38 – Who Are You Helping?
“Non nobis solum nati sumus.”
(Not for ourselves alone are we born.)
― Marcus Tullius Cicero
Over the weekend, my daughter was feeling bad after she received some bad news. She was down in the dumps and we spent a good deal of time talking about it.  We all receive bad news, and it is silly to think that bad news should be uplifting, but when you’re young, you don’t have the tools to handle life’s disappointments. One of her difficulties was her inability to take her focus off of her own problems. As we talked, we discussed the realities of the world we live in, the disappointment, and what she will do moving forward.
Indirect Targets
Life is funny. Sometimes things only come indirectly. If you want profit, don’t focus on profit; serve others. Profit is a side-effect of service. It should not be thought of as an end itself. If you want happiness, don’t focus on happiness. It too is a side effect. Want more power? Give it away. Leaders are often surprised to find that as they empower their people, their power grows. Don’t want to feel bad? Stop focusing on yourself. Reach out and help others.
Once an interviewer asked, “Dr. Menninger, if you knew that one of your clients was about to have a nervous breakdown, what would you tell them to do to head it off?”  Menninger replied, “Well, that’s a simple question. I would tell that person to leave their house, lock their door, go across the railroad tracks, find somebody who needs help, and help them.”[1]
This was the magic formula Dr. Mimi Silbert used at Delancey Street, a rehabilitation center that “serves ex-felons, prostitutes, substance abusers, and others who have hit bottom” [2]
For 40 years, Delancey Street, a residential educational community, has provided residents with academic, vocational, and social skills, and the discipline, values, and attitudes they need to live in society legitimately and successfully — at no cost to the client or taxpayer. There are currently over 18,000 thousand successful graduates. Silbert lives in Delancey Street, and the organization functions as an extended family, sharing everything. There is no staff and all functions are performed solely by the residents. Every resident helps the other on an “Each One Teach One” concept. If someone reads at the sixth grade level he tutors someone who reads at the fourth grade level while another resident who reads at the eight grade level tutors him. Although the residents are often violent long term gang members who have been in and out of prison most of their lives, hard core dope fiends where the average resident has dropped out of school in the sixth grade, is functionally illiterate, and has never worked even at an unskilled job for even three months, Silbert believes that the people who are the problem can become their own solution. Delancey Street’s approach is to develop their strengths rather than to focus of their problems. With no staff and no government funding, these residents have not only turned their own lives around, but have built the entire organization from four people in 1971 to the many thousands who have now gone through it and have helped the communities in which they live as well.[3]
In their book, Influencer, Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, and Switzler described the process at Delancey. Dr. Silbert focuses on a couple of critical behaviors. They wrote:
After working with over 13,000 hardened criminals, Silbert is now convinced that just a couple of behaviors open the floodgates of change.  If you focus on these two, a whole host of other behaviors, values, attitudes, and outcomes follow.  Silbert explains how it works.
‘The hardest thing we do here is try to get rid of the code of the street.  It says: ‘Care only about yourself, and don’t rat on anyone.’  However,’ Silbert continues, ‘If you reverse those two behaviors, you can change everything else.’
James elaborates: ‘Helping residents learn to confront problems is essential.  We’ve got Crips, Bloods, white supremacists boarding with us, and they’re all bunking together.  As you might imagine, the tension runs high.  Everything we try to change in here is about getting rid of the gang culture.  So we talk a lot.’
With this in mind, Silbert targets two high-leverage behaviors that help residents talk in ways that eventually destroy the gang culture.  First, she requires each person to take responsibility for someone else’s success.  Second, she demands that everyone confront everyone else about every single violation.
To transform these ideals into realities, each resident is placed in charge of someone else the very first week.  For instance, say you’re a resident who was homeless and strung out on crack a week ago.  During the seven days since coming to Delancey, someone who had been a resident for only a little while longer than you would take you under his or her wing and teach you to set a table in the restaurant.  A week later when someone even newer than you comes in, you’re in charge of teaching that person to set the table.  From that moment forward, people no longer talk to you about how you’re doing.  They ask you how your crew is doing.[4]
The same process works for us. If you are a small-businessperson, you probably have more to do than time to do it, but when you focus only on yourself, you may get stuck worrying about your own problems. Yet, when you reach out to others, something significant happens. As your focus shifts, you gain energy, build relational bridges, and embrace new ideas. You are richer for the experience.
What About You?
How is your crew doing? If you are not now helping others, is it time to begin?
[1] Hunter, J. C. (2006). The Servant Leadership Training Course.
[2] Our President (n.d.). Delancey Street Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.delanceystreetfoundation.org/president.php
[3] Our President (n.d.). Delancey Street Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.delanceystreetfoundation.org/president.php
[4] Patterson, K., Grenny, J. Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2008). Influencer: The power to change anything. New York: McGraw Hill. (pp. 28-30).