. We also said trust, which is built by honesty, is the glue that holds relationships together. But honesty with people is also the tough side of love and brings balance to love. Honesty is about clarifying expectations for people, holding people accountable, being willing to give the bad news as well as the good news, giving people feedback, being consistent, predictable, and fair. In short, our behavior must be free from deception and dedicated to the truth at all costs.”
My roommate spoke up again. “In my old job in the real world, my first business mentor used to tell me that if we didn’t hold our people to task, we were very dishonest. In fact, she used to go so far as to say that leaders who do not hold their people accountable to a set standard are, in effect, thieves and liars. Thieves because they are stealing from the stockholder who pays them to hold people accountable, and liars because they pretend that everything is OK with their people when in fact everything is not OK.”
I added, “I’ve known many a supervisor who thinks that as long as everyone is happy, life in their area is good. They refuse to discuss deficiencies out of fear that they will not be liked – or that people will get angry with them. I never really thought about how dishonest this behavior really is. I think most people want – and they certainly need – to know where they stand with the leader.”
“Very good. Let’s look at commitment, Theresa,” the teacher requested.
“Give me a second. OK, here it is. Commitment is defined as ‘sticking to the choice you have made.’”
Commitment – sticking to your choices
The teacher was silent for a moment before saying, “Commitment is probably the most important behavior of all. And by commitment I mean being committed to the commitments you make in life. This is important because the principles we are discussing require enormous effort and if you are not committed as the leader, you will probably give up and resort back to power. Commitment, unfortunately, is not a very popular word these days.”
“I’ll say,” the nurse spoke up. “If we don’t want the baby we abort, if we don’t want our spouse we divorce, and now if we don’t want Grandpa there’s always euthanasia. A nice and tidy throwaway society.”
The sergeant smiled before saying, “Yeah, everyone wants to be involved but nobody wants to be committed. There is a pretty big difference between the two. The next time you’re sitting down eating eggs and bacon remember this – the chicken was involved but the pig was committed!”
“Great, Greg – I’d forgotten that one,” I jumped in, feeling better about the sergeant the more I got to know him.
All was quiet for some time as we pondered these thoughts. Finally the teacher broke the silence, saying, “True commitment is a vision about individual and group growth along with continuous improvement. The committed leader is dedicated to growing, stretching, and continuously improving – committed to becoming the best leader they can be and that the people they lead deserve. It is also a passion for the people and the team, pushing them to become the best they can be. However, we must never dare to ask the people we lead to become the best they can be, to strive toward continuous improvement, unless we’re willing to grow and become the best we can be. This requires commitment, passion, and a vision on the part of the leader of where he or she and the group are headed.”
The preacher added, “And scripture teaches us that without a vision, the people perish.”
“I wish the mini-sermons would perish, preacherman,” the sergeant jabbed at my roommate.
“This love, commitment, leadership, extending yourself for others – this all sounds like a whole lot of work to me,” I said with a sigh.
“You bet it is, John,” the teacher continued, “but that’s what we signed up to do when we signed up to be the leader. Nobody ever said it would be easy. When we choose to love, to extend ourselves for others, we will be required to be patient, kind, humble, respectful, selfless, forgiving, honest, and committed. These behaviors will require us to serve and sacrifice for others. We may have to sacrifice our egos or even our bad moods on a particular day. We may have to sacrifice our desire to blast someone rather than be assertive with them. We will have to sacrifice by loving and extending ourselves for people we may not even like.”
“But as you said earlier,” Theresa commented, “we have a choice to make about whether or not we will choose to behave lovingly. When we love others by extending ourselves, we will have to serve and sacrifice. When we serve and sacrifice we build authority with people. And when we have built authority with people, then we’ve earned the right to be called leader.”
“I understand the cause and effect of what you’re saying,” the coach argued, “and may even agree with it. But behaving this way sounds a bit like we're manipulating people.”
The principal responded, “Manipulation, by definition, is influencing people for personal benefit. I think the leadership model Simeon espouses is influencing people for mutual benefit. If I am truly identifying and meeting the legitimate needs of the people I am leading and serving, then they, by definition, must also be benefiting from that influence if I’m serving properly. Is this right, Simeon?”
“As usual, the group has managed to articulate these principles better than I could have. Thank you.”
The preacher remarked, “I once listened to a tape done by Tony Campolo, a rather famous author, pastor, speaker, and educator, where he talked about his premarital counseling sessions with young adults. He said that whenever he first sees a young couple, he always asks them, ‘So why are you getting married?’ The usual answer, of course, is, ‘Because we’re really in love.’ Tony’s second question would then be, ‘You do have a better reason than that, don’t you?’ He said the couple would usually look at each other in disbelief at what appears to be a stupid question before answering, ‘What could be a better reason than that? We’re really in love!’ He would respond to this by saying, ‘It sounds like you have a lot of warm-fuzzies for each other now and the hormones are really getting cranked up. That’s great; enjoy it. But what will become of your relationship when these feelings are gone?’ The couple predictably look at one other for strength at that point before responding defiantly, ‘That will never happen to us,’”
The room exploded in laughter.
“I see some of you have been married a few seasons,” my roommate continued. “We all know that feelings come and go and it is the commitment that carries us through. Tony concludes by pointing out that at every wedding there is an opportunity for a marriage, but that we never know what we’ve got until the feelings are gone.
“Yes, yes, Lee,” the teacher affirmed. “The same principle of commitment is true with leadership. The character traits, behaviors, we have been discussing today are not so difficult with the people we like. Many evil men and women have been kind and outgoing with the people they liked. But our true character as the leader is revealed when we have to extend ourselves for the tough ones, when we are put in the crucible and have to love people we don’t particularly like. Then we find out about how committed we are. Then we find out what kind of leader we’ve really got.”
Theresa added, “I think it was Zsa Zsa Gabor who said that loving twenty men in one year is easy compared to loving one man for twenty years!”
The teacher walked over to the flip chart and completed the diagram.
“In our model yesterday, we said leadership is built upon authority or influence, which is built upon service and sacrifice, which is built upon love. When you lead with authority, you will, by definition, be called upon to extend yourself, love, serve, and even sacrifice for others.
Again, love is not about how you feel toward others but how you behave toward others.”
The nurse summed up with, “So what I’m hearing you say, Simeon, is that love – the verb – could be defined as the act or acts of extending yourself for others by identifying and meeting their legitimate needs. Would that be close?”
“Beautiful, Kim,” came the simple reply.
Selections from the Life of Father André Coindre
Brother Eugene Bardol, S.C.
Advice to the Brothers
Father Coindre never lost sight of the two congregations he had founded. Their progress was an encouragement to his paternal endeavors to help and to spur them on to further devotedness.
He advised the director general of the brothers to carry on the training of the young brothers and form them to solid virtue. (Letter of January 10, 1822) In his own conferences, he advised them to walk in the saints’ footsteps. His speeches, his familiar talks, and the letters he addressed them had the same object in view: “Give them a taste for study, make them love virtue and train them to the religious life with its duties, its prerogatives and its glories.” “Your vocation is grand, sublime: it is the greatest gift Almighty God has granted you. You must esteem and love it. Preserve it as your only treasure. It is for you the inexhaustible source of grace. How many means of salvation does it not offer you? It associates you with the work of the apostles because you are called to train souls for heaven.”
Following are some instructions given to the brothers through conferences or in written form:
“. . . You must be shining lamps unto all men by the practice of every virtue: a lively and practical faith, an unbounded and unfailing confidence, obedience with all its sacrifices, the deepest humility, the purity of angels. . . . these virtues must be your crown, the best adornment of your soul which must be preserved in all its whiteness is the lily of purity amidst the corruption of the world. To these virtues add a stern dislike for the world St. John says: ‘If anyone love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him. And the world passeth away, and the concupiscence thereof, but he that doth the will of God abideth forever.’” (1st Epistle II: 15,17)
“. . . Have a sincere love for your neighbor, a devotedness without measure towards the young hearts confided to your care. Do all in a spirit of faith, and to atone for your sins. Realize that you have been called especially to the service of the poor, therefore serve the Lord in their person. You have the office of Martha, fulfill it with a great spirit of faith and joy for the glory of our Savior Jesus Christ.” (Letter of January 10, 1822)
“ . . . To instruct and educate children is one of the greatest prerogatives of your vocation a thought that must encourage you in all your troubles.” (Letter of April 24, 1824)
“ . . . Be closely united, be saints. Do not place any vain glory in your employments. The greatest evil for you all would be lack of union and dissension. ‘A kingdom divided against itself shall not stand,’ says our Savior. Holiness and work; all is there.” (Letter of January, 1822)
“ . . . Raise up your hearts Sursum Corda! But it must not be forgotten, God wants soldiers who will bear the burden of the heat and of the day. He wants to see the sword unsheathed, always ready to fight for His glory burning with the desire of conquest, for the spread of His reign in souls. This is what he likes above all. And what a magnificent reward He prepares for those who make Him known! Heed the promise announced by one of His prophets: ‘Those who instruct others unto justice shall shine as stars for all eternity.’” (Letter of May, 1823)
“ . . . Let our brothers cherish solitude: let them remain at home, distrustful of themselves, become learned, for there is nothing more presumptuous than ignorance.” (Letter of December, 1824)
“ . . . The Lord has loved you much, my dear brothers. Having allowed you to know the world and its innumerable dangers, he has taken you from it. It is true in the religious life you have your little troubles, but courage! Profit from your courage to do the holy will of God."
“ . . . I love my brothers with tenderness, with the greatest solicitude, and I have the firm confidence that with zeal, work, and divine protection, they will succeed. If they are holy and laborious the Institute will not perish. I would sell all I possess rather than see them dispersed. Let them render themselves worthy of the work they have undertaken and they will see me always at their head carrying the heavier burden. The grace of God be always with you! Courage and confidence is my motto.” (Letter of January, 1822)
“ . . . If anyone speaks ill of us let us never return the evil; if we are despised let us nevertheless respect all; remember that God would love us much if He were to give us the occasion to put into practice this beautiful maxim of the Imitation: ‘Love to be despised and to be reckoned as nothing.’ Let us recall that the apostles went away rejoicing says Holy Scripture because ‘They were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus Christ.’” (Acts 5-40-41)
“ . . . The novices require a great deal of care on your part,” he wrote to the director general, “leave them free to unburden their hearts to you. Inform yourself of what they have been, what they are willing to do, and what they can do. Inspire them with self denial, detachment, obedience, and humility. Call them often to you in private to encourage them, animate them with a holy enthusiasm for our noble cause. . . . Our men will be as we form them. They will be no better than we make them.” (Letter of November, 1821)
“ . . . Honor, fidelity and gratitude must make us love our brothers. By a holy life let them always be worthy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; let them fight under His standard and never abandon it.” (Letter of June, 1823)
“ . . . Watch with the greatest care the education of those who have to teach so that their learning, their virtue and their good manners enable them to fulfill their employment properly. Always show them kindness allied with firmness which will make them love the Rule and respect authority. Temper your severity by a great gentleness but never overstep the bounds.” (Letter of March, 1826)
“ . . . Continue the good work you have undertaken. It is neither pride nor interest nor the love of pleasure that has led you, and that should stir you on to persevere: it is the desire to be useful to your neighbor, to religion, and to do penance for your sins. What more do you want? Had you before God no other habitual desire, except to please Him, being unable to offer Him any success, you would be a great saint.” (Letter of December, 1823)
“ . . . Among your brothers, virtue is not a sham; faith is living and disinterested. These are rarer things than you believe. The rest must be encouraged, make it alive as much by your zeal to practice it yourself as by preaching it.
“ . . . Write to the brothers at _____ with kindness but firmness, as to their guilty carelessness to observe the Rule and on the fatal consequences that will result from this to themselves, and the good cause; in the eyes of the citizens and of the church for which they work.” (Letter of May 3, 1826)
“ . . . It is to be feared that our houses might not be maintained for lack of funds, but we must especially prevent their falling away for lack of science and virtue on the part of those who direct them.” (Ibid.)
“ . . . Brother _____ needs to read over and over again the Rules of conduct I have sent to the Religious of Fourvière, since they are for all the directors. As for yourself, meditate on them; the more you get experience the more you will understand their wisdom.” (Ibid.)
Father Coindre gave also much excellent advice on the line of conduct for directors to follow in the exercise of their functions:
“Require of the brothers the exact observance of the Rules I have given them. Let them read and meditate on them with the greatest care. That all, according to their power, take the liveliest interest in the work; let them make you acquainted with whatever might go wrong or what might be lacking in the perfect accomplishment of duty. In your prudence, remedy everything, make all as easy as possible by kindness and charity.” (Letter January 10, 1822)
“Be courageous in the midst of your troubles. I rely on you as I would on myself. Your zeal is dear to me. I hope that whatever happens, you will always be