It’s not about you

Sometimes life whacks you upside the head.  In doing so, it reminds you of simple, yet meaningful lessons.  Lessons that, in turn, recall fundamental principles. 

It happened to me twice last week.  Once at a funeral.  The other time in working with a client.

The words rang in my ear and rekindled a memory: “It’s not about you”.

This was said to me by the Rev. Georjean Blanton, a Methodist minister now serving in Austin, TX.  I’ve known her as the wife of a friend and colleague for many years, particularly when they lived in Dallas.  But perhaps the best way I always remember her is from advice she gave me during lunch about 8 years ago.

During our discussion, the topics ranged from professional challenges to family to spiritual needs.  While discussing religion, I mentioned to her that I was having a difficult time ‘connecting’ with one of the men that I ministered to as a Eucharistic Minister from my church, St. Monica Catholic Church.

I went into detail about how it didn’t seem that I was making any difference with this man.  I talked about how I wanted to really experience something with him.  I wanted to know if my visits mattered.

Georjean looked me squarely in the eye and said “It’s not about you.”  She went on to say that as a minister you are there to “be” with the person.  Yet, you should not expect anything in return.  In fact, she said that as a minister (leader) it is normal not to get a personal reaction.  And she ended by saying, in a nice and professional way, that I should never have expected any reaction. 

As a leader, your goal is self-less.  You strive to help others.

Now, back to last week and what triggered this memory. 

I was working with a client regarding a promotion decision.  He had two equally qualified people.  Technically, both were superior and similar. 

During our conversation, I asked him which person he would want to work for if he was one of the engineers on the team.  Without hesitation, he gave me a name.  When asked why he so quickly chose this person, he said “because she is always trying to work for the betterment of the team, company, and each individual.  And she does it without self-promotion.  She is genuine.” 

I said “oh, she understands that as a leader you’ve got to have followers.  Followers choose leaders that they believe in and that display qualities they want to emulate.  Such leaders, then, understand that they have to put others first.”  And then, my mind clicked to Georjean.

He smiled broadly and nodded profusely.  He said that was exactly why he would follow her.  He needed a leader, not a manager.  Managers are great at administration–organizing, planning, controlling, directing.  But he was looking for someone who could inspire, coach, and elevate the collective productivity.

The second whack that reminded me was while attending the funeral for a friend on Saturday.  He was someone who I met and worked with while serving on a local nonprofit board. 

At the conclusion of the service, another friend approached and said that he was surprised to see me at the funeral as he didn’t know that I was particularly close to the deceased.  I told him that while it was true that I wasn’t particularly close to him that I came because of a very simple reason–the man who had died was perhaps the only one I worked with on the board who truly and consistently considered what was best for the overall organization.  Never did he focus attention on himself or what he was getting from the organization.  Rather, he served for others. 

As leaders, we are charged with leading in a way that does not intentionally focus on who we are.  Rather, our actions should call attention.  Much of this philosophy is similar to that in the popular Servant Leadership book. 

To help you remember “It’s not about you” keep in mind the following:

  • focus on the difference you are attempting to make in the organization or with individuals

  • expect nothing in return, other than the intrinsic rewards

  • people choose leaders because they want to learn from them

  • empathize with others–listen, provide insight, and work collaboratively


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