Serving versus pleasing: these are absolutely not the same thing, and getting the distinction between the two will make the difference between success and failure.
Hi, this is Steve Johnsen. I talked in episode 7 about how “Wealth Comes from Service.” I got a few questions about that, so today I want to talk about a key distinctions between serving and pleasing.
First, let me define what I mean by a distinction. A distinction is more than a piece of information. It’s even more than a concept. It’s something that you really have to see. Once you see it, you get it deep down in your core, deep down in your gut. Then it’s something that you can’t unsee.
The distinction that I want to talk about today is called serving versus pleasing. This is a distinction that was somewhat hard for me to get, and occasionally I still get confused and forget about what I’m doing and end up pleasing people instead of serving.
You know that wealth comes through service. Wealth comes through serving others. And yet, there are people who will tell you “I and serve and serve and serve all day long and I’m not getting anything out of it.”
Well, that’s possible. It’s possible that you’re serving in a way that doesn’t that doesn’t allow wealth to come to you. Or it’s possible that you’re serving in a very altruistic way like Mother Teresa and not expecting anything in return. Or maybe you’re serving people who can’t return anything to you. But a lot of times when that’s happening when you feel like you’re serving and serving; it’s actually that you’re pleasing and pleasing people and not really serving them.
What makes people feel good short term is not the same as what truly serves them. This is almost by definition, because all growth takes place outside our comfort zone. Attaboys are important and good. But when the thing someone really needs is a course correction, the attaboy doesn’t serve them.
A large number of people who are into personal growth are also into hoping and dreaming. This is the “Disney” path to non-success, “Someday my ship will come.” If I help people to dream big and plan for what they would like to happen in the future, I make them feel good. But this is a real disservice. If they’re dreaming and planning something for the future, that means they’re not building it right now.
I had a conversation with a client recently who was unhappy with her current job and wished and hoped she could get a different job. What she really wanted was for me to sympathize with her and then maybe to visualize what life would be like with a new job. This would have pleased her. But what really served her was to identify the critical action steps she needed to take right now, this afternoon, that would get her prepared for the new job. This is not what she wanted to hear, but it is what really served her. Without that, all the wishing and hoping are a life-destroying opiate.
What pleases people is to indulge their fears and cater to their comfort. What truly serves them is to shake them up and challenge them to be uncomfortable and lean into their fears. When it gets down to it, what stops you from getting what you really want is usually one of these two things.
I’m not saying I’m always good at this. I have a sign on my wall to remind me that pleasing people is detrimental to my financial health. It says, “Wanting to be liked is the biggest check you’ll ever write.” I have plenty of experience with this. Let’s say, for example, that I have a consulting client who is not getting their part of our work together done, and they’re becoming later and later with payments. If I want to please them, I’d probably just suck it up and live with it. But that isn’t really service. This may keep them happy in the short term, but it truly does not serve them, because our work together is headed for failure.
What truly serves in this scenario might be to have a frank conversation about what’s going on, not in an accusatory or confrontational way, but out of genuine concern for their well-being. Our work together is not going to succeed if this behavior continues. What’s really behind the behavior? Is the client unconsciously afraid of what will happen if we succeed? What other areas of their life are they sabotaging with similar types of behavior? Because if there’s something that’s off in one area of their life, it’s probably off in other areas of their life as well. Can the client and I agree to eliminate this behavior in our work together? Because if you don’t do what you say you’re going to do you are not going to be successful at much. That’s a real service to the client.
Another time this comes up for me is when I’m afraid of quoting a fee for doing a project. The client has dropped hints about their budget challenges, or price shopping. That’s just their fears talking. Then, if I want to please them, I let it trigger my own fears. I may feel that if I if I beat around the bush and I don’t make an offer then they will like me better. I’m pleasing them by not talking about money. Or maybe I want to lowball the price and I’m afraid to quote a fair and reasonable price because I don’t want them to think I’m greedy. Well, that may make them feel more comfortable in the moment, but it does not serve them at all. Our work together is to help them grow their business and accomplish their goals. If I truly want to serve someone, of course I need to make an offer. They may or may not want it. That’s fine.
Imagine a waiter coming out in a restaurant and being afraid to offer somebody the menu because the person might not want to order. Or the diner asks, “What are the specials today?” and I’m afraid of including the filet mignon because I think it might be too expensive for them. Then I’m really not serving them. It may be something that they want! So being willing to make an offer and say “Hey, I can do that for you for X amount of dollars” is a real service. And quoting a fair price and a good fee that will allow me to do an excellent job for the client is also a service to them.
I provide digital marketing services for clients, designing and building websites, and all the activities that enable their ideal customers to find them online. But our consulting work is very holistic and touches much more than the website. I’ve directed operations at a biotech manufacturer and been the CEO of a software company. When I work with my client, I may see things that are not working well in their business. Do I tell my client that they’re doing a great job there so they feel good and I can get the sale? Or do I call it out, even if it means that our digital marketing work needs to get postponed until the other thing is fixed? That’s what it means to serve people.