To lead is to serve

A couple weeks ago, I was elected president of my son’s Little League. Unfortunately, this was after our current president resigned during a difficult and divisive situation. I won’t go into the details, but assuming the presidency under these conditions wasn’t something I could find joy in. When someone asked me shortly after my election how I felt, I replied, “Like LBJ flying back from Dallas.”

I talked to my friends at Toastmasters about the situation, and they reminded me of all the things I learned as a club president and area governor. The most important lesson is something I always stressed in Toastmasters, but it is something we forgot in our Little League. The lesson is: To lead is to serve.

In Toastmasters, we look at our organization as an inverted pyramid, with the members at the top and the officers below it. This reminds us that our purpose is to serve our members. Without members, our organization has no reason to exist.

Such a viewpoint can also apply to a Little League. Even though it seems that managers and coaches are giving orders to players or disciplining them when they get out of line, this too is a service. They discipline to teach children how to discipline themselves. They give instructions so kids know what to do in different situations. The goal is to create a team that can carry out the manager’s strategies even before the manager flashes the signals.

As a Board of Directors, our primary job is to serve the children. We make sure that they have everything they need to play baseball, from uniforms, to baseballs, to equipment, to selecting managers, to making sure they have safe fields to play on. Not only do we need to serve our children, we must also be an example for them. A Board is as much of a team as the teams we send out on the field. We need to model the same teamwork and mutual respect that we expect our children to give to each other and their coaches.

We must also realize that there is plenty of competition out there: other youth baseball leagues, travelball teams, other sports, and of course, PlayStation 3. We have to provide a quality program that offers children fun and growth — both as ballplayers and as individuals.

When we see leadership as a service, it becomes a joy instead of a chore — or a way to control others or get what we want. The reward of being a Board member is to see children benefit from the service we offer them. I had a glimpse of it since I took over as I watched our players prepare for the All-Star tournament. On one team, the manager was having a lot of fun with the kids, joking and encouraging them. In turn, they practiced hard. I saw some great baseball from that team. I felt tremendous satisfaction knowing that I had a small part in giving them an enjoyable and educational afternoon.

In seeing leadership as a service, we have to remember: It’s not about you. It’s about the people you serve. It’s about giving others the opportunity to shine, and knowing that you helped make that moment happen.

That knowledge helped me get over the sense of discomfort I had in how I got the president’s job. I know that in spite of the circumstances, I have something I can offer these children.