Honor and Service

“To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.” – Douglas Adams, author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

After listening to this week’s podcast conversation with Amy McGrath, one of the first women fighter pilots who then ran for both Congress and the Senate, in which she and Jerry talk about leading with honor and what it means to serve something bigger than you, I began wondering into the question: What does it mean to lead in service to something bigger than you? And, what are our models and frameworks for doing so?

The first thing that came to me was the pledge I used to take in my local 4-H club. 4-H is the youth development program of America’s Cooperative Extension System and the USDA. It manifests locally in communities, typically county by county, with groups of ‘clubs’ kids under 18 years of age get to join to learn about all things agricultural, STEM, and other skills. I wasn’t aware of that history back then. I had a single-minded obsession with horses which I followed directly into the Trailblazers 4-H Club which met once a month in the evenings at an elementary school about three minutes from my quiet suburban neighborhood. At the start of every 4-H club meeting, which often had a more well-formed agenda than some executive team meetings I encounter these days, we stood up and put our little hands our hearts to pledge the following: 

I pledge:
My Head to clearer thinking,
My Heart to greater loyalty,
My Hands to larger service, and
My Health to better living,
For my club, my community, my country, and my world.

Meeting after meeting, somehow those words etched themselves into me such that I could remember them some 30 years later after hearing Amy McGrath talk about leadership. The 4-H pledge was simple. In essence, the commitment was to take care of myself, so that I can be a good citizen and be of service to something larger than myself. Looking back, I can see how deliberately leadership was woven into the fabric of what 4-H was all about. Learning to lead was part of the 4-H container, which made those skills available even for the quiet, shy kids like me. I didn’t have to run for president of my 4-H club to be a leader: every one of us was called to be one by showing up and working towards what it was our hearts, hands, and minds called us to. 

What’s to stop leadership these days from having a similar pledge? Jerry talks often about the ethical obligation that leaders have, and how with great power comes great responsibility. Can you imagine board rooms, executives, and even employees throughout an organization making similar commitments? Perhaps we do it in an assumed way when we sign our employment agreements. Yet, what are the commitments we might say (or sing like songlines) that bring us consciously back to our work in the world and this work that we are doing together?

Tending the garden of (lowercase ‘d’) democracy has more to do with the day-to-day ways in which we are inherently democratic in our partnerships, relationships, work environments, and leadership roles. It recognizes that we are all connected, and in being so, we have a commitment to each other in our families, communities, and world. 

“In times like this there is a need for leaders, in particular, to move us all from a transactional world into a relational world,” Jerry said recently while we were discussing this episode. “Where what we elevate is the relationship between each of us and our mutual interdependence. This is about the Interdependence day, not the Independence day. This is about us needing each other and demonstrating that need for each other. Whether that’s combating a pandemic, or social and economic injustice, or threats to democracy–we need to be relational. Ancient wisdom has taught us the efficacy of the relational over the transactional. Now more than ever we need to resurrect the spiritual basis behind honor and duty, and take it out of the realm of mere sacrifice and into the realm of the relational.”

What does that look like in practice? And, where does that begin?

According to therapist Terrence Real, being relational means being connected in a living way. “Being relational means that you’re attentive to what’s in front of you, and you move with the feedback,” he says. Persisting in your own agenda and ignoring the human experience in front of you would be non-relational, for example. How we handle ourselves relationally is something he has begun to refer to as the personal practice of democracy. 

However, we have internalized oppression in our own ways of being with ourselves reflects on how we are in the world with others. These ways of oppression Real refers to as the psychological patriarchy. How we manage our own psychology makes all the difference. “Sustaining relationships with others requires a good relationship to ourselves,” he writes in his book, How Can I Get Through to You? “Healthy self-esteem is an internal sense of worth that pulls one neither into ‘better than’ grandiosity nor ‘less than’ shame. But the essence of psychological patriarchy is the nonexistence of such middle ground.” 

Having a healthy relationship to ourselves allows us to begin to see how we are part of the whole that’s bigger than just our individual self. We can find a sense of belonging in fabric of our community, our world, in a way that reflects the place of safety and love we’ve found within ourselves. It’s a way of being that doesn’t wage power over and instead is a stance that offers being in power with. With that awareness, we can move from a “me” consciousness to a “we” consciousness. Leading from that place honors a sense of ‘us’, that we’re all in this together. It’s a small shift that makes all the difference. It allows us to show up in integrity and sincerity.