A few years back, I heard a dude named Andy Stanley speak on leadership. He said something that stuck with me like few other teaching points ever have:
“Your responsibility is to empty your cup. It is not your responsibility to fill someone else’s cup.”
Honestly, I hate the cliché of having a pivotal moment while someone is talking about being a leader. I’ve got mental walls up against it. So, the fact that this permeated then and still sticks around today is impressive.
The idea of what my responsibility is as a leader (i.e. expert) began to shift after hearing that. As I thought more about it, I realized that focusing on “filling someone else’s cup” was actually too self-focused.
Trying to take responsibility for outcomes that truly can’t be controlled is a fool’s errand.
Any time someone else is involved, no one actually has control.
And, wouldn’t we all agree that other people have to be involved in any situation in which we’re making an outward impact?
I realized the best way I could help people is by understanding where my impact can begin and end.
When I started working with WordPress, and got pretty good with it, what I wanted more than anything was to be respected in the community. Honestly, I wanted people to know who I was, because, I thought, “How can I have have any impact unless I have respect first?”
There are two huge issues with tying your success to respect:
- It’s not measurable, so you never actually know when you have it.
- Even if you try to measure it, you’re putting others in the position of informing you you’ve accomplished your goal.
Want to be more helpful in a community? Measuring it by the amount of respect you think you get is a cop-out. And, it will encourage you to give based on the perceived worth of the other party. If you’re trying to get respect, won’t you want to be helpful in front of the people you perceive as most important?
Bail on that. Don’t add a layer of abstraction on top of helpfulness—because that can be measured.
I’ve been trying to integrate the perspective of what Andy said into the way I help others for some time. Part of being helpful involves clear communication. So, when folks come to me with questions (which are usually about WordPress), I do my absolute best to help them in whatever manner I’m able, regardless of whether they’re ever going to pay me money or not. Regardless of who they are.
But then, it struck me this week that helpfulness could be quantitative for the purpose of self-improvement. It had to hit me over the head, because in the span of a few days, I:
- was asked by two developers I respect to give my thoughts on their projects.
- saw obvious progress from another developer I’ve been helping learn WordPress.
- sent pull requests to multiple plugin developers to help them out.
- had feedback be well received by WordPress business owners.
- showed off someone else’s plugin for a client instead of taking their money and not mentioning it.
- impressed that same client with WordPress’s ability to be integrated with API’s.
I realized, finally, that the hard work I’d been doing to be helpful was finally paying off. I’ve become helpful to people. I don’t know if they respect me or my domain knowledge, but that’s actually inconsequential. I’m doing what I always wanted to do: be a trusted resource in the WordPress community.
It doesn’t matter who knows my name or doesn’t, because the people who do aren’t afraid to ask me for input. That’s what I wanted all along.
Don’t measure your value to a community as a whole by your perceived respect in it. Measure your value by the frequency with with you help others accomplish their goals.
I don’t know if nice guys truly finish last or not, but I do know that it only matters if you’re in a race.