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Remarks to the Leadership Highlands Class of 2009

Submitted by on June 17, 2009 – 9:33 pmNo Comment

Dr.-Norman-Stephens-wide

Congratulations! Thanks for inviting me to be a part of this 10th Anniversary Leadership Highlands Graduation—the Class of 2009. I’m delighted to share this moment with you. I hope you have found this year to have been both valuable and fulfilling. In my brief remarks, I’d like to focus on three ideas:

Leadership is service.

Empowerment nurtures both freedom and passion.

Life is a Journey.

Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle purportedly said this as he pointed to his pilots, just before they departed from the aircraft carrier to lead the raid over Tokyo during World War II.

We’re going to win this war! Do you know how I know . . . it’s because of them—it’s volunteers like them. There is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer.

As you know, these pilots were all volunteers. They knew their chances of surviving were not good, but they volunteered anyway, because they believed in their mission, and as Doolittle stated, they had “the heart of a volunteer.” They were willing to sacrifice even their lives for the greater good. Those who willingly serve, lead the way.

What was the source of their passion? It was their freedom. They were free to volunteer to serve a great cause and even to make the ultimate sacrifice if necessary.

According to Rick Warren author of The Purpose Driven Life, service starts in your mind. He suggests five attitudes of service we can recognize in those who are inspirational leaders.

  1. They think more about others than about themselves.
  2. They think like stewards, not owners.
  3. They think about their work, not about what others might be doing—they don’t compare, they don’t criticize, or compete—they are too busy doing their work.
  4. They don’t have to prove their worth—they accept responsibilities that others might think are beneath them.
  5. They think of their service as an opportunity to experience fulfillment, not as an obligation required to be met.

These attitudes also reflect the concept of Servant-Leadership as described by Robert K. Greenleaf. Service and leadership belong together. Servant-Leadership leads to deep personal happiness and fulfillment. A Servant-Leader is someone who has clarity of purpose and who genuinely enjoys serving. They willingly empower others and work to build stronger communities.

Why do such leaders succeed? Being empowered is highly motivating.

Those leaders who have the heart of a volunteer and the mind of a servant-leader share some of these attributes.

  1. A sincere willingness to listen and to learn
  2. Empathy for others – sensitivity to and understanding of their feelings
  3. A deep awareness of self and your place in the world
  4. An inclination to heal and to build stronger relationships
  5. Passion and persuasiveness
  6. An ability to comprehend complex ideas and circumstances
  7. The ability to articulate them clearly so others can easily understand
  8. Foresight—the ability to anticipate the future
  9. Stewardship—the desire to protect, nurture, and to conserve valuable resources.
  10. A commitment to the growth of self, others, and to the building of stronger communities.

Our Country, indeed our world, would be a much better place if we all, every one of us, strived to have the heart of a volunteer and the mind of a servant-leader.

I believe the founders of our country challenged us as citizens to become volunteers and servant-leaders. In The Declaration of Independence they stated this familiar and beautiful idea.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all . . . are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Albert Schweitzer said:

The only really happy people are those who have learned how to serve.

What is this notion we call “the pursuit of happiness” and what does it have to do with service to others … Well, everything! Being a volunteer and a servant-leader is building better lives, experiencing liberty, and achieving a most profound inner spirit and peace—and that is what happiness is all about.

According to The Gospel of Mark (10:43)

Whoever wants to become great must become a servant, a volunteer.

Through leadership and service we gain an enriching opportunity to pursue happiness. But it is the “pursuit” that is the true goal—it is the journey that brings us the enjoyment—knowing that we are serving our friends and our communities along the way.

Sometime ago, a friend said to me, Life is a journey. It was during a time when I was confronted with a difficult professional decision. I decided to expand on the metaphor and, in closing, I’d like to share these “rules for the road.”

  1. In life, there are no shortcuts. Work hard seeking knowledge, competence, and wisdom, and then take on the important challenges along the way.
  2. Sometimes we must endure a very difficult passage through a dark and treacherous valley. It is these experiences that help us better appreciate the breathtaking view upon reaching the summit of the mountain.
  3. When confronted by dangers, choose your battles carefully. Consider what is best for the long road ahead.
  4. When storm clouds appear along the way, as they certainly will, look for the silver-lining. There is always a silver-lining!
  5. Always take the high road. Do what is right for the right reasons.
  6. In life, you only experience one journey. Appreciate the path you choose, and learn from all of your experiences.
  7. A successful journey is judged by how you have traveled and by the road that lies further ahead.

Every journey is unique. Enjoy! Celebrate!

(Remarks delivered during a luncheon on June 18, 2009 at Chicanes, Inn on the Lakes, Sebring, Florida)

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