H. Lynn Gardner
Famed basketball coach John Wooden defined success as “knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.” We succeed when we help others succeed.
Success can mean personal development and growth into maturity or it can relate to the development of skills leading to productivity in one’s work. God calls Christians to serve others and help them develop personally and spiritually. We also can help others be productive in their life’s calling.
Personal accomplishments and acclaim pale in significance compared to the privileged ministry of helping others mature and succeed. Success in life is not about making a name for yourself but in helping others find fulfillment.
Christ challenges us to love others and minister to their needs. We succeed when we enable others to achieve the best of which they are capable.
Caring About Others
Paul says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3, 4). Helping is not natural. We learn to love others when the Holy Spirit transforms our hearts. Love is the greatest motivator and most powerful influence in helping others succeed.
Caring for people is essential for effectively helping them—consider the roles of parents, teachers, ministers, administrators, supervisors, counselors, coaches, medical personnel, leaders, neighbors, and friends. Each person is made in the image of God and is one for whom Christ died. Effective leaders treat everyone with dignity and have a personal interest and empathy with those they influence.
Our world can shrink to “me and my problems.” John the Baptist was not me-centered. He deferred to our Lord, “He must increase, I must decrease.” And Jesus taught:
• “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
• “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (7:12).
• “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”(John 13:34).
Management specialist Peter Drucker stated:
The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I.’ And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say ‘I.’ They don’t think ‘I.’ They think ‘we’; they think ‘team.’ They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept the responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but ‘we’ gets the credit. There is an identification (very often, quite unconscious) with the task and with the group. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.
Many Christ-followers work in secondary roles, but no one is insignificant. The church is a body with all members working together and helping one another. We wouldn’t want to do without our elbows. A person can function as an elbow helping someone else develop skillful hands.
Jesus taught, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45).
Ministry is serving others, meeting their needs, and helping them succeed. Servant leaders recognize potential in those they seek to help. People follow persons they trust and effective leaders trust those they lead. We best help others when we are honest with them and are open to their input.
People become leaders because others follow them. Robert Greenleaf in Servant Leadership said people “will freely respond only to individuals who are chosen as leaders because they are proven and trusted as servants.” They are servants first, leaders second.
We can help others realize their contributions make a difference. Listening and face-to-face communication are essential in any kind of collaborative teamwork. A team becomes productive when each person seeks the good of the whole by strengthening each other. We foster self-confidence when we encourage people to believe they are capable of accomplishing their goals. We can inspire and motivate people by helping them have a focused vision of what they can become.
The manager of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team practices this servant spirit. Mike Matheny “is a professed student of the ‘servant leadership’ theory, the idea that a leader’s job is to help others rather than command and control them,” reported Washington Post’s Jena McGregor. She said Matheny’s goal is “staying accessible to his players, keeping in touch with their personal lives, and trying to inspire and encourage rather than scold and browbeat.” She concluded, “For the best leaders, many of their most valuable skills are hard to fit on a resume.”
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).
Administrator, in its roots, means “minister” or “serve to or toward.” Leaders help those they supervise to improve and be successful in what they do. I loved college teaching, but as academic dean my job was to contribute to the college’s purpose by helping each faculty member improve and be successful as a teacher and provide an effective educational experience for students.
Heavy-handed autocratic control stifles initiative and creativity and demotivates striving for excellence. People will not improve if they are not allowed to use their minds. People will not successfully develop unless their leaders respect and give them the power to make a difference. We feel powerless when no one asks or listens to our input or gives answers to our questions.
Involve people in decision making. We are more productive when affirmed and trusted and given both the responsibility and authority to do a job. Suggesting ways to improve without criticism creates confidence.
When we influence others we can use our power selfishly or unselfishly. James Kouzes and Barry Posner in The Leadership Challenge said,
You become more powerful when you give your own power away. . . . Credible leaders choose to give it away in service of others and for a purpose larger than themselves. They take the power that flows to them and connect it to others, becoming power generators from which their constituents draw energy.
Increasing self-confidence, a sense of ownership, and control of one’s life contributes to becoming successful.
Rejoicing with Others
Paul instructs us to “rejoice with those who rejoice. . . . I rejoice because of you” (Romans 12:15; 16:19).
An engineering consultant said, “People value being appreciated for their contributions. Recognition does not have to be elaborate, just genuine.” Many rewards can encourage accomplishment, none more important than a heartfelt word of appreciation and encouragement.
Regular sincere expressions of thanks make people feel significant. Criticism, especially in front of peers and when unfair, destroys self-confidence. Words of thanks, appreciation, commendation, and joy over progress motivate people to continual improvement.
On the elevation of a friend to top leadership, his or her closest peers may have feelings of disappointment. Not wanting to be jealous, still the nagging thought intrudes, “Why not me?” It takes a genuinely humble and loving person to rejoice sincerely with a friend’s success. “If one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26, English Standard Version).
A servant leader chooses coworkers whose abilities and skills surpass his or her own. Whether in a team or the human body, the well-being of the whole surpasses the importance of an individual part. We find joy as servant leaders and helpers as we see others develop and serve others.
When we care about others, serving and helping them be the best they can be, we will rejoice and be thankful that they do well. We will express our gratitude to them and encourage them. Unwillingness to rejoice with the success of others indicates a failure of love.
Success is achieved when those we encourage, develop, and equip continue successfully into the next generation. True success depends on productive succession. We in today’s church need to be intentional in challenging our young people to be servant spiritual leaders who will help the next generation succeed.
H. Lynn Gardner is a freelance writer in Carl Junction, Missouri.
Thanking Those Behind the Scenes
If the first name that comes to mind when you think of humble leaders or behind-the-scenes servants is Mother Teresa, you’re missing out on the people God’s placed right near you.
Look around your neighborhood and your church. Who is going out of their way to ensure the success of others? Who is working hard, day after day, in a thankless job? Who is foregoing their chance in the spotlight to let others shine?
Make a list of a few people you know who exhibit humility, and think of a meaningful way to show them you see what they do and are thankful for them.