A Heart to Serve

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

I couldn’t believe my ears. Had I really heard her correctly?

The cold months had been rough on Bessie, our red Subaru, and piece by piece, with daily driving in the harsh winter weather, my little car seemed to be falling apart. We’d had her for about five years, after buying her already well-used. Day in and day out, she carried the kids and I to and fro on our daily errands, and many a road trip, but though she was still running, was showing a good deal of wear and tear. The sunroof was splintered, the windshield was littered with cracks, and the engine was running a little rough. The brakes had started to squeak, and thanks to the lack of mature driving skills from one of my newly licensed children, she now had a nice big dent in her fender. Our family has always driven old cars, and we tended to drive them into the ground, so this was nothing new. But it was a few days after I posted on my social media page about how I was using duct tape to hold a section of her bumper together, trying to be funny,  when the phone call came.

“We want to buy you a new car.”

It was a dear old friend from college days, a kind, giving soul who always has something encouraging to say. She and her husband had decided they wanted to lay down a large portion of money to buy the kids and I a new vehicle. Being just a few weeks before Christmas, they were determined to share their blessings with our family during the holiday season. After much protesting, I humbly accepted their generous offer and went car shopping.

Who buys a friend a car?!

I’ve known some extremely giving people in my life.  My parents sacrificed much to make sure my brothers and I had a happy, loving home to grow up in. An aunt assisted me in procuring a scholarship to help with college expenses. A university professor paid my way for the college ski outing. A kind lady in our church offered to make our wedding cake. Friends and family babysat our children when we needed some time out, and once the kids were old enough, the acts of kindness they’d offer often brought tears to my eyes. I’d find a hard-earned $20 of allowance money tucked into a homemade Mother’s Day Card, enjoy occasional breakfasts in bed, and welcome their offers to help with chores around the house.

“No one has ever become poor by giving.”― Anne Frank

Having a heart to serve others is a competency of emotional intelligence called service orientation. I like the use of the word, “orientation”. Miriam-Webster defines orientation as “a usually general or lasting direction of thought, inclination, or interest.” [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/orientation] Note the words “usually general” and “lasting direction”. We’re not talking about a one-time do-a-good-deed for someone. Rather than a one-time service project, think of service orientation as a way of life. It’s having a mindset of anticipating, recognizing, and meeting others’ needs.

People who have a service orientation spend time getting to know others so they understand what their needs are. They are on the lookout to find new ways to increase satisfaction levels of those around them, and gladly make themselves available to offer assistance. They enjoy helping others and especially like providing assistance to the underdog. They have a knack for seeing things through the eyes of others and are quick to grasp perspectives different from their own.  People who are behave this way usually have a good deal of empathy.

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know; the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”— Albert Schweitzer

Those who struggle with service orientation tend to think of themselves first and focus on their own needs before others. They’re not always the best team players and when asked for help, may do what’s required of them, but don’t often go above and beyond. They don’t stand up on the behalf of those around them and often speak poorly of others behind their back. These folks will often ‘pass the buck’ and even go so far as being discourteous and disrespectful.

Robert Greenleaf, author of the book Servant Leadership, observed that there are leaders who are in it for themselves and leaders who are in it for others. He concluded that those who put their focus on others were the most effective. According to Greenleaf, a servant leader must exhibit good listening skills, empathy, a desire to help heal those who are hurting, other-awareness, persuasion, conceptualization (the ability to dream), foresight, stewardship, commitment to helping others grow, and a heart for building community.

As with competencies of emotional intelligence, our ability to be of service to others can be developed and enhanced, no matter how far from having a service orientation we may be. From the ISEI Coaching Toolkit developed by Dr. Laura Belsten, here are some developmental tips to increase your service orientation:

  • Look for opportunities to be helpful, to be of service, to others
  • Anticipate and be aware of the needs of others; plan ahead to meet people’s needs if possible
  • Create a culture of service by modeling the behavior
  • Ask questions to understand another’s needs; act on or agree to a course of action
  • Under-promise and over-deliver; do more than expected
  • Follow through; check to ensure satisfaction

You may not ever have the opportunity to give someone a car, but there are many practical ways you can serve those around you, especially in the workplace. Here are some ideas: Offer a kind word of encouragement to your project manager, pick up a specialty coffee for a colleague, invite a coworker to lunch, thank your boss for her leadership, offer to help a team member on a project, ask your cubicle-mate about their weekend (and really listen). What else? Jot down a few ideas of your own then pick one to start with today. Taking an action to hep another is a great first step toward developing a service orientation.

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
― Charles Dickens

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