My wife Rachel and I recently went on a week-long hike through the Andes Mountains. I finished the trip with the inner peace and tranquility that comes from a week sans iPhone surrounded by natural beauty with my bride, and with some ancient Inca wisdom shared by our guides to inspire us when the trails got tough.

The Quechua-speaking indigenous people of the Andes have a word that doesn’t really translate in English – “ayni.” Its meaning is “today for you, tomorrow for me.”

Giving comes before receiving.

To me, its meaning is about community and connection. Building community by giving and not expecting something in return. It’s possible the whole concept of “pay it forward” is rooted in ayni – I will model for you hoping you model for others. But in most corporate environments, it’s the opposite. “Today for me, and tomorrow for you.” Or perhaps not for you at all. My trip highlighted the repercussions of this mentality in organizational culture and the benefits gained when the traditional management mindset switches to one of servant leadership.

Servant leadership is rooted in ancient concepts, but Robert K. Greenleaf make them relevant in contemporary business terms. He outlined ten principles:

  1. Listening. Actively receiving communication from others and self.
  2. Empathy. Understanding others despite differences from self.
  3. Healing. Striving for “completeness” for others and self through care and assistance.
  4. Awareness. Being mindful of others and self.
  5. Persuasion. In this context, persuasion is meant in a positive manner as a means for building consensus rather than dictating actions or decisions.
  6. Conceptualization. Thinking outside the box.
  7. Foresight. Applying lessons from the past to the present and future.
  8. Stewardship. This is one close to me, meant to be the act of “taking care” of others and institutions for which I am responsible.
  9. Commitment to growth. Encouraging others and to grow personally and professionally.
  10. Building community. This is another big one for me and should be for all leaders, driving us to build community in institutions – both small and large – that contribute to the feeling of “completeness” for others.

If you don’t buy the altruistic impetus for servant leadership, you should at least consider the operational and financial impacts it can have on an organization. It’s just good capitalism. An article recently published by Forbes provided some fascinating statistics that show the undeniable link between good leadership and employee engagement. Teams working under a good leader are more committed to their work and their company. I could argue that servant leadership is the ultimate, the ideal form of leadership based on my own experience.

When the environment created by a servant leader is such that employees feel taken care of and supported, this energy is reciprocated – and an organization benefits in tangible, financial ways. For my analytical friends who may need convincing of the necessity of servant leadership, here are some of the highlights from the Forbes piece.

More appreciation and care = more job satisfaction = more engagement = MORE WINS FOR THE BUSINESS.

Even if you don’t want to go so far as servant leadership, ayni still holds true for leadership in general. Focus on leading your people today, and your own personal ambitions tomorrow. This can have a monumental effect. Especially in large organizations, it can be easy to forget that institutions are made successful by human beings. Regardless of the process, technology infrastructure, and whatever else we implement for the sake of efficiency purposes, human beings are still necessary to complete work and fuel the engine.

The biggest thing that’s worked for us at ArchPoint is building an environment where people feel like they belong and contribute. We seldom mandate. We ask and give choices. There’s a communal nature to the work we do. How has this benefited us? ArchPoint has incredibly loyal people who are team-spirited and solution-minded. The environment is positive, the ideas are fresh, and the work is quality. And my life is easier because of this.

It’s easy. Just focus on making your people successful.

Some people have an orientation towards being in service – they’re naturally selfless. For those without this gift of grace, a good healthy dose of self-awareness is a great place to start. Dignity is an important concept in the idea of being in service. You either believe people need to be directed because they’re lazy and will take advantage of you at every turn or you believe that people fundamentally want to do their best.

The Incas understood the importance of dignity and believed people generally want to do good. They knew that by being in service to one another, by trusting each other, their community would be stronger. This lesson from history is still relevant today. From 500 years ago to now, we can take this knowledge into our lives and organizations, build better communities, and be better leaders.

I hope you found this interesting. Drop me a line if you have any thoughts.