I was thinking about my mother Sandi this morning, who passed away almost 13 years ago. One of the many things I loved and admired about my mother was her generous nature and desire to help everyone she met. What you may find interesting is that she worked very hard in her full-time job as well as her more important roles as wife, mother, sister, daughter and church volunteer while enduring numerous health-related issues in her later years. My mother dealt with all the stress, illness and adversity in her life with joy and a smile…and never complained. In fact, she was always grateful and saw her challenges as blessings, not burdens. She always had a kind word for you or some sort of encouragement to offer in spite of what others may have described as overwhelming burdens to carry. It was through the way she joyfully lived her life that my mother taught me what living with an abundance mindset means and her example has helped shape me as a leader, husband and father.
I encounter people every day in my professional and personal life who exhibit either the abundance mindset or the scarcity mentality, which is the opposite of abundance. Leadership guru Stephen Covey initially coined these terms in his best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Scarcity mentality is about seeing life as a pie, so that if one person takes a big piece of your pie, that leaves less for everyone else to enjoy. It seems that in the business world, many of us who are fortunate to be leaders have been conditioned to have a scarcity mentality. When we feel overwhelmed by the demands of our calendar, the challenges of finding good talent, the pandemic or the normal stress of life we may find ourselves in self-protective mode, being stingy with our time and hoarding our resources. We may be reluctant or unable to see our opportunity and obligation as leaders to look beyond our own problems to show kindness and encouragement, to generously share of ourselves with others, to motivate or inspire. A scarcity mentality is what may be keeping many of us from achieving our goals and the success we may crave, but more importantly from experiencing the richer, fuller and more noble life that the abundance mindset can offer.
About 10 days ago I had the opportunity to experience clear examples of the abundance and scarcity approaches in the same day. My oldest son Alex, who has high-functioning autism, has been employed for six years by a global retail company at one of their stores near our home as a part-time employee. My son came down with Covid and had to miss work for the first time in six years. I called the store to let them know Alex would be out of work while he recovered. The Assistant Store Manager was very kind in our brief call and conveyed his hope for a speedy recovery. Within five minutes of that call, the Store Manager called and my wife answered the phone. He spent 20 minutes with her asking about Alex, informing her that Alex would be paid for the hours he missed and shared how much he and the entire team valued him. He also shared a few specific stories about Alex’s hard work and how much respect he had for my son. What makes this story remarkable and a good illustration of abundance is that this gentleman was under enormous stress. His store, one of the busiest in the company, was understaffed, impacted by supply chain issues and Covid had decimated his remaining team. Despite all of this and the burdens this leader carried, his first thought was to call the family of a part-time employee and show kindness, encouragement and gratitude. He operated from a place of abundance when he easily could have wallowed in his scarcity.
Later on that same day, I had a call with a business leader who was interested in me doing work with her and her team. I learned in our call that the team had experienced high turnover and was dealing with a host of challenges that were exacerbated during the pandemic. I also heard from this leader how busy she was with seemingly no control over her calendar, the long hours she worked, stress she was feeling at home and how much she disliked her boss. It was also her perception that the team complained a lot and wanted too much time from her that she could not afford to give. I took all this in and asked for her permission to share an observation. I respectfully challenged her that she was operating out of a scarcity mindset that was negatively impacting her team and her personal performance. We walked through possible steps she could take to reclaim her calendar and build air into the schedule that would help her invest in the team and elevate her leadership to the abundance mindset. More importantly, I give her credit for realizing during our conversation that she had become somewhat blinded by her own significant challenges and lost sight of her obligations as a leader to invest in her team. I shared this example with her permission and we will kick off a coaching engagement in two weeks.
Always Show Up With A Gift…and Other Helpful Ideas
As you think about your desire to more consistently lead with an abundance mindset, I would like to share four helpful ideas to reinforce “abundance thinking”:
- Always show up with a gift. From the time I was a little boy, I remember my mother’s frequent advice to ‘always bring a gift and never show up empty-handed’ when meeting with someone. I used to think she met only tangible gifts like flowers, a book or a plate of brownies. As I grew older and watched her in action, I began to realize that her brilliant advice meant so much more and included sharing our gifts of kindness, encouragement, candor, connections, mercy, forgiveness, gratitude, good counsel, inspiration, etc. with everyone we meet in our business or personal lives. Never show up empty-handed and always be willing to share our gifts.
- Be grateful. As I have written about many times before, always live and lead with gratitude. When we operate with a grateful mindset, we better appreciate what we have and are more inclined to share with others. This attitude of gratitude should also extend to appreciating our burdens and challenges, and not just our blessings and good fortune.
- Practice Agape love. What does love have to do with it? Agape is unconditional love. It is expressed by individuals who offer respect, understanding, and compassion to all beings without hesitation, judgment, or conditions. Practicing this type of love without expectations or self-benefit is a wonderful way to practice abundance.
- Leadership has responsibilities and obligations. To be a leader is not just about having followers. To be a leader places special obligations and responsibilities on those of us fortunate to carry this title. It means we are required to serve and help others in our charge, but also to operate through this lens in all areas of our lives. Truly effective leaders who embrace this definition of leadership operate out of abundance, not scarcity and there is a ripple effect of positivity and goodness that emanates from their efforts.
One last concept my mother taught me during her long life and one I observe in other successful leaders who practice abundance is to live life as a steward, not an owner. This is a simple, yet profound belief, that we are the stewards of the gifts God has given us and not the owners of these gifts. To act with more abundance and be generous, we should acknowledge that we are not really the owners of anything we have in this world. We are meant to be stewards and nothing we have been entrusted with truly belongs to us. If we operate as stewards and embrace the abundance mindset, we will find ample opportunities every single day to share these gifts even when life seems hard and we can’t see beyond our own challenges.
Someone with an abundance mindset likely feels more positive, empowered, confident and focused on serving others. They have opened themselves up to giving generously of themselves and their gifts. Someone with a scarcity mindset may feel overwhelmed, anxious, and frustrated with their life. They may find it difficult to share, give or invest in others. We all have an option today to embrace abundance or scarcity as we interact with and lead those around us. Which will it be?
And remember…always show up with a gift!