As we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., his legacy includes this challenge to us: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'” This quote is the essence of servant leadership, and the transformative power of servant leadership is why you should ask yourself his question. This question forces all of us to get off our baseline need to take care of ourselves. This question plants the idea that our actions can—and I think should—benefit others. Experience has shown me that the most effective leaders are the ones who help others succeed. Servant leadership lifts up all of us. Here’s how.
“What are you doing”… implies that you’re not just thinking. You’re participating. Action is how we prove our character to ourselves and others. Not through our words. Focusing on actions is the key to set expectations, establish accountability and eliminate distractions. Action is the only way to execution. This question keeps your eye on the target. Note that he’s not asking what could you do. It’s in the moment. There are opportunities right now that may not be available tomorrow, next week or even in the next minute. We are all making choices with our time and resources. MLK knew that what we are doing must align with our why.
“For others” … helps foster a growth mindset. Your actions must consider others and benefit them. This question assumes that the goal is not all about you, and for you to be most effective, it shouldn’t be. I love the way my former client, NBA Champion coach Doc Rivers, always ends meetings with his version of this question. “Do you need anything from me?” Questions like these ensure clarity and ownership of responsibilities as we all work together as a team. When a leader asks this—verbally or in writing—it’s a chance to communicate your energy, passion and a confident, caring tone. For more inspiration on servant leadership, check out this great TED talk by John Wooden, who influenced countless lives beyond his world of college basketball. He believed that leaders who put others first were masters of success, not just winners.
Your Game Changer Takeaway
Asking “What are you doing for others?” is the key to servant leadership. In these six words that MLK made famous, you can determine and deliver the actions that make a difference to those on your team. You will affect lives far beyond what you can imagine. It really is that persistent, urgent—and powerful.
Molly Fletcher helps inspire and equip game changers to dream, live and grow fearlessly. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working with elite athletes and coaches as a sports agent, and applies them to the business world. Sign up here to receive our monthly newsletter.