This is a question that I have been pondering in my own life. As many of you know, I set the ambitious goal of interviewing 50 leaders in a one year period. Today marks the ending of a one year journey.
Throughout my journey, I have seen many excellent and poor examples of leaders. I have sat across from leaders who kindly gave up hours of their time to share their experiences with a stranger. Many graciously bestowed their prized life stories, lessons, and resources without any expectation of repayment. Many were kind. Some were egotistical. Most were extremely helpful. Some were surly and curt.
After interviewing 54 different people, I learned that all leaders have a compass for service. The arrow points in one of two directions, towards the leader or others.
The Arrow Towards Me
When the arrow points towards us, we expect others to serve our needs, expectations, and desires. I found this to be true in one leader, who told me in no uncertain terms that he expects his employees to make his preferences their top priority. Although this has helped him "get to the top," has it really?
We have to be careful, because there are other times when we "cloak" the arrow to appear one way, but it is just a disguise for personal gain. Unfortunately, this type of style creates an organization filled with confused and fearful subordinates, who are inefficient and unsure of expectations. This mentality creates fear that produces a cut-throat and power-hungry environment, where it is difficult to trust the actions of leaders within the organization. It is disappointing that leadership becomes a game to get ahead in this type of environment.
The Arrow Towards Others
When the arrow points away from us, we shift the focus from ourselves to others. I know this sounds a little cliche, but the most effective leaders find serving others. One leader that I spoke with talked about how she would visit every single employee every morning. She learned more about his employees' lives, motivations, interests, and abilities.
One of the best examples of the arrow pointing towards others is in the life of Travis Roy. For the first 20 years of his life, Travis was an accomplished hockey player. All he wanted to be was a hockey player. Everything else fell secondary.
Travis received a scholarship to Division I hockey-powerhouse Boston University. In the first game of his freshman season, he received an opportunity to play. Within 11 seconds, his career and hockey career was over. Travis was the victim of a freak accident, leaving him paralyzed for the rest of his life.
It's hard to have your arrow point towards others, especially when you have such a life-changing injury. It's hard to not succumb to bitterness in the midst of such difficulties, but Travis had a desire to make more of an impact. He desired to be more than "just a hockey player." He wanted to make a difference in the lives of others.
With this passion in mind, he created the Travis Roy Foundation. The foundation is designed to change the lives of spinal-injury victims, through raising money for research and grants. The organization inspires, raises awareness, and gives hope to thousands of spinal-injury victims and their families.
Travis Roy is an example of the benefit of turning your arrow towards others. Each time we turn the arrow to serve others, we serve ourselves. We give ourselves life, hope, and meaning to live. Turning the arrow towards others is one of the most life-changing things that any person or leader can do.
See more about Travis' story below: