How To Be A Difference Maker

More than Chicken

When snow fell in January 2014 in Alabama, motorists found themselves stranded on the interstate highway for hours. With nowhere to go and no food, Chick-fil-a owner, Mark Meadows and his staff stepped up to provide a helping hand. Armed with freshly cooked sandwiches, they braved the snow and risked falling on the slippery ice, to serve the sandwiches to as many motorists as they could get to on I-280. And it was free of charge. The generosity continued. They opened their dining room for shelter from the storm.

In a bad situation, Chick-fil-A found a way to make a positive impact in the lives of others. But this “second mile” type of service is embedded in the restaurant’s core.

Chick-fil-A’s purpose is to, “glorify God by being faithful stewards of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.” They modeled it on that snowy day.

A New Ethiopia

In Africa’s second most populous country a shift is taking place. With a median age of 18, Ethiopia has long been divided by ethnic fault lines and a government that had a strong hold on economic growth and imprisoned political opposition figures without trial. But after entering the role of Prime Minister in April 2018, Abiy Ahmed, sought to change that in several ways. He begun by mending the strained relationship with Eritrea and opening up the border for trade and travel. He made a trip to the United States this past summer to meet with the Ethiopian diaspora community in a deliberate effort to repair the relationship by expressing the values of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation. His prevailing message was to break walls and build bridges. This hope is not false as Prime Minister Abiy has turned the political bureaucracy upside down by filling half of the cabinet with women. In October 2018, Ethiopia’s Parliament unprecedentedly appointed the country’s first female President, who is also Africa’s only female head of state.

Key Indicators

What is the common thread in the stories above? It’s making a difference or turning around a hopeless situation. We can draw three indicators to use in becoming difference makers in our world today:

1. Develop Other Mindedness

Walt Disney once said that there are three kinds of people:

  1. Well poisoners
  2. Lawn mowers
  3. Life enhancers

A well poisoner always injects negativity and pessimism into everything. Interacting with them is toxic to your progress. They poison the well of your ideas and dreams with discouragement by trampling on your creative thoughts. They have all the reasons why something cannot be done. The best thing to do is keep away.

A lawn mower is someone who does what they are supposed to do. They never see the need to help others. They only do what serves their interests. They ‘mow’ their lawn. They are well intentioned but ultimately self-absorbed. They do not carry the care or concern to reach out to others. As long as their lawn is neat and clean, they are satisfied.

A life enhancer or life enricher is other people minded. They reach out to others to see how to help. Their goal is to enrich other people’s lives, through service, encouragement and inspiration. They perform deliberate acts of service to enhance the lives of those around them. They make others better.

One such life-enhancer was a man called Albert Lexie. He passed away this year at age 76. For 30 years he shined shoes and charged $3 per shine. Every tip he received, he donated to a children’s hospital. Those tips amounted to $200,000 in donations at the end of his life. His name is forever etched in that hospital as a life enhancer.

The Chick-fil-A staff became life enhancers when they saw motorists stuck and brought them food with no strings attached. Prime Minister Abiy could have become a lawn mower and decided to tend to his own needs but he saw the big picture and injected hope and inspiration in a country that was in desperate need of it. Whether big or small, how can you become a life enhancer and create an other-mindedness environment? This will set you apart as an agent of change.

2. Remain Centered

Since its inception in 1974, Chick-fil-A has not deviated from its core values. They remain closed on Sundays, a day when food service providers make high volume sales. Closing on Sundays allows employees time for rest and to attend worship services. Even during tough economic times and heavy competition, Chick-fil-A has never caved but stayed true to its values established by its late founder, Truett Cathy. When they opened on a Sunday, it was to provide free food to people in emergency situations. 

Remaining centered on their values has kept Chick-fil-A outperforming their competitors year over year. Being value centered has also given employees working at Chick-fil-A a sense of meaning.

A recent article in the reputable Harvard Business Review observed that 9 out of 10 employees would willingly accept a reduction in pay to do meaningful work. Meaning or purpose is the new currency for the workplace. People will stay at a job longer when they know that the work they do is contributing to the mission or vision of the organization.

What are you core values? Live them every day and you will arrive at a level of centeredness that will always leave people better than you found them.

3. Take the Initiative

Prime Minister Abiy knew that Ethiopians in the diaspora had a bad taste in their mouth about their homeland. Most had fled to escape the ethnic clashes that had killed many and left others impoverished. Many of the insurgencies against the government had been planned by the diaspora.

But Abiy was now in power and could have stayed in Ethiopia and continued in the same vein of isolation and communist rule that his predecessors had established.

Instead, he pivoted and took the initiative by travelling to the United States to meet with the Ethiopian diaspora.  This gumption was a sign that he was living the breaking walls and building bridges message that he wanted Ethiopians to embrace.

Adopting a less political and more relational tone and language, the Prime Minister offered an invitation to political exiles to return home and live without the threat or fear of imprisonment. He went a step further by giving room for the Ethiopian diaspora to speak while he listened.

Through taking initiative and changing language and tone, Mr. Abiy is creating a collaborative environment in a country that in 2018 has been identified by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the fastest growing economy in Africa.

Final Thought: The lens through which you see the world around you will determine if you will be a difference maker or maintain the status quo. Whether it is a man who shines shoes for 30 years at $3 each and donates tips amounting to $200,000, a restaurant that forgoes profit to help people stranded on a highway or airport, or a Prime Minister who is determined to change a country’s narrative, there are ubiquitous opportunities for us to become change agents. The question is, Will you take the first step when the opportunity arises?

Keep on Keeping on!

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