What I Want vs. What I Need = Leading?

Law of Addition: Leaders add value by serving others

I have touched on service before. Today, I’m focusing on a phrase that had significant impact on my interpretation of adding value.

Never let what you want to say get in the way of what they need to hear. – Les Brown

I have heard this phrase before but it took a different meaning when I heard Les say it in person. To me this statement simplifies what it is to serve.

Allow me to share with you how I internalized it.

I break it in two: what I want, and what they need.

What I Want

This represents a one-way view of the world: mine. This is the area where I struggle the most when it comes to leading.

Here are some of my “I Want” examples:

  • I read e-mails and interpret them based on who I think you are instead of what you are trying to convey.
  • I listen to reply rather than to understand.
  • I confuse sharing my opinion and knowledge with adding value.
  • I judge people by their actions, and myself based on intentions.
  • I compare others to me in order to figure out if they are doing it right.
  • I help with the expecting something in return, like a thank you.

How does the “I want” show up for you?

I don’t know how many times I have said “I’m just trying to help!” to someone else. And yet, what I was really trying to do was to get the other person to do what I thought was the right thing to do.

What They Need

I don’t know about you but do you like to be told what to do? I don’t.

And what about asking someone how they did something to then figure out their way doesn’t really work for me.

It’s my new belief that people can’t tell or show us what we need, we must find it out for ourselves. We are the only ones that know how we feel, our history, upbringing, successes, and failures. We have all the answers, we just need someone to helps us find them.

Here are some things I need, maybe some of these will resonate with you.

I need someone to help me:

  • Express my need in a different way.
  • See the same facts with a different perspective.
  • Fill in the gaps.
  • Discover my strengths and weaknesses.
  • Think through my problems.
  • Set expectations.

In short, People add value to me by becoming my thinking partner. It’s more about question that cue introspection than someone sharing their answer with me.

How can we add value?

You might have noticed both sets were written with the “I” perspective. This was purposeful. Let me explain.

It is my observation that whenever I use questions that look for answers to my needs, the recipient of the questions reaches their own conclusions that help him/her address their situation. What an interesting way to add value to people.

I’ll leave you with a final quote:

“If we serve with an expectation of return, we’re not serving, we’re investing.” – Crawford Loritts




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