Simple Encouragement

When I work with groups, I often do an exercise in “Proactive Self-Definition.” It’s a moving experience that helps people become more aware of inner guides that shape their lives. I ask people to think of that one person from over the span of their entire lifetime that they would most like to be like. I love to watch the reflections in their eyes, and waves of emotion crossing their faces as they arrive upon the “one.” I then ask them to give me five descriptive words or phrases that would tell me how this “most special person” treated them. I often hear adjectives like “Loving,” “Gentle,” and “Caring.” Typical comments are “They really knew and believed in me,” “They were always there in the tough times,” and “They accepted me no matter what.” Very often I hear these people described as “Heroes,” “Angels,” and yes, “Leaders.”

What 5 words describe the most special person in your life?

Isn’t that interesting? The people that these folks are subtly patterning their lives after didn’t necessarily have important titles, big salaries, or large offices with degrees on the wall. Many of these leaders had no semblance of authority whatsoever yet, years later, they continue to wield great influence in the lives that they touched.

There’s a term for this kind of leading influence, and it’s called “Servant Leadership.” In fact, the ability to influence someone’s highest expression over time is the essence of this unique form of love. Servant leaders cherish people in the context of intimate relationships. Rather than standing above others, they seek to know, and to be known. And it’s through this knowing that servant leaders not only cheer up and praise, but actually speak “life to potential,” “healing to pain,” and “light to darkness” for those around them. Because they genuinely love, servant leaders are able to bring life, healing, and light to the hearts of those entrusted to their care.

Servant leaders walk with the people they lead, shoulder-to-shoulder, and they are prone to see more in others than they see in themselves. Servant leaders build people up in a way that brings out their hidden talents and gifts. They are present in ways that heal limiting emotional wounds. These “Heroes” offer acceptance and grace that breaks the bondage of shame that creates a glass ceiling on the expression of one’s greatest spirit. What I am describing is a worldview that I call “Simple Encouragement,” and servant leaders do it instinctively. Through this special way of being and relating, servant leaders leave behind “giants” that change the world, and their only legacy may be a “sacred residence” in the hearts of a handful. And if you really think about it, that’s a legacy that would leave anyone resting in a very sweet peace.

So, what 5 words describe the most special person in your life?  Let us know in a comment below or a tweet on Twitter.

Note: This post was originally published on 4/8/2010 over on the Northfork Center for Servant Leadership blog.