Service, Not Self Interest

In Western culture, we value independence and romanticize, even idolize, the rugged individual. But in times of crisis like the global pandemic and its ripple effect across many systems and sectors, we are seeing in real time how dogmatic individualism can hurt communities, hinder recovery efforts, even divide our country and communities.

This is not a post about the pandemic, but about what it means when a culture and its leaders do not honor the value of caring, or humanity toward others.

We make choices every day that determine the kind of person we want to be. It’s the same for leaders. Leaders choose to be autocratic, top down, participatory, reciprocal, collaborative, etc. As we bear witness to the breakdown in our systems brought on by the pandemic, it is incumbent upon those of us who find ourselves in leadership roles (assigned or not) to choose how to think about leadership moving forward.

We can choose to meet the moment.

My work in ethical leadership is research based. The data are always going to tell us what works and what does not. Recent positive psychology research on organizations tells us that that what people want from their leaders is caring, compassion and appreciation.

For a leader, this translates into three action questions:

1. How am I demonstrating my care for people?
2. How have I created a compassionate environment?
3. How am I showing a great appreciation for people?

When people feel cared for and appreciated, they can weather many kinds of storms. But when people feel that things are out of control and unpredictable, they go into survival mode and shut down. That, of course, is not where we want our organizations to be.

Try to keep those three words in mind as you move about your work and make decisions moving forward. Caring, compassion and appreciation allows for a relationship, a reciprocity between leader and led. You might just find that the people around you grow more resilient while their trust in you as a leader grows.

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