Saturday, March 29, 2008

Being Observant and Sympathetic: Darwin's Keys to Service

Reading The Autobiography of Charles Darwin recently got me to thinking about a lot of different things and its amazing how all things converge. It is also amazing how our understanding of a person or thing is often colored by our sense of self and not necessarily the other. In order to be observant and sympathetic we have to step outside of ourselves.

I was wonderfully surprised to read, though I should not have been, that Darwin was not dogmatic in his principles at all, though many of his followers are. Great scientists, thinkers, inventors and entrepreneurs rarely are. (I really like the idea of talent essentially becoming entrepreneurs, given the freedom of thought and action within the goals and objectives of the company. This releases negative control and yields greater results.) Consider this quote from the introduction of Darwin's Autobiography:

"Darwin's whole trend of thought was against facile speculation, yet theories flowed freely through his mind ready for the essential tests of observation and experiment. (Since a child Charles Darwin was ruminating on various things and picking them apart i.e., bugs and flowers. This is both random thought and action in motion, the kind of prototyping encouraged by Tom Peters.) He took twenty years of combined theorising and fact-finding to prepare his case for evolution in the face of a predominately antagonistic world." (Where others have left off, others begin. Technology did not begin in the 21st Century. Process is cumulative.)

"He had to convince others, and his doubts are as freely expressed as his convictions. (Be honest in prototyping.) His books lie like stepping stones to future knowledge. Dogmatic fixity was wholly alien to his central idea...Darwin's faith in Natural Selection as a (not the) main agent never wavered, but this admission of other causes showed his awareness of difficulties still unsolved." Without dogma, we communicate more effectively, hearing each other honestly and producing innovatively. We also discover truths that would otherwise be lost. Our customers and clients, those who hire us, want to heard. Listen.

"Darwin shares some interesting characteristics of his father that aligns beautifully with our relationship with customers and clients, those who hire us. He writes, "His chief mental characteristics were his power of observation and his sympathy, neither of which have I ever seen exceeded or even equalled. His sympathy was not only with the distresses of others, but in a greater degree with the pleasure of all around. This led him to be always scheming to give pleasure to others, and though hating extravagance, to perform many generous actions...I suppose that it was his sympathy which gave him unbounded power of winning confidence, as a consequence made him highly successful as a physician."

Are you observant to the needs of your customers and clients? Are you sympathetic not only to their needs, but to a greater degree with their pleasures all around, including those of others on the job? What makes customers and clients happy? What pleases them? Discovering the pleasures of our customers and clients may be the best way to discover their needs. This will lead to how to best serve them. Are you highly observant and sympathetic? Being indifferent will never do. Let's be passionate about service. Stepping outside of ourselves is the only way to serve. This is the distinguishing factor that brings great success.

Another relevant question: on the curiosity scale of one to ten, where are you?


dave wheeler said...

Interesting topic. As one in a leadership position I have always looked at those I lead as my most important customer. You use of the word serve captures in large part the essense of what I try to do. There are elements of the Servant-Leader model pioneered by Robert K. Greenleaf in a series of essays in the early 70's that I have always found effective regardless of the size of the team or level of organization I have worked in. The most important being listening, sharing planning and decision making responsibility , and building a sense of "community" (team work) to list a few. These happen to be charecteristics of what we all tend to look for in our manager/leaders so Mr. Greenleaf's work served to validate my own experience. I have found that the "pleasures" of these customers is often as simple as being recognized by name, being treated with respect and as adults, being given an opportunity to use their knowledge and expertise in a meaningful way in the workplace so that they may progress and advance themselves. Discovering their pleasures and needs become a much simpler process as "we" eliminate fear from "our" community. What amazes me is that I am nothing more than the type of leader that would motivate me to excel and achieve. Why do so many managers miss this simple linkage. On the curiosity scale, the older I have become, the more that a 27 an option?

judith ellis said...

Dave - a 27 or a 277 are both great options! I love it that your curiosity has increased with age. Often times it takes a great nose dive in the opposite direction. Bravo!

While there is great meaning in understanding the core principles of leading, it is also very important to understand while the core principles may be present, the way in which we lead varies greatly as it should.

Great leaders lead a group but are very aware of the diversity of the group in thought, development, skill, and background. This being so, the leader is a sort of chameleon, whose core is to serve.

The notion of Servant-Leader is repetitive, as a leader is a servant. I guess the construct was developed to assert this notion. However, it would be great to eventually drop the leader bit in recongition of the truth. Leaders serve! Period!

It is He who proclaimed to be the Son of God, who exclaimed that we too are sons of God, that said it best, "I am among you as One who serves." This is my desire across the board, in life and business.

judith ellis said...

Just came across this beautiful quote. It is quite apropos to our discussion here. I, for one, will take it to heart as I serve others in life and business. Leaders inpsire other leaders to serve. We should all be servants. The key is in being.

"Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."

dave wheeler said...

Judith, what a remarkable quote! Simple in it's words, powerful in it's message, and unlimited in it's capacity for positive change in our lives, personal or professional. Thank you for sharing...

judith ellis said...

Dave...I'm glad you liked the quote. I found it incredibly beautiful. They are the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.