While it is a scene that was re-enacted in Christian churches throughout the world last week, one need not be a Christian to have heard the biblical account of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles.
Thirteenth-century Dominican friar Thomas Aquinas, revered by Catholics as both a saint and Doctor of the Church, identified in this gesture of Jesus a number of essential, and as it turns out, timeless elements of service.
We all profess to understand the importance of giving great service. But would the service we provide pass the "St. Thomas Test?"
Check Your Posture - He Rose From Supper
"A servant should be careful to keep before him the numerous details in which his service may so easily fall short. For a servant to sit or lie down during his service is to make this necessary supervision impossible."~ St. Thomas Aquinas
Our posture, physical and otherwise, is the first message we send to our clients. How do we want them to see us? On our toes, eyes and ears wide open, nimbly able to respond to their needs?
While there is something to be said for a casual demeanor putting people at ease, a very little bit goes a very long way, and in any event certainly does not telegraph what the client wants to hear: "I am ready to serve you."
Picture every depiction of a butler you've ever seen: erect stance, perhaps bent slightly forward. We should adopt this posture of solicitude. Another biblical nugget on this topic is in the Old Testament book of Judges, wherein Gideon eliminated those who knelt when drinking from the river as unfit for military service. Too concerned with their own comfort, they would be unable to react to the unexpected.
Know What To Do & When - He Laid Aside His Garments
"A servant should show dexterity in doing at the right time all the things his particular office calls for."~ St. Thomas Aquinas
If my office is serving my clients, I must develop a deep understanding of their needs and position myself, and my organization, to address them. Jesus knew that his dinner garments would get in the way of the task of washing feet.
We should come to know what, specifically, our clients could at any time require, and clear a path - be it a process improvement, communication channel, approval for outside-the-box handling, maybe even a pricing concession - between those needs and our solution.
Well-Equipped: Having Taken A Towel, He Girded Himself
"A servant should be prompt, having ready-to-hand all the things he needs."~ St. Thomas Aquinas
Do we approach clients holding, and ready to hand over, appropriate responses to their needs? Sales people in particular are notoriously opposed to being nuts-and-bolts product-knowledge experts. "I know enough to sell it" should be replaced by "I know it so I can sell it."
True, nobody can know everything. But while there is a measure of honor in admitting to a client you'd like to consult with an expert to avoid giving an incomplete or incorrect answer, there is much more in knowing the right answer to begin with.
The client may appreciate that you have a specialist on the staff who can supply the information, but you should know that he really wishes that person to be you. Because we should have gotten to know our clients, we should know what tools to bring to every encounter and not to leave the toolbox outside in the trunk.
Forget About Equality - He Poured Water Into A Basin & Began To Wash
"Humility is set for our example...this was the lowest kind of service of all."~ St. Thomas Aquinas
Parisian waiters, it is said, expect to be treated as being of completely equal standing with their customers. This is not Thomas-style service, because it lacks the key element of humility. Those who would serve must first be able to say, and mean, "In this relationship, I am the servant and you are the master."
If my company makes billions and my client barely makes payroll it doesn’t matter. If I have an MBA and my client has a GED, it doesn’t matter. How many meetings have you attended where the one to be served is, before anything else, subjected to the server's resume? Accommodation of your pride is not a necessary ingredient of the relationship. Eliminate it as an expectation, and all the rest becomes far easier.
Thanks for the post, Paul! A fantastic reminder of the servant leadership of Jesus! An incredible bar for the rest of us to reach for!
I’m reminded at that end of that passage that it say,
“So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
I’m challenged by this that we need to be reminding our customers, our clients, and those we lead that the best standard THEY can have is also the one of humility and care!
Hi, Paul – I really regret not reading this earlier in the week.
You have clearly laid out a vision for the nuts and bolts of servant leadership here, nicely framed by a Christian perspective, but useful to anyone who cares about leadership.
I had to admit when I read the part about casual versus attentive stance that I was a little resistant at first. I’m a pretty casual guy … but your image of the butler ready to serve struck a nice chord with me and made your point quite nicely.
I appreciate and will continue to reflect on this post … in my world, that’s about as high praise as it gets.