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Introduction

According to Robert K. Greenleaf (2002) “the great leader is seen as servant first, and that simple fact is the key to his greatness” (p. 21).  This is the servant leader, the natural servant whose care and compassion for others attracts followers until he naturally becomes the leader (Greenleaf, 2002, p. 24).  It may sound simple, but this leadership style is one that requires much personal and interpersonal work in order to be sustainable. It is a leadership style that involves managing life more that it does managing people.  It is a way of life, an ongoing process of transformation.  This is my emerging servant leader story.

 

What Does It Mean to Become a Servant Leader?

We are all called to become servant leaders through our baptism.  We are called to become “priest, prophet, and king” in a new way as we go about the work of building the Kingdom.  I take this call very seriously, and I believe if more people would consciously reflect upon their baptismal calling the Kingdom would manifest here and now on earth.

Jesus preached servant leadership.  He existed in a time marked by great rulers of vast kingdoms who used their power to oppress and dominate.  When Jesus spoke of his Father’s Kingdom, he was not talking about God coming down to take over lands and accumulate wealth and subjects, who Jesus and his disciples would rule over.  Although many of his followers believed, and hoped, this was the sort of kingdom Jesus spoke of, he was really preaching a new order, a new way of living and relating to one another that would result in peace.  I would define this new order as a culture of servant leadership.

I am committed to developing myself into a servant leader because of my baptismal call.  I see the first step on this journey as developing my True Self, getting to know my authentic being.  Hayes & Comer (2010) referred to this self as the authentic core, a place from which “the authentic leader responds, almost instinctively, to various outside stimuli (such as conflict, criticism, and speech) and displays certain humble behaviors in these responses” (p. 21).  I need to strip away the layers of who I think I am, and who others have told me that I am, until I arrive at who I AM.  This is the “priest, prophet, king”, True Self, the authentic core – the servant leader.

The next step is discovering my Purpose – my distinct, God-given calling as servant leader in the Kingdom.  It is in fulfilling my Purpose that I help manifest the Kingdom.  This process requires a community of servant leaders, the Body of Christ, coworkers in the vineyard (USCCB, 2005), fulfilling our Purposes in tandem through authentic relationship, that the work of building the Kingdom happens. The ongoing process of developing and nurturing these relationships as we work our Purpose together is the end goal in becoming a servant leader.  It is the journey into the center of the whole.  According to Whyte (1996):

…the gravitational weight of God’s presence, pull[s] us to a center of absolute silence and pure simple beingness.  At that center we work because we love our work, and we love our work because we have chosen the right work, the work to which we belong (p. 241).

We find ourselves at that center when there is a balance in body, mind, and spirit. True Self is revealed as one discovers this balance in being and a desire for just living results.  Purpose is identified when it resonates fully with all three aspects of the True Self, and the work of justice is accomplished.  Finally, right relationship is developed when the body, mind, and spirit of all participants are honored and a just society flourishes.  The transformation into servant leader is an inside-out process (Cashman, 2008) that has far-reaching effects.

 

Where Have I Been?

 “Like water flowing from an underground spring, human creativity is the wellspring greening the desert of toil and effort, and much of what stifles us in the workplace is the immense unconscious effort on the part of individuals and organizations alike to dam its flow” (Whyte, 1996, p. 21).

I have been to the desert and back.  Parched and weary I sought to find the garden where I could refresh my soul.  I have been in the process of becoming a servant leader my entire life and it has been an arduous adventure.  I came to recognize this as a participant in the Viterbo University Servant Leadership Learning Community, and desired to formally enter the process in the hopes a more focused effort would support, deepen, and renew my transformation.

After college graduation I was feeling extreme confusion about who I was called to be in this world.  The layers of who I thought I was and what others were telling me had grown thick.  I thought I was a professional actress and director headed for Broadway.  My college professors left me with the notion that I might amount to being a mediocre performer, or perhaps a jazz singer or the odd variety act.  Others thought I should be a lawyer, or just saw me as a party girl.  Even if I had understood the fact that my authentic being was waiting for discovery, I was too tired and confused to do the work.  It didn’t seem like I had the time or the energy to work on my body, mind, or spirit.

I also did not understand at that time that God had given me a distinct Purpose in life.  Life was moving from gig to gig trying to eke out a living and partying it up when I wasn’t working. Volunteering, ministry, God, and prayer were things that sounded appealing, but I didn’t have time for such things.  And the more that I didn’t have time for these things the less important they became until they were non-existent in my life.  I moved through life hoping I didn’t harm others too much along the way.

Building relationship and community was something I did well at this time, although the relationships rarely went to a deeper level of authenticity, staying comfortably superficial.  The people I surrounded myself with were there for support, in my career, in the place where we lived, to keep me distracted from what really mattered.

It was in the realm of career where I began to learn what it means to be a part of a servant leadership culture and to develop the habits of a servant leader.  The theatre companies I worked for emphasized the value and importance of each member.  Any one person’s absence from the company was significant – not insurmountable, these were the times the team pulled together – but definitely a challenge to fill the hole left behind by the missing teammate.  I also learned the importance of being friends with the people you work with while part of the theatre community.  Creativity flows from the power of friendship and mishaps are repaired much more easily when your friends are counting on you.

It wasn’t until I began working on the balance of my body, mind, and spirit as part of the discernment process in becoming a covenant affiliate of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration that servant leadership practice began to enter all aspects of my life.  Hindsight shows me how this process was a catalyst for my initial servant leader transformation.

The FSPA affiliate discernment process is broken down into three phases:  prayer, community, and ministry.  Prayer is the work of the spirit.  It is through contemplation and silent reflection where one encounters True Self.  I began to reintroduce prayer into my life by saying morning and evening prayer.  Prayer soon became a habit bringing great peace and clarity to my life.

Living a prayer-filled life allows you to consider how to be in authentic relationship with others.  You begin to discern how you can best support everyone in becoming their authentic selves, and in doing so the Body of Christ is formed in right relationship.  Various FSPA sisters and affiliates became my closest friends during this time.  The women of my companion community were a huge support to me in navigating life, and I in turn walked with them along their journeys.  The relationships I have formed with my FSPA family are oftentimes more profoundly close than any other relationship I have yet experienced.  They have taught me how honesty, trust, and respect are essential to meeting the challenges any group of people are faced with together.  They have taught me how wonderful it is to be with others whom you share love, and the amazing possibilities that come from such relationships.

When there is a balance of body, mind, and spirit, purposeful ministry is naturally expressed by the mind.  Our baptismal calling becomes clearer, and the trinity of being is effortless in enacting Purpose.  “Ministry” comes from the Latin word “ministerium” meaning service (Harper, 2001-2012).  Ministry is what a servant leader does, regardless if that service is in a religious or secular context.  My greatest revelation was the idea my ministry didn’t have to be grand or going to “save the world”.  I needed to serve someone else from the source of my joy, and in so doing I would be supporting everyone in “saving the world” in their own little ways.  According to Tutu (2011), “When we attend to our deepest yearnings, our very nature, our life changes forever, and, person by person, so does our world” (p. 8).

It was this understanding that made me realize how incredibly important I was, and every living being on this planet.  The veil was lowered and I began to see how everything was connected.  I was called to serve by facilitating people in achieving common goals.  I was called to be a servant leader.

 

What is the Next Step on my Journey?

Now that I have come to understand my baptismal calling, and have embraced my value as an essential part of God’s plan, I need to invest in building up my servant leader toolbox so I can gracefully fulfill my Purpose.  I have just begun the next step in my servant leader journey as a graduate student.

The first question I get from people when they find out that I am returning to school to study servant leadership is, “So what are you going to do with that degree?”  My standard response has become, “I don’t know exactly, but I’m pretty sure I’ll have an idea by the time I graduate.”  What I do know is now is my time to attend class, read the textbooks, reflect upon my experiences, and begin to put into action what I am learning.  I am confident that this process will allow the servant leader to continue to emerge from within me as I refine the balance of body, mind, and spirit.

I do have an idea of how I am called to serve others as I build upon the gifts and talents I already possess.  I can see myself as a consultant to organizations who are interested in building a servant leadership culture.  I am comfortable presenting in front of groups of all sizes and have experience as an educator.  I would enjoy facilitating leadership development training and conflict resolution processes.  I especially enjoy developing one-on-one relationships, and would be honored to share my passion for Purpose and balance with others as a wholeness coach.  I have a gift for recognizing the giftedness of others, especially those talents they do not recognize in themselves.  Research conducted by Gallup shows that developing strengths is the most effective way to develop leaders because people have a more difficult time changing their weaknesses (Hayes & Comer, 2010, p. 25).  I am excited to explore further God’s purposes for me.

 

How Does Your Commitment to Servant Leadership Contribute to the Common Good in Your Organization or Community?

The experience of moving from West Central Minnesota back to La Crosse after 15 years has shown me how much time and work is involved in developing community.  Even though I am a La Crosse native I have much work to do in building the sort of community relationships I had developed back on the prairie.  Even so, I am a part of many communities in La Crosse and there are numerous ways that my commitment to servant leadership can contribute to their common good.

My husband and I have both our families living in the area and they are very interested in this thing called “servant leadership” for which I am going to school.  My father works at Bakalars Bros. Sausage Co. as plant manager and is interested in improving what he perceives as a lack of work ethic in anyone under the age of 50.  He is hoping this “servant leadership thing” will fix it.  I’m interested in seeing what unfolds when a leadership development program is introduced.  My in-laws are retired after many years of climbing the corporate ladder and self-employment. I am hopeful our servant leadership conversations inspire them to use the freedom of their retirement to contribute to the common good.

Our family is a part of the Catholic Church.  We belong to Mary, Mother of the Church parish and our son attends Aquinas Catholic Schools.  I am an affiliate of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.  I envision developing a parish leadership training program that involves the entire parish community, and hope that MMOC would allow me to pilot the program.  I also have plans to offer servant leadership training as part of the Big Window business program at Blessed Sacrament this coming school year.  FSPA Affiliation has expressed a need for ongoing discernment opportunities for our members, and I can see how servant leadership training could be incorporated into the covenant renewal process.

 

Conclusion

I am so full of hope and joy when I think about all the human potential that lies just beneath the surface, waiting to be coaxed forth to bloom and grow.  As the servant leader is emerging in me I become increasingly aware I am called to cultivate other emerging servant leaders as well.  I am deeply grateful for everything the Universe has placed before me that has lead to this understanding.  I ask God for the grace and humility to remain open to the goodness for which I have been designed (Tutu, 2011, p. viii).  I thank God for walking with me as I journey into the center of the whole.

References

Cashman, K. (2008). Leadership from the inside out: Becoming a leader for life. (2nd. ed.). San Francisco, C.A.: Berrett-Koehler

Publishers Inc.

Greenleaf, R. K. (2002). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power & greatness. (25th. anniversary ed., pp.

21-61). New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Harper, D. (2001-2012). Online etymology dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=ministry

Hayes, M. A., & Comer, M. D. (2010). Start with humility: Lessons from america’s quiet ceo’s on how to build trust and inspire

     followers. Westfield, IN: The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.

 

Son of citation machine. (2010). Retrieved from citationmachine.net

Tutu, D., & Tutu, M. (2011). Made for goodness: And why this makes all the difference. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (2005, November). In W.P. Fay (Chair). Co-workers in the vineyard of the lord: A

     resource for guiding the development of lay ecclesial ministry . Document approved by the full body of bishops at 2005 general

assembly, Washington, D.C. Retrieved from http://www.usccb.org/upload/co-workers-vineyard-lay-ecclesial-ministry-2005.pdf

Whyte, D. (1996). The heart aroused: Poetry and the preservation of the soul in corporate america. New York, N.Y.: Bantam

Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc.

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