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The Fight for Servant Leadership

Written by Carrie Beth Wallace

Many years ago, a mentor of mine taught me one of the greatest lessons I've ever been fortunate enough to receive: "Success occurs when preparation meets opportunity."

In other words, put in the work every day and trust that things will happen in their appointed time. This philosophy goes for anything in life - professional development, perfecting a favorite recipe, learning an instrument, writing a novel. Opportunities can only be seized if the work is already in motion. Right?

Well, at least that's what I understood this lesson to mean all of those years ago. Work hard. Prepare. Wait for success. Check, check... check?


Thankfully, as with many things in life, lessons grow to mean more to us over the years than the way they originally land in our heart. My youthful understanding of what my mentor meant has evolved over the past decade and a half. Not perfectly, I assure you, but the underlying message has been refined for the better.

While my mentor was trying to verbally impart a lesson to me about hard work, his life showed me that our work is only truly impactful when matched with the willingness to grow our hearts even more than our abilities.

This happened because my mentor is a servant leader, and his impact on me went far beyond the literal work he was teaching me. Why? Because while I watched him work harder than anyone else I knew, I was fortunate enough to witness his motivation to work came from his desire to benefit others.

Sure, he taught me how to perform, the importance of professionalism, and the way hard work can pay off. But most importantly, he taught me that no amount of hard work can match a servant leader's heartfelt impact on the life of another human being.

I am fortunate to have encountered many people in my life who live this way. The greatest impactors I've witnessed have always been the ones who work for something beyond themselves. Success - true success - is marked by a willingness to serve.

It is only when we have done the work to be in a position to serve, we can truly make a successful impact for the good of others.


But what happens when the world falls apart? When everything we knew to be "normal" is suddenly turned upside down? What do we do when the work we once did freely and without restriction becomes seemingly obsolete or more complicated than we ever imagined?

The global pandemic has brought discouragement to us all. There is nothing easy about working right now. No matter your field, work is harder and more complicated than ever before in life. And whether you're working in the office or working from home, the "work day" turning virtual has created a nightmare for maintaining a healthy work/life balance. The option is to either turn off completely, or be "on" seven days a week around the clock.

Discouragement is rampant. Morale is down. The internet is a variable battle ground and its landscape changes by the hour. Viciousness gets attention, conflict is celebrated, divisiveness is seen as a necessary skill to "make a point." There are too many ready and waiting behind their screens to burn it all down. There are too many doing everything they can to make others look bad for their own gain.

But, why?

What do we achieve with accusatory comments? With threatening messages? With wrongful assumptions about our "competition" or those we wrongly make assumptions about online? What is gained by "calling people out" or working to ensure the world sees our achievements on display? What good does any of this bring to a community hurting and dealing with things none of us have ever navigated before?

The answer to these rhetorical questions does not need to be said.

I've been thinking all summer about the aftermath of September 11th. Do you remember what happened? Our nation suffered together. We leaned in. We held one another up. We encouraged one another through servant leadership - we focused on others before focusing on ourselves. A common, shared enemy was the target of our collective anger. And, when the towers fell and the servant leaders went running toward the crisis, the world witnessed a powerful phrase woven through headlines that shaped that time in our nations' history.

"Look for the helpers."

Why haven't we seen this headline this year? Why isn't servant leadership being encouraged in the media? Sure, there are occasional positive stories that find their way to us, but they are fewer and farther between than ever before - and we need them. We need them now.

Over the past six months, I've been mesmerized as our staff at The Columbusite has shown me what they're made of. This group of incredible women I'm fortunate enough to work with every day has taught me about the true power of encouragement, and servant leadership's ability to impact a community.

Not a week goes by when at least one of us reaches out to encourage another, or someone is offering a story highlighting good in our community amidst all of the strife. It has shaped the way we've all coped with this time. Serving and supporting one another have informed the way we have been able to lean in.

When we work hard for the ability to serve, we prepare ourselves and our hearts for the opportunity to make an impact. The best part? The work is never, ever done. Whether we're 29 or 92, there is always someone else to serve. It fuels our team members as people, and I'm thankful to say, it fuels our work.

Success is when preparation meets opportunity.

The world is hurting. Discouragement is rampant. People are tearing each other apart as the world sits paralyzed in crisis.

The choice for each of us is whether we're going to pursue servant leadership, or what the world is telling us we have to do to make an impact?

Our choice matters. The way we use our voices counts. Encouragement in a time of discouragement can make a difference. Efforts for the benefit of others can shape our community and our world. It's happening every day in our city. Countless individuals are working behind-the-scenes to make things happen for the greater good.

Servant leadership needs a revival. Advocacy needs a turn. Encouragement and positivity need a revolution. Let's work for others before we advance ourselves.

Servant leadership is worth the fight.

Which choice will you make? How will you use your voice? For destruction, or building a better way?◼︎


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