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The Secret of Leadership: Do Nothing

I am delighted but not surprised at today’s guest post written by Rick Chambers; it reflects what I know about him well. Rick has been a long-time colleague and friend, and one of the most insightful and generous people on the planet. You will see his fine character shining right through his writing. He’s also a humble leader and will, no doubt, be embarassed at my saying these (true) things about him.

Rick is a director of Worldwide Communications for a Fortune 500 who has worked in the public relations field for more than 22 years. An award winning journalist, he is also a published author and an award-winning short-story writer. Rick is a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan. You can find out more about him on his LinkedIn profile.


Orville was a generous, engaging man, quick with a smile, a firm handshake and a boisterous greeting. I rarely saw him in casual attire and never in a foul mood.

Knowing all this made it much tougher to see him on his deathbed.

On one of my last visits with Orville, I took my teenage son along. As you might imagine, forcing him to give up an hour of video games for an hour with a dying old man did not earn me “Dad of the Year” honors. But along he went, surly attitude and all.

The welcome we received at Orville`s bedside was unexpected. Rather than a weak wave and a gasped “hello,” he nearly came out of his bed. His voice was as strong as ever, his smile just as bright. Within minutes, he had my son sitting on the edge of the bed, hand on his arm, listening to the boy`s hopes and dreams and encouraging their pursuit.

On the drive home, the surliness was gone. My son spoke with enthusiasm about the visit. I sensed, as dads sometimes do, a teaching moment.

“What you did tonight,” I said, “meant the world to a man whose life is ending. And what did it cost you? Nothing.”

I believe that experience offers insight for leaders.

Leadership is many things. It`s visionary. It`s administrative. It`s intellectual. It`s determined. It`s steady-minded. It`s focused. It`s performance-oriented. And on and on.

But what some leaders don`t think about often enough are elements like compassion. And sacrifice. And charity?€”not in the modern sense, as in writing a check to your local nonprofit, but in its ancient meaning, that of embracing the value of others and basing your life and behavior on it. (The word for “love” in I Corinthians 13, that favored biblical passage at weddings, was originally rendered as “charity.”) In short, it`s about living and behaving with the needs of others lifted above your own.

When a colleague interrupts my work to share a personal concern, what does it cost me to stop and listen? When a co-worker faces job loss, what does it cost me to sympathize and encourage her? When someone down the hall makes a big mistake, what does it cost me to gently point it out, suggest an alternative and accept an honest apology? What does it cost me to treat others as I want to be treated, even in the face of my own flaws and failings?

Nothing.

So I encourage you, as leaders, to do nothing, too. Watch the profound difference it makes in the lives of others?€”and in yours.


14 Responses to “The Secret of Leadership: Do Nothing”

  • Very, very, good post. This confirms my own notions that a leader must take time to meet the personal needs of the staff. The cost really is nothing, but the pay-off could be eternal!

    Dallas

  • What a beautiful story – and I love the teaching moment commentary. That passage and the notion of charity are two of my favorite – charity in the sense of selflessness.

    Good leaders do care and share – themselves, their time and their energy.

  • Beautiful story, simply told but very touching. Core of leadership is “selflessness” and only when a leader is selfless that he/she can pour self into the work.

    At a time when we are taught how to win over others and the fact that one cannot grow without indulging in office politics, I have experienced first-hand that compassion works. Compassion and care has more power to swing people into action than command and control does. And people will do things willingly.

    A leader who gets more power gets more compassionate and humble. Just like the branch of a tree that bears fruits leans downwards.

    I loved the post!

  • Great guest post. At times “we” have a tendency to overcomplicate/overemphasize certain components or strong leadership. This post speaks directly to importance of placing value, and therefore behavioral focus, on being present with our peers. At the moment we leave our current position, we will leave a legacy that will speak more to how we engaged others in crucial moments, than to the results we achieve. This is not to say that our results are meaningless, but rather a powerful bi-product for those that get this right.

  • Mary Jo,

    I can see exactly what you were talking about in your introduction to Rick’s piece. Not only does he share an inspiring story, but he does a wonderful job illuminating the simple truth about leadership, and of the value of putting the well-being of others before ourselves.

    Thank you for giving him a place to share his wonderful story and thoughts about leadership.

  • This is a great story that is a great reminder to all of us that even in our busy lives, no matter what it is that we are doing, we should always take any chance to take a step back and “look at the scenery.” To often in today’s workplace we can all get caught up in whatever it is that we are doing and we blow off either the people around us or the world in general. We need to sometimes take a chill pill and do “nothing” and the results are, in more cases than not, better than we could have ever imagined.
    Thanks for the reminder,
    Nick

  • Mary Jo Asmus:

    Dallas, I agree.

    Deirdre, I, too, loved the reference to charity in Rick’s post. I may steal it from him for a future post :-).

    Tanmay, Rick seems to have the notion of “servant leadership” down.

    Garrick, in my experience, we need to bring more of this “heart” into leadership. Most leaders seem to have the “results” under control.

    Tanveer, I’m hoping to coerce Rick into another piece or two in the future. I love it when a guest author outshines my own work, and Rick is the best.

    Nick, I like the chill pill idea. We could all use a prescription.

  • You might expect, Mary Jo, that with my work on Otheresteem, I enjoyed this post very much. To me its about the leader being present and being available. It costs nothing in the material world, and to a leader that is at ease with self, it should cost nothing in the spiritual arena, either. In fact, these moments in which to make oneself available to others are treasured by great leaders. They are the little, everyday instances in which the light of leadership appears. Thanks for the post and for the gente reminder. It is a valuable one.

  • Mary Jo,

    This is a terrific guest post this week. With people spending to much time fascinated by their own lives it becomes hard for them to see the needs of others. I completely agree that is about time that we all take a step back and re-evaluate our priorities. Thanks for the reminder that leaders need to be human.

  • Mary Jo Asmus:

    Monica and Danielle, thanks for your comments. It is a good reminder when so many leaders think/claim they don’t have time.

  • I have the proud and humble honor to be the mother of this fine young man. As his mother I am always blown away by the way he lives out his faith. My daily prayer is that he will always stay on the right path and use the gifts he has been given.

  • Mary Jo Asmus:

    Norma,

    Thanks for bringing Rick up well and into the lives of so many people. He is a great example, and a wonderful leader for others to follow.

  • Rick Chambers:

    Dear friends, many thanks for your kind words about this post. I’m grateful you found it of value. I’m equally grateful for what your own insights on leadership teach me. In leadership, to borrow from Ernest Hemingway, we are all apprentices in a craft where no one becomes a master. Thank you for guiding this apprentice. (Note to Mom: Does this mean I can have my allowance now?)

  • A beautiful story with such an important message in a culture that all too often values action above connection.

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Mary Jo Asmus
Mary Jo
A former executive in a Fortune 100 company, I own and operate a leadership solutions firm called Aspire Collaborative Services. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. I am married, have two daughters, and a dog named Edgar the Leadership Pug who exemplifies the importance of relationships to great leadership.
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