The Spirit of Service

Posted on August 3, 2011


Whether you are about to start your own business, already have one and need to raise performance or simply seek to live a satisfying life, there is a basic choice you need to make that will make a world of difference to the way you live: do you consider your work as something you ‘have to’ do, a mean for survival, self satisfaction and exploitation or do you consider your work to be something you ‘want’ or are happy to do: a way of expressing your talents, of sustaining and enriching relationships, of learning, contributing and giving.

For many people, the ‘take’ option is the most obvious and attractive one. It is the most publicized and appears to be the fast track to power, fame and financial success. But it does not necessarily lead to sustainable success or happiness. Why? Because if your aim is to exploit others, you will probably generate a fair amount of discontent or resentment around you. You will probably neglect to invest the energy required to build relationships and care for those who share your life; you will not be interested in maintaining resources, tools or caring for your environment; you will overlook some important aspects of your work, relationships and personal life which, later on, will cost you a heavy price. Relationships, health and even productivity will deteriorate just like a machine which is not well maintained wears out faster and looses efficiency. At times of need, people will be more likely to let you down because you will have failed to win their respect by doing something for them.

Now, if you go for the ‘contribute’ option, your journey to success may be slower but it will be surer and infinitely much more satisfying. You will enjoy what you do because you give some of your heart to it; you will build lasting relationships and a solid reputation; you will develop competencies rooted in your own experience of solving real problems and you will thrive. Because you will be perceived as someone who cares, you will win one of the most crucial ingredients for any successful enterprise: trust. At a personal level, you will have the satisfaction of making others happy and they will repay it to you by being inclined to support your ideas or co-operate to your projects. Your life will have meaning and direction and you will be … ‘happy’. Sorry, did you say … ‘happy’??? But since when has the purpose of business been to make people ‘happy’? Managers obsessed with profits will argue it has never been. Yet, one of the most blatant conclusions emerging from our analysis of the current global crisis is that our technology, our science, our capability to solve any imaginable problem and produce every desirable comfort has not made us more happy. Why? Precisely because the purpose of business has been defined as the pursuit of profit and wealth rather than of well being and happiness. Subtle nuance but enough to make a world of difference.

There is a short story told by Peter Drucker which captures the essence of this issue. It is the story of a man visiting a building site where stonecutters are doing their work. The man comes across the first one and asks him what he is doing. The stonecutter replies, “I am making a living because I have a family to feed.” When asked the same question, the second stonecutter replies without stopping hammering, “I am doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire county” and the third looks up with a gleam in his eye and smiles, answering, “I am building a cathedral sir!”

This story is quite self explanatory and it is obvious that both in terms of productivity, quality, engagement, personal responsibility, team work, career path as well as self satisfaction, the third stonecutter is the most likely to be ‘successful’. Why?