Do All the Good You Can

I am using the occasion of Spring Break to write my first blog in quite a while, and I am remembering a suggestion from Anita Westlake that came a couple of months ago: “Why don’t you write a blog about service?” Now Anita would be the last person to want to be in the spotlight, but I have to mention the incredible model of service she is herself. Anita is a shared secretary between the Transportation Department and Facilities Department. As with all of the district’s great secretaries, the term secretary does not begin to describe her knowledge, commitment, and contribution. Either one of those two departments is critically important to the daily operation of the school district, and the winter we have just survived offered up plenty of transportation, snow removal, and operations challenges. Anita was there through it all, serving as the calm, polite voice on the phone; the keeper of institutional knowledge for the departments, and the pleasant person who makes other people’s days go better. If everyone served like Anita serves every day, our workplaces and world would be better places.

As I thought of serving where we are, or blooming where we’re planted, I thought of a well-known exhortation from John Wesley:

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

Obviously, the Wesley quote gave me the title for this blog, but it should also give us great encouragement every day. When we feel discouraged or question how we can contribute,” Do all the good you can,” should echo through our minds. When we are tempted to focus on what we lack or what we can’t do, “By all the means you can,” should help us focus on what we can do. “In all the ways we can,” should encourage us to think about the many little opportunities we have to provide encouragement or assistance each day. “In all the places you can,” helps remind us that that we can have a servant’s heart at work, at home, and everywhere we go. “At all the times you can,” reminds us that our time on earth is limited and we should make the most of it. “To all the people you can,” helps us enlarge our circle and be other-centered. “As long as ever you can,” encourages us to have staying power and persevere.

If we could just have Wesley’s challenge become the way we live each day, then service would become less of an event and more of a way of life. I am fortunate to work in education, which really is a service field and a calling. I see dedicated people who are focused on serving others and helping them grow every day. This is true of people in all different roles throughout the district. Whatever the role, Indianola CSD employees know that the better they serve, the more likely students will grow and reach their potential. In his book Leader Shift, John Maxwell writes that sowing always precedes the harvest. Educators plant seeds every day, understanding that their service to students can reap a significant harvest, sometimes many years later.

John Maxwell consistently defines leadership as influence and says that the leader’s goal should be to add value. The surest way to add value for someone is to help him/her succeed. That is what Anita does for the directors she serves and what the directors do for the departments they serve and what those departments do for the students and staff they serve. Service is contagious in such a good way! Here are just a few ideas in Maxwell’s Leader Shift that speak to this idea of leadership and service as adding value:

“Wanting others to shine more than you do”

If we are focused on serving others and helping them succeed, we care less about having the spotlight ourselves. “We before me” or “team before self” is an approach I consistently see enacted in many places in our school district.

“Helping others become better every day”

Wesley’s “at all the times you can” certainly matches up with Maxwell’s “every day,” too. John Wooden (another person I really admire and a great coach that a young John Maxwell learned from) said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” If we are focused on helping others become better every day, we can do that. I know this blog is about being focused on others, but have you noticed that helping others become better always makes us better, too?

“Focus on adding value daily”

Some jobs may lend themselves to doing this naturally, but regardless of one’s career or stage of life, we come in contact with other people every day. Each contact is an opportunity to add value. Every person we interact with walks away enriched or impoverished, and the choice is ours.

“Add as much value as possible as often as possible.”

Maxwell is channeling Wesley again here. We need to be alert to the opportunities we have each day. We can make every group we are part of better because we are there.

“Never wait to add value”

I am convinced that many opportunities are missed while we are waiting to be ready. One of the beautiful things about serving is that it really just requires willingness, not perfection. We will contribute and have lives of significance if we commit to adding value right now.

“Give without keeping score so motives stay pure.”

Maxwell writes about how his actions were first motivated by return (how he could benefit) and later by recognition (wanting to receive credit). Once he truly focused on adding value and serving others, more and more opportunities came his way and his life was enriched. Harry Truman might have said it first though many coaches have used it since: “It’s amazing how much can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit.” That is true for all high-performing teams.

Thank you, Anita, for serving the district so well and for being such a good teammate. Your encouragement to write has made me sit down and think about some very important things this afternoon. I am feeling encouraged to “do all the good I can,” and I hope others are, too.