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A question in service to others

May 12, 2023

Was there a subject that seemed irrelevant at school but fascinates you now? For me, it’s history: the place to look for reasons behind many of today’s events. So I enjoyed watching the King’s Coronation last weekend and learning which parts of the service would have been recognisable to earlier monarchs of these lands.

One thing they wouldn’t have recognised is the King’s first words “I come not to be served but to serve.”

Thanks to a shift that started in the Age of Enlightenment when philosophers questioned the divine right of rulers, it is now more widely considered that a leader’s role, be that monarch or manager, is one of serving others by creating an environment in which they can thrive and give of their best.

A question in service to others

Service was a strong theme in the Coronation, with The Big Help Out campaign encouraging us to serve our communities in a voluntary capacity, but service needn’t just mean volunteering or doing a service related job. You can embody service in all your interactions by borrowing a question a good coach asks themself at every stage of their work:

“How can I best serve this person?”

I learned heaps from my postgrad coach training back in 2012, but this question stands out as the single most powerful concept and it’s still in my mind every conversation I have.

What ‘best serving someone’ looks like

From a coaching perspective, that might mean deciding to repeat back the client’s exact words so they can hear them. It helps them consider whether that’s an accurate interpretation of what’s happening or whether there’s another perspective they might look for. Alternatively, I might decide to say nothing: stay quiet and allow them to continue with their train of thought to get to a deeper level of reflection and understanding.

In everyday life, the following examples inspired by some past clients’ experiences show how asking yourself how you can best serve a person (or team or organisation – it works just the same) can generate a different response that helps all involved:

Example 1

You’re a natural problem solver; people bring you problems and it’s satisfying, and saves time, to provide the answers. However, in wondering how you can best serve your team, you realise they’re losing confidence in their own ideas and if everyone’s reliant on you to do the thinking, it creates a bottleneck. You decide to stop providing ready answers and instead ask questions to help people find and implement their own ideas.

Example 2

An employee repeatedly forgets to do things that are their job. They’re not business critical tasks but it irritates others around them. You’re considering giving the work to a more reliable employee to avoid an awkward scene but on reflection, realise that it will serve the person and team morale better to talk to them and set clear expectations for improvement.

Example 3

A friend is beating themselves up for what they see as a bad decision they made on a project. Your normal response is to try to reassure them that all will be well but asking yourself how you can best serve them in this moment, you choose instead to let them offload their panic and offer no more than compassionate understanding.

What gets in the way

Nice examples, I hear you say, but it’s not so easy to do in real life.

True. What can stop us seeing and serving the needs of others are the negative voices in our heads called saboteurs saying things like “If I’m not in control, nothing gets done” or “That conversation is going to be too awkward.”

In the examples above, you can see saboteurs at play like the controller, the avoider and the pleaser. Understanding and naming these saboteurs is a useful step towards minimising them so you’re better able to meet the needs of others and feel mentally fitter to deal with the ups and downs of work and home.

Discover and defeat your saboteurs

If you’d like to discover and understand more about your own saboteurs, come and join my next online mental fitness workshop. It’s a free introduction to all 10 of the saboteurs and you’ll learn some exercises you can do to combat them.

In the meantime, if you think coaching might serve you as a way to explore how you can be happier and more successful in your work, please email me or book a free 30 minute discovery call.

About me

I’m Celia Clark. I’m a career development coach based in the dreaming spires of Oxford. I help you think clearly about your job, in all its ups and downs, so you can be happy and successful in your work.

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