From the Top

  • Published
  • By Lt. Gen. Maryanne Miller
  • Air Force Reserve Command commander
“If serving is beneath you, then leadership is beyond you.” — Anonymous

Q: What does leadership mean to you?
A: As we begin 2017, I would like to share a few thoughts about leading people. The bottom line: Leadership is about influence. You influence by serving others.

Leo Tolstoy, a Russian novelist known for “War and Peace,” wrote a story called, “What Men Live By.” In this story, a poor shoemaker came upon a naked man freezing to death on a winter night. The shoemaker gave the man his coat and boots and took him home. His wife pitied the stranger, accepted him into their home, clothed, fed and housed him, and gave him a job. The stranger was an angel who had disobeyed God. The angel was ordered to take the soul of a woman who lost her husband and just had twins. The angel could not carry out God’s will, but God sent him back to take her soul anyway. His disobedience banished him from heaven until he could find answers to three questions: What dwells in a man? What is not given to men? What do men live by?

Through the empathy of the shoemaker’s wife, the angel learned that love is given to all people and dwells in their hearts. While working, he learned that it is not given to man to know his own needs. The last question is the most intriguing because it is at the heart of everything we do. It is central to every human being: What do people live by? What brings us meaning? What makes us live a life that matters? The angel realized all men live not by care for themselves but by love. In this story, love for others is shown by serving others.

Think about this story and how it relates to leading people. Most leaders are called to their positions of power and have automatic authority by that position. Given this POWER and AUTHORITY, what does it mean to lead and serve?

Reflect on the following questions and see how you respond. As a leader:

* Are you going to break down walls and invite others in, or are you going to put up a wall and enforce boundaries to keep others out?

* Are you going to have empathy for the feelings of others, or are you going to point fingers to preserve your own feelings?

* Are you going to allow others to dream freely, or are you going to wake them up to “how things really work around here?”

* Are you going to let others set the course and share the wheel, or are you going to jealously guard the compass and helm?

* Are you going to allow individual greatness to emerge and benefit all, or are you going to shout the voice of authority?

* Are you going to attach everyone to a larger purpose and acknowledge group achievement, or are you going to pursue self-glorification?

Stay tuned for the next article on what leadership means to me.