Seneca, the Roman philosopher once said, “Be silent as to services you have rendered, but speak of favours you have received”
It makes me think about what a fine distinction there is between being of service and doing a favour and how easy it is to confuse the two.
My husband is required to take blood thinners, nasty little toxic pills that must be constantly monitored to make sure they are doing their job…but without killing him in the process. This means making frequent trips to the hospital for blood work. On the face of it, it doesn’t sound like a big deal but because his stroke has made it difficult for him to get around, even the simplest things have become more onerous to accomplish than before.
On our last visit to the doctor, she made us aware of a service that would allow him to have his blood taken at home and asked if we would like her to arrange it.
“Yes, please!” we said.
A few weeks later, we received a telephone call from the Lab. The conversation went something like this:
Lab Lady; “Hello, this the Lab calling to come and do your husband’s blood work. We’ll be there tomorrow between 9:00 and 11:00.”
Me; “ Thank you. I’m checking my calendar now and, as it happens, we will be at home then.
Lab Lady; “Good. I’ll see you tomorrow. Bye”
The Lab technician was a perfectly pleasant woman (and probably a busy one as well) but I couldn’t help feeling annoyed somehow because she didn’t ask me if that particular ‘tomorrow’ or the time of the visit was in any way convenient for us. And the tone of her voice was full of something that felt an awful lot like it might be coming from Lady Bountiful, like she was doing us a favour.
It could, of course, be that I was simply being over-sensitive but the experience left me wondering how many other organizations unwittingly dress their favours in the cloak of service.
To me, being of service is about others. Doing a favour is about me.
As a leader I need to be clear about the difference in perspective each offers. This kind of clarity is important because it affects how our employees, our customers, our colleagues and our communities respond to us.
If we are more inclined to doing favours (even if we call it service);
- We will tend to view them as bankable transactions, keeping a mental record of how many and to whom;
- We will have fairly specific expectations about the return for favours granted;
- We will expect gratitude or even obligation. And, in so doing;
- We will build on our personal sense of power.
If, on the other hand, we are truly service oriented we will use our organizational purpose as our guide. In this way, we are better able;
- To resist the temptation to make our acts of service feel like a burden to their recipients;
- To give without considering the size or shape of the return;
- To freely share our resources, our talents and our skills with each other and;
- To count each act of service as a step closer to accomplishing our purpose, whatever it may be.
That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?