Make a servant heart your influence for business and career choices

October 25, 2019

In business, there's a constant tension between making money and caring for the needs of others. This relates to not only revenue, but agreements, services and operations.

In one's career, you sometimes have to choose between climbing the ladder or remaining in place. Others, perhaps less deservingly will rise above.

Over the course of my life I've realized that in both circumstances, having a servant heart will help guide you to the right decisions and attitude.

What's a servant heart?

I learned about the term a servant heart at church, but the values can be part of your life no matter what your beliefs.

A servant is a person who meets the needs of others. Someone who puts others first. You shouldn't confuse the term servant with slave. A servant's role is voluntary whereas a slave's is not.

To be a servant, is to serve in a humble way. To give of yourself without expecting anything in return.

This is in direct opposition of how the world works. It means you do not seek to occupy positions of power or look for praise from others. You don't look for recognition.

Instead of serving ourselves, we choose to serve others. We show people love through our choices and actions.

What does it mean to have a servant heart?

Having a servant heart is hard and does not come naturally. It's something we have to develop and continually practice. I'm not very good at it, but lately I've been trying to be more mindful of how I can serve others.

For example, if someone asks me a question, I should really listen and show understanding.

I should also use my gifts and talents in order to serve. The experience I gain should be used to better identify how I can do so.

Having a servant heart doesn't mean you don't care of yourself. Do this, so you have something to offer to others. A worn-out mind and body don't have much utility.

What I'm doing

I joined government because I wanted to serve others. I desired to use my skills and experience to make services better for citizens.

Working with a great group of people, we put in place some of the tools and processes to support this goal. We were able to create a first wave of new digital services that were more accessible and easier to use. There're still many years of work to enable the rest.

Through feedback forms and in-person user research, I was able to learn. I heard peoples' challenges and their hopes for good government services. I was able to see how what we were building had made or will make their lives better, but sometimes worse. In those cases, it was a gift to understand the impact and make what we had, better.

As Zach Leatherman wrote, "Issues are a gift":

I do want to say thank you to everyone that opened an issue with a question or a bug or a feature request. I know many open source maintainers will complain that issues are a distraction but they are truly the most valuable signal of how a project is doing. Every question is an opportunity to find the confusing parts of the software. Every bug report can expose a test that is missing from your test suite. Every feature request is a tiny sliver of hope for what the project could be!

These peoples' personal stories and experiences hit me, hard. Each changed my approach to design. How I and others operate a business.

Now that I'm back in the private sector and part of two ventures - and Five Ravens - I still struggle with the tension. I don't always know how to make the connection between the goals of a commercial enterprise and of someone who wants to serve others. It's frustrating.

Inspiration to serve

I listened to a podcast interview with Tom Chappell from Tom's of Maine. One of his statements struck a chord:

Business in itself isn't harmful. It's the agents that run the business who can be sinister. You can use the tools of free enterprise in a way that is more ethically constructive to society as well as to those who are taking the risk.

In business, you can still give back and contribute – with a servant heart – to others. In fact, you may even have an advantage over those in the public service. There are situations in business where you can act more freely and openly than in government.

You can:

  • Volunteer your time.
  • Regularly donate some of your earnings to a charity.
  • Help out and contribute to community events.
  • Make choices that will result in good things happening for more people.
  • Seek out opportunities to give of yourself and of the business without expecting anything in return.

Even though the line isn't as direct as it used to be, I can still focus on the guiding principle of a servant heart.

When I do, I can trust decisions I make will have the impact I'll want to live with.