Making a Difference by Alan Buttery

  • A young girl sees her mom and boyfriend murdered by her father.
  • A 16 year old boy is barely taller than a 10 year old due to malnourishment.
  • A young child scavenges at a local trash dump for food.  

The above stories are horrific and, quite tragically, not unique. They occur around the world. I am in Honduras as I write this on a trip with Rice Bowls at Good Shepherd Children’s Home. (More about Rice Bowls here.) I have heard these stories and others about the kids that reside here. They are shocking and are hard for most Americans to grasp. (Does this really happen in our world? Why?) Once you get past the shock of the stories you discover there is an opportunity to make a real difference in a child’s life. It’s an opportunity to serve in a way that can help change the future, break the cycle of poverty, and teach kids to grow up to be caring mothers and fathers that nurture future generations.

Leadership FIRSTS is a blog focused on character-driven leadership. One of the “FIRSTS” is Willing Service. (More about FIRSTS here.) Character-driven leadership requires us to not simply pursue our own development and success. It requires us to use our God-given abilities to serve and to make a difference in the lives of others to change the world! The concept of serving should undergird everything you do in life and business. All success ultimately comes from living your life in a way that is of service to others. If you want to change the world figure out who you can serve both passionately and well and put your energy, enthusiasm, and resources into it. Don’t settle for mediocre effort or results in your service. You wouldn’t settle for it in your business. Instead, gladly, willingly use your talents to serve others and to help change the game for them. The best leaders know how to serve.

Character-driven leadership requires us to not simply pursue
 our own development and success. It requires us to use our
God-given abilities to serve and to make a difference
in the lives of others to change the world!

One American couple told me of their first night in Honduras. They stayed in a home in a village. There were windows but no glass, a doorway but no door, a dirt floor, tarantulas, bats on the ceiling and guano on the floor. They slept in a hammock. They came to make a difference, to serve, but spent their first night crying and asking themselves why they were there. To their credit they are still in Honduras working to make a difference 10 years later. They were willing to give up a very comfortable American lifestyle to do something that matters. To meet a real need and make a difference you may have to get outrageously uncomfortable in the process. You may have to endure great hardship in order to really serve.

The best definition of Service I have found is in Ron Kaufman’s book, Uplifting Service. He states, “Service is taking action to create value for someone else.” You can’t separate “service” from action and you cannot separate “service” from creating value. Some people have great ideas but never take action. Others take action but no real value is created. The latter mean well but may only be doing what they know or what is comfortable. Value is created when it meets a real need. You should be willing to “squirm” in learning to make a difference. Don’t assume you know what the needs are. I’ve been asking a lot of questions while in Honduras and some of the needs (read this as “opportunities”) are not what I expected.

If you want to do something that matters and make a difference you have to be willing to be uncomfortable. Maybe you identify a need that does not line up with “what you know.” If you see an opportunity to do something that matters and it aligns with your passion you should seize it even if it is beyond your skillset. You will figure it out later! You could be launching into the most transformative adventure of your life leading to an impact you never thought possible! This applies to your business as well as your personal life. Once you determine where you can add value you should absolutely learn all you can but you will never know everything. More people wait on the sidelines trying to figure everything out than ever take action. You should always err on the side of taking action!

This is my second trip to Honduras with Rice Bowls. I came back because I wanted to learn how I might be able to make a difference here. I also came back because there are great lessons to learn or be reminded of when you are in an environment like this.

  • Most of the world cannot relate to our “on demand” society. We take food, education, basic utilities, housing, jobs, basic healthcare, good clothing, law enforcement, family support, and access to goods for granted. If we need something there is a store or “supercenter” a few miles away that likely has whatever we want or think we need. If you are like me, most of what you want or need is delivered to your door in two days with “free” shipping. Our definition of “need” is very shallow. We visited a village with homes very similar to what I described above and took some supplies. The people showed us great hospitality, invited us in, and offered us their food. (Fortunately, no bats or spiders!) They had very little but were very gracious. They also slept in hammocks because of flooding, snakes, and scorpions. Your priorities will change when you see and understand what real need is.

  • We assume our kids will be able to get a good education and that they will eventually find a job. We think we have a right to such things. In many places in the world that is not a good assumption. One of the opportunities I see here is to support efforts to alleviate what happens to these kids after they “age out” of the children’s home. There is a group of us that may be able to help by working with local residents to help start small businesses that create jobs and employ these young men and women.

  • Relationships matter- everywhere. One of my goals for this week was simply to meet people that I may be able to help or work with on future opportunities. I met a couple that has a coffee farm and is running two shoe manufacturing shops that employ young people that have transitioned out of the home. They have an aspiration of growing these and similar businesses. They are looking to get into coffee roasting as another way to create jobs. Currently, they send the beans from their farm to a third party for roasting. There is a large underserved market for coffee roasting in Honduras as the equipment is expensive to get started. I would not have known about this opportunity had I not come nor met the people “on the ground” that can make it happen. The only way to build relationships is to show up! You can’t assume you know what the needs are. Invest time with people, ask questions, be curious, and learn.

  • Tragedy is not life-limiting. This kids here were either taken from their families or abandoned. It is a huge adjustment for kids that have not known love, proper care, or proper discipline before. After they have been here they smile, play, and hope for the future like other kids. They are generous with hugs. They want to be teachers, doctors, policemen, farmers, pastors, photographers, and athletes when they grow up. Some do very well in school and continue on to college and their careers. Others, because of a late start, struggle in school but are willing to work hard and will learn a trade. Like us, they all hope for a better future.

Why serve?
The best leaders realize service is at the root of everything they do. In business they serve customers, employees, bosses, stockholders, and their communities. Outside of work they serve their families, communities, causes, and churches. They have learned to serve in every area of their life and realize that they have an obligation to make the world a better place in whatever way they can. They don’t serve out of false motives or because they think it makes them look good. They do it out of authentic care and concern for others. They serve because they realize they have the opportunity to do something transformational, to make a difference, to leave the world better than they found it.

What about you?
Hopefully, you are already serving in whatever way you can and according to your passions. If not, find something that you care about deeply in your bones and then serve with passion and excellence. All of us can make a difference and do something that matters. Leaders lead. You don’t need a title or a position to have an impact. You don’t need someone’s permission to take action! In business, there is much talk about “transformational leadership.” This is normally in the context of either remaking or turning around a business. To be a real transformational leader you should not settle for anything less than changing the world. Whether you think your service is a big or small thing does not matter. What matters is when you leave this world you’ve done something to make it better. Consistent effort over a lifetime will leave a huge impact whether or not you can measure it.

“Leadership FIRSTS” is not simply about furthering your career, developing your leadership abilities, or helping you further your agenda. Character-driven leadership is at its core and it requires leading from within, being authentic, and using your leadership gifts to make a positive impact in your business, your community, and the world. It may require being outrageously uncomfortable to make a difference! I believe there is a transformative adventure that awaits you!

Change the game! Make a difference! Change the world!

Rice Bowls is an organization that provides resources to feed kids in children’s homes around the world. They are “feeding future leaders” in 8 countries, 56 children’s homes, and help provide meals to 1800+ kids every day. That’s over 1.9 Million meals a year! It’s a lean organization that has been around since 1980 and is making a difference in the lives of orphans. (More about Rice Bowls here.)

By Alan Buttery
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