Leadership Communication is Excellence with Compassion

by Quentin Schultze

I got my first regular job at 16 years of age, assisting a 45-ish man who ran a family-owned pharmacy in Chicago. Jerry was the pharmacist and manager. He was also a friend to locals who came in to buy newspapers, talk politics, and share jokes.

In addition to cleaning and restocking shelves, I washed pharmaceutical pill bottles and removed the manufacturers’ labels so Jerry could reuse them to fill prescriptions. I spent Saturday mornings soaking bottles and scraping off labels.

After months of Saturdays I asked Jerry why he didn’t just buy new bottles. He suggested that my work served him, the business, customers, and society. Why load up landfills with more glass (there was no recycling)? He added that all human work impacts others.

The importance of what we did, Jerry explained, included the greater meaning of the work, not merely the skill involved, however seemingly menial. He said that much of his pharmacy work was pretty routine. In the bigger picture, though, he was actually keeping people healthy, and I was helping him help them.

I believe that we humans are called to be stewards or, as Robert K. Greenleaf put it, trustees. We are all called to be caretakers of the world we’ve inherited. We don’t ultimately “own” the world even though we do acquire parts of it to use and enjoy. To put it differently, we’re all entrepreneurs who serve others by creating additional worth out of the value that was here long before we were even born.

Moreover, we conduct our caretaking in and through communication. Jerry’s store depended on in-person, written, and telephone communication to serve customers, staff, and the broader community.

Caretaking has two aspects. The first is caring for others. This caring is excellence in action. We become skilled at whatever specifically we’re called to do, including communication. We listen well, speak carefully, write clearly, and persuade effectively as needed to serve others.

The second aspect of caretaking is caring about others—engaging our heart in our work, with compassion. A true professional needs to care about those she is serving.

Jerry was not just called to be a pharmacist. He cared for and about his customers and employees.

Note: This essay is excerpted from my book Communicate Like a True Leader: 30 Days of Life-Changing Wisdom, available from Amazon.

Every leader as caretaker-trustee must be a skilled and caring communicator. These two aspects of caretaking—excellence and compassion—are twin anchors for servant leadership. We learn through communication what they are and how to practice them.

At the time I was too new to the world of work to recognize how fortunate I was to learn caretaking from a true leader like Jerry. Twenty years after he closed the Chicago store and moved to California, I visited him there to thank him personally for caring for and about me. Thanks to Jerry, I became wiser, freer, healthier, and a more autonomous communicator.

Do you have a deep sense of your calling as a caretaker? Do you need more skill (excellence) or heart (compassion)—or both?

Click here to receive a free 35-page PDF excerpt of my latest book, Communicate Like a True Leader.

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