The views and opinions expressed are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.
Gotta Serve Somebody!
Contrary to some readers’ comments last blog, I remain committed to the concept that “you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed.” Bob Dylan made this slang popular with his song of the same name. (Gotta Serve Somebody).
The negative reaction to the concepts of servant or act of service in the workplace is not surprising. Disheartening, but not surprising. If you break it down simply, there are two kinds of people. Those who choose to serve and those who desire to be served. I choose the former. I choose to serve with the former as well.
I view life as service and the workplace no different. I serve my family. I serve my church. I serve my community. I serve my God. I serve my patients. I serve my boss. I serve my employer. I serve those who report to me. I serve my employees. Everything is service. Life is service. I often miss the mark and selfishness creeps in, but service is my default orientation and what I aim for.
I am not sure how a life of service mindset begins. Are we born with it? Is it developed? Is it discovered? I often reflect on it because I believe it is foundational for who we are as people and who we are as leaders. I practice a few things to keep my service orientation keen and my heart soft, and to encourage those who serve with me to do the same.
- Service vocabulary. We spend most of our lives “working,” so I purposefully substitute service for work in my daily speech. It reframes the way I view things. I don’t loathe to go to work. No! I look forward to serving!
- Voice of the customer. I programmatically create opportunities for my teams to serve. Clinician shadowing and listening sessions are just a couple of techniques.
- Healthcare volunteering. I encourage everyone to give back through volunteering. It does not have to be a hospital setting, though healthcare volunteering does directly reinforce the concept of workplace serving. For five years, my oldest son and I volunteered weekly at a children’s hospital. For many years you would find my family spending Christmas dressed as elves accompanying Santa on his rounds.
- Direct reports. Ask each of them how you can serve them. How you can help them reach their goals? How you may wash their feet? The greatest leaders wash feet, clean toilets and are present in all life transitions.
- Testimonials. I try to have customers or patients give talks at every team meeting. A 10-minute talk from a patient or clinician is more effective than 500 minutes of speeches from you or me. Recently our CMO spoke to our team. Quiet in demeanor and voice, you could have heard a pin drop as she eloquently wove her personal and professional story together, culminating in reinforcing the critical nature of our team’s service. Wow!
- Patient encounters. Engage patients whenever possible. Learn their stories. Ask them for feedback. Round with your peers!
Life is difficult and all have been hurt, bruised, offended, or abused. I will never claim to relate to it all, but I can relate to some. I believe we are born with soft hearts, but life happens. Over time, our hearts can become callous and hardened. It is tragic. It is invisible.
External appearances often mask the real world inside. Left unchecked, our attitudes and world view become jaded. I do not pretend to understand the depth of another person’s pain. I am also not going to hide my head in the sand and pretend personal pain does not impact the workplace or how we view things such as service.
While I have been fortunate to witness the softening of hearts in the workplace, I offer no magic formulas or cure-all. Transformations come from counseling, medications, prayer, and other tools I am less familiar with. I am not pushing one transformation method over another, but if you are a leader, I implore you reconsider your viewpoint if you do not believe your role should include servant leader. As a leader, one key to success is to model service, both to those you report to as well as to those who report to you. By embracing this mindset, I guarantee you and your team will transform.
I share this idea in order to break hearts. To reach a broken heart, you must first break the heart. When I see dying kids become excited from winning Bingo, my heart breaks. When I see an elderly couple hold hands one last time in the ICU, my heart breaks. When I see clinicians wrestle with the loss of life, my heart breaks. When I witness a marriage of a couple in our hospital because one of partner is too sick to go home, my heart breaks. When I hear loved ones grieve in our waiting rooms, my heart breaks.
My heart has a propensity to harden, so I constantly try to experience first-hand the impact of my team’s service. Having served this way for many years, I can attest to the fact that when entire teams are mobilized, culture changes and transformation occurs. The best thing? Not only does the organization change and become exceptional at serving patients and clinicians, the individual team members transform as well. Performance and outcomes improve.
You have to serve someone. You might as well choose what and whom.
Footnote. The best resource I have found on servant leadership is Greenleaf.