How Servant Leadership Saved My Life

by | May 16, 2019

When I was seven, I nearly drowned. As I wrote this story, I realized my brother exemplified servant leadership. Lea is my hero. His example teaches us how being present in the moment and envisaging the end result will help us move with thoughtfulness and clarity. The result is servant leadership. 

Servant Leader

As I write, my respect for my brother has grown. Lea modeled calmness in contrast to dear Aunt Margaret, who triggered by her imagination, reacted with misplaced heroism.

Lea was six when I was born. Though disappointed because I couldn’t even catch a baseball, he chose to become my protector and mentor.

One day, Drena, Lea, and I were invited on a picnic with Aunt Margaret. Such a thing had never happened before and we were excited.

It was a beautiful Wisconsin summer day as we walked down the lane to the lake where the boats were docked. Happily, Lea leaned over and pushed each row boat away from the dock. At seven, everything fascinated me. Lea was my hero and I wanted to be just like him. When I came to a boat I could reach, with great excitement, I leaned over and pushed.

The boat moved but to my shock, I flew head over heels and landed in very cold water.

Lea, quickly moved to where I floundered a couple feet away. As I surfaced, he told me to kick my feet. Calmly, he lay on his belly, his torso extended over the water as he tried to grab my hand.

Meanwhile, Aunt Margaret panicked. She ran about six feet towards the ladder available to climb in or out of a boat. Terrified, she jumped into the water, and splashing and nearly drowning herself she moved to my side. By the time she arrived, I was alongside the dock, held firmly by my brother.

She insisted I make my way alongside the dock to where the ladder was. Once there, I happily climbed out, still being assisted by Lea as Aunt Margaret pushed up on my backside. Standing on the dock, Lea and I laughed. What a splendid adventure!

Aunt Margaret did not seem to agree. Once she was out of the water, she firmly grasped my hand and started marching back the way we had come. Skipping beside her I asked if we were going to get the picnic basket.

With a face looking like a storm cloud, she announced. “No! There will be no picnic. You are going home to your mother!”

What was a perfectly wonderful day became a sharp disappointment for Drena, Lea, and myself. For years I blamed myself for ruining that special day. As I write, I realize the day didn’t end because I was naughty. It ended because of wrong perception.

Now before I go further, let me say Aunt Margaret was a dear, sweet, nervous lady. We loved her but she wasn’t used to children.

It’s All About Perception

When I fell in, Lea remained calm. He realized I was in danger but responded with clarity and servant leadership.

What does this have to do with perception? Lea perceived my need. I couldn’t swim. He didn’t react but responded with a servant’s heart to minister to me.

I wasn’t afraid because Lea wasn’t afraid. Sputtering and choking, I obeyed as he instructed me to kick my feet. He modeled calmness. Looking into his eyes, my fear vanished and I mirrored his calm. Drena had knelt beside him and together they caught my hands and pulled me to the side.

Frightened, Aunt Margaret reacted. She saw a flock of swans 20 feet away turn when I hit the water. As they moved towards me, she perceived them as the enemy about to kill me. Triggered by a false perception – she couldn’t think. Panicked, she turned her back on me, then heroically but needlessly jumped into the water.

A Teaching Moment

Lea envisaged the end result he desired. Me safely back alongside the dock where I could be lifted out of the water. Though only 13, he moved with clarity to minister life. With thoughtfulness, and remaining present in the moment, he demonstrated true leadership and rescued me.

Lea used my fall as a teaching experience. He grabbed a boat, pulled it towards the dock, then gave it a shove with an open hand. The reason I fell in was I held onto the boat!

He cautioned, “Next time, make sure and let go.

A Wasted Opportunity

Aunt Margaret was in charge of us children. But she didn’t demonstrate leadership qualities. Why?

Because she imagined the worst possible scenario, she moved into panic mode. Unable to think, she could not lead. Her brain envisaged angry swans attacking and killing me.That became her reality.

Triggered, operating out of her amygdala, she impulsively jumped into the water. By the time she arrived at my side, I was safe.

Aunt Margaret couldn’t rejoice. Soaked and exhausted, her shoes and expensive watch ruined, dripping wet, she herded us into the car; 15 minutes later we were home.

But the true cost for her wasn’t the ruined watch or wet car. It was the loss of her peace and joy. And a missed opportunity to enjoy three precious children in a beautiful park.

You may be thinking “Cute story but how does this relate to me?”

I am glad you asked!

False Identity

Aunt Margaret could have chosen a sunny spot for us to have our picnic. But rather than celebrate Lea’s marvelous rescue and my safe deliverance, her reactivity ended a delightful adventure with banishment from the joyous celebration of life. How sad!

It taught me, I fell into the water because I was bad. But falling didn’t make me bad or worthy of blame.

Have you experienced something that makes you feel you are bad or worthless? Perhaps you were victimized and believe it’s your fault?

Is there a child, spouse, or coworker currently in your life who deliberately triggers you? The moment you envisage the worst possible scenario, you become reactive, like Aunt Margaret.

That means you operate out of your amygdala, so as your prefrontal cortex shuts down, you literally cannot think.

Reactivity to someone’s wrong choice moves you into fear, anger, or frustration. That gives them power to control you and make your life miserable.

The good news is you don’t have to react. You can choose to respond!

Dear Heart,

Pause. Take time to breathe. Ask Jesus to help you see clearly.

Learn to be like my brother, Lea, who loved me with a servant’s heart. Because he was present in the moment, he was free to move in clarity and servant leadership. He offered me the gift of life.

Though Drena and Lea were punished because I fell, they never blamed or accused me.

Though Jesus died for you, He doesn’t blame you.

  • Reject self-blame.
  • Step out of your imagination.
  • Be present in the moment.

What is the end result you want to see? Ask Jesus to help you respond with clarity to the true need rather than react to what you imagine.

Please don’t think this means you become a doormat or allow others to abuse you. No! Lea was my hero, never my doormat!

He envisaged the end result of me being safe. Remaining present in the moment, he moved with clarity and strength. The eternal value of his thoughtful choice to serve me with love still ministers life to me.

Jesus took on Himself the form of a servant, humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on Calvary. (Phil 2:8)

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