I love working with young adults and teenagers. They are full of hope and optimism as they dream about, and plan, the kind of future they’d like to create for themselves. Yet with those dreams comes lots of questions and uncertainties. At the top of the list of those questions is almost always “what do I want to do when I finish school?” This is a question that has faced each of us. But the current generation is facing a much different landscape.
People no longer keep the same job for their entire career like our grandparents did—interests change, lay-offs happen, loyalty to employees is less common making it difficult to climb the ladder in the same company where you started. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average person has nearly 12 jobs in their working life. As a result, it is far more likely that “what” you do will change many times in your career.
A better question to ask is “who do I want to become?” Removing the “what” allows us to focus on deeper, more universal, statements such as: I want to become someone who does admirable work. I want to become someone who people can depend upon and look up to. I want to become a person who operates with honesty and integrity. I want to become a person who gives unselfishly and lives with gratitude.
Those that are aspiring to leadership roles also have to ask, “Why do I want to be a leader?” Do I like being in charge and bossing others? Do I need to be in control and have things done my way? Do I need to be recognized for what I have done? Or do I like to make other people feel good about what they’ve done, and help them grow and become successful? Do I enjoy mentoring others? Do I want to be someone who inspires others to become better and who elicits their best?
This is exactly what servant-leadership teaches. Other leadership approaches teach what to do in circumstances, but servant-leadership is about the kind of person you desire to be. It changes the question from “what will you do?” to “who will you become?” This is a fundamental difference of leadership approaches. Power-based approaches train you in leadership styles, but servant-leadership forms you into the kind of person who serves and leads others.
The focus of servant-leadership is on character formation and people growing. It is becoming a better listener and communicator so you can guide others to success. It is valuing honesty, integrity, and trust so that others want to be in your radius because they know it is good and safe to be there.
In the twenty-first century, young people will need to make themselves as adaptable as possible. By working on ‘WHO’ you want to become, you are set up to succeed in a life that might take some twists and turns. Better yet, you can create a life of meaning, purpose, and peace that extends beyond the particular work you do along the way. Isn’t that what we all want?
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