On a ride home with a buddy of mine the other day, he and I started talking about serving others and what that looks like. The conversation led him to reveal that he has a hard time not taking on the responsibility of the individuals that he is serving. He stated that while he wants to serve others, he finds himself wanting to take ownership of people’s needs and responsibilities. He told me that he knows it is not his responsibility to work things out for others or to get things completed for others, but he struggles with taking on ownership that isn’t his to take. After hearing this, it led me to question the line between serving others and taking responsibility for others.
Anyone who has followed my blog knows that I believe service to be the key element to leadership, that selfless leadership is about serving those around us, and that service is the highest form of leadership. However, there is a fine line between serving others and taking responsibility for others. If we do not set clear boundaries between the two, then we can begin to build resentment and frustration toward the people we should be serving.
Service is about supporting, helping, and encouraging others through action and word. Serving others can take on a multitude of forms. Some acts of service may be small; others can be life changing or life altering. For example, seeing an individual struggling to pay for the groceries in the check out line and volunteering to pay for their groceries is an act of service. Or it could be as big as the service given by C. S. Lewis to his late friend whom he lost in World War II. He took in his late friend’s mother and cared for her until her dying day. Some acts of service will hardly have an impact on our lives, while others might completely change how we live.
Serving others should never be about enabling or allowing for poor decision making. It should never be about taking the responsibility of others as our own. Paying for someone’s groceries at the check-out line, because they didn’t have the means to do it themselves at that time, is not taking on that individual’s responsibility nor is it enabling them. Rather, you are providing an act of service for someone in need at a specific time. This changes when you continue to give them money for groceries while they do nothing to try and earn their own income to provide for themselves. That is when you have taken on their responsibility and have enabled them to continue living without taking on personal responsibility.
Selfless leadership means we serve those we influence. We do not enable, make excuses for, or fail to hold others accountable. Serving others should be our aim every day. We should be looking for ways to help others and provide support and encouragement where needed. We do not take on the responsibilities of others, but rather help others complete or accomplish their responsibilities. Ultimately, it is still the other person’s job to complete or fulfill their own responsibilities. But let’s admit it, getting help when our responsibilities seem overwhelming allows us time to take a breath and feel more confident in taking ownership of our responsibilities.
Live a life of leadership through service. We all need help from time to time, and seeking out ways to serve others is a way to enrich our own life. Help, support, and encourage others in their responsibilities, but do not take on other’s responsibilities for them.
As always, stay humble and serve well!