“Leave leadership out of it”. It was the second time I had heard that statement in a week and it caught me off guard. Even more this time.
How could we leave leadership out of servant leadership? Isn’t that the entire purpose of this Four Simple Words journey to figure out how we can lead better? Isn’t business leadership going to evolve our economy into something that benefits more people? Isn’t moral leadership going to help us build a more equitable and inclusive country and world? Isn’t scientific and innovative leadership going to help mitigate the climate crisis we continue to ignore? Leave leadership out of it?!?! What kind of crazy is that?
But, as I have done so many times on this Four Simple Words learning journey, I listened to what I was hearing and gave it time to sink in. What if we did leave leadership out of it?
I needed to reflect on this statement partially because of the source. The second time I heard it was during our Forum #5 with the smart and thoughtful Sara Sayyed who was sharing her insights about service and faith. (The first time I heard it was also from Sara the week before as we were planning our conversation). Sara is a mom, wife, daughter, aunt and friend. She is a principal, an active community presence sitting on lots of boards and committees and is one of Guelph’s recognized leaders bringing a voice of hope and realism to conversations. Sara also is Muslim, and our chat was about the connection between faith and being in service to others. You can watch our full and really interesting conversation here.
The ‘leave leadership out of it’ observation was shared while Sara was reflecting on her parents and how they were an active part of literally building a mosque in their new Canadian community. “They just did what they had to do.” Sara commented. “They put up drywall, installed wiring, made meals, ran programming and built a faith community. It wasn’t leadership, it was needed. Ask my parents if they were leaders and they would both say no.”
What can we take away from Sara’s parents? Some of the obvious choices are humility, hard work and pragmatism. (There is no way anyone is going to ask me to drywall…) And, I think we have this idea (which was a common theme in our chat with Sara about Islam and her involvement in the local Muslim community) that service is — to borrow an IT phrase — BAKED INTO the culture. Service is part of what it means to be a member of that community. Everyone does it, so no one is necessarily leading through service. That simplicity is very, very attractive.
So let’s think about taking leadership out of it. Let’s make being in service to others the expected norm for how our families, business, communities of faith and even governments just work. Maybe if we stop focusing on leadership and focus more on just serving, we can invite more people to be making the changes we so desperately need.