My family is invaluable to me.  I take seriously my responsibility to be a supportive wife and a nurturing mother.  I have often set aside my own personal needs and wants in order to provide for them.  However, I often feel I have fallen short in my responsibility to family.  Countless times I have failed to serve them because I have been busy with work, volunteering at church, or spending time with my friends.  It is difficult finding a healthy balance between quality family time and personal development.

Part of my frustration in discovering this healthy balance has been because I have not fostered a servant leader culture within my family, even though servant leadership is a concept that comes naturally to me.  I did not need to study the theory and practice of servant leadership in order to successfully support theatre production teams and casts in joining their gifts together in a way that made powerfully creative moments on the stage.  I also did not need to sit through 32 hours of class in order to begin my journey with leading from the inside out (Cashman, 2008), to effectively coordinate a regional community in rehabilitating houses in rural Minnesota, or to peacefully lead a neighborhood association in educating a whole city about municipal tax policy and its just application.  While I still have much to learn in order to develop into a mature servant leader, I recognize it as a gift to be nurtured and not a habit to be formed.  However, when it comes to my family, servant leadership is a habit I need to develop within myself and in our familial interactions.

I intend to explore how to best apply what I have learned thus far about servant leadership, in the context of interpersonal and organizational dynamics, to my family life.  According to Robert Greenleaf, while learning the skills of servant leadership is important, the process of discovery, seeking, and reflection are the most vital:

Individuals and organizations seek a better, more humane way of living in integrity, discover the servant-leader within themselves and its potential in their organizations, and then reflect together on how to widen the circle of servanthood so that it embraces persons and policies, missions and mandates (Frick, 2009, p. ix-x).

I can easily substitute the word “family” for “organization” in the above quote and apply this basic formation process to my nuclear family unit.  First, I need to release control of our family dynamic so that everyone can develop as a leader.  Next, we need to seek a better way of interacting together.  And finally, we can begin to dream of how our family can be a force for positive change in the lives of those around us.  These are the tasks ahead of us.


Developing a Family of Leaders

While I recognize this first task of developing the leader in each of our family members is up to me, it is not because I am going to make my husband and son into leaders, but because I need to allow them the room to grow into family leaders.  Bill George, former Chairman and CEO of Medtronic explained, “the more we can unleash our whole capabilities – mind, body, spirit – the more value we can create within and outside of our organizations” (Cashman, 2008, p. 25).  I need to get out of the way so they can discover and contribute their gifts to our family.

I am confident in saying that I am currently the leader of our family.  Both my husband and I grew up in matriarchal households, and it came naturally that I would be the primary influencer and doer in the family.  I tend to have the last say when making decisions.  I initiate most activities around our house, whether they are home repair related or a family activity.  I keep track of the family schedule.  I pay the bills, manage our finances, and oversee our rental property.  I keep the gears of family life moving.

My husband and son take more passive roles in our family.  They are less likely to initiate ventures new or outside the normal routine.  Both of them do a much better job of honoring leisure at home than I do.  This is not because they are incapable of being productive – my husband does the majority of the cleaning at our house, the yard work, and we split cooking duties – but because they do not need to show initiation because I have already taken care of it.

I have control issues.  I know there have been times when they have attempted to be in charge of a project within the family, and I micromanaged it.  Control is a symptom of leading by coping.  It is not leading at all; it is management through doing (Cashman, 2008, p. 48). This leads to unnecessary interpersonal tension because my family feels stifled and I feel overwhelmed.

This is not how a servant led household should work.  All members of our family team should contribute according to their passions and abilities.  The best way for me to lead our family in discovering the servant leader within is by simply being present.  By doing so, I am available to support each individual in developing the three behavior patterns typical of the most effective leaders: authenticity, influence, and value creation (Cashman, 2008, p. 24).

Cashman (2008) defined authenticity as, “well-developed self-awareness that openly faces strengths, vulnerabilities, and development challenges” (p. 24).  My husband, son, and I each need to individually discover the gifts we bring to our family, honestly acknowledge our personal weaknesses, and identify the obstacles that keep each of us from positively contributing to the family.  Once we have done this discovery work into who we truly are as individuals, then we will be ready to influence each other in implementing a servant led family structure that will create value within the communities we are a part.

How am I practically going to support our family’s personal development in mind, body and spirit?  I feel like this is a slippery slope.  This is not a journey I can take for them; they need to initiate it for themselves.  And at the same time I need to be wary of not outsourcing my care to professionals (McKnight & Block, 2012, p. 36).  I think it is easier for me to support my son in his development because of his age.  He is constantly asking me questions about how objects work and why situations are the way they are.  I enjoy sharing my knowledge with him.  My challenge is to be patient with his questions when they come fast and furious.  In the realm of body, I attempted to include our son in my daily workout routine this summer, but he was resistant.  We had the most success in hiking together; I should involve him more in the planning of where we go hiking and for how long.  I also need to listen to him better about his participation in organized sporting activities.  For his spiritual development, we have invested in providing him a Catholic school education, but I would like to bring this focus back into the home.  We have lost our sense of family church in the move back to Wisconsin.  I am ready to support our whole family in bringing communal prayer back into our home.

The question of how to support my husband in personal development is even trickier.  Very recently I came to the realization my husband’s unwillingness to do inner work is a major source of interpersonal conflict between us.  I have been committed to discovering my authenticity for the last ten years and have been inwardly transformed in countless ways.  While these have been positive changes for me, they have also created a widening gap between us.  This is not my problem to fix.  I cannot make him change, I cannot make him do the inner work, and I certainly should not stop my discovery process.  It is out of my control.  This is a journey only he can travel.  He needs to take the lead in bridging the gap.  I took the only step I can at this time – communicated to him what I had identified as a challenge for our family and offered my support in overcoming whatever obstacles he identifies as being in the way of his inner work.  I pray he takes this step of the process seriously because our family will not be able to move on to implementing servant leadership without his commitment to doing the inner work.

Discovering authenticity is an ongoing process.  While I continue to do my own inner work I need to find a healthy balance between supporting my family in doing theirs and giving them the room to grow as individuals.  I trust Frick’s (2009) observation, “After doing the head and heart work and modeling servant leadership, implementation proceeds organically, backed by smart strategy and wide-ranging and inclusive communications” (p. x).  This is about putting the foundation of inner work into practice.


Implementing Servant Leadership in my Family

Once each individual in my family has had the opportunity to begin their journey toward authenticity we will be ready as a group to implement servant leadership together.  I need to initiate this process with both my husband and my son in different ways.  With my husband I need to put the idea out there and allow him to think about it.  Once he is at a critical point in his inner work, he will respond positively to the suggestion because that is the natural response to claiming authenticity.  My son, on the other hand, responds to recognition.  I need to recognize the concerns he has expressed about our family life and invite him into the process as a way of addressing those concerns.  This is where the work of influencing can begin.

Cashman (2008) suggests that successful leaders have meaningful communication that influences.  The purpose of this communication is to remind each other what is truly important.  I would propose that our family get together to talk about what is important to each of us.  Not only would we self-identify what is important to us, but we would also talk about what we perceive as being important to the others according to the behaviors we observe.  This will enable us to identify any gaps that exist between what is genuinely important to us and how we act.  This would be similar to the 360 feedback process Hunter (2004) suggests in his method to developing servant leader behavior.

Once we have identified our behavior gaps we can begin supporting each other in making positive changes.  Hunter (2004) suggests making SMART goals to eliminate gaps in the third step of his change process. Each of us would identify specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound action-plan goals to bring our behaviors in line with our priorities, and these would be shared with the entire family.  Together we would brainstorm different ways we can each put our goals into practice within the context of family.

Accountability is essential to changing behavior.  Hunter (2004) recommends convening a “continuous improvement panel” on a quarterly basis to insure progress towards SMART goals.  I envision the three of us making a ritual of going out for a special dinner once a season and returning home for dessert to discuss how we feel we were coming on our goals, and to brainstorm ways we could support each other in achieving those goals that prove troublesome.

Not only is implementing servant leadership an ongoing process, so is the process of inner transformation.  Both processes walk hand-in-hand in creating people of integrity.  Frick (2009) defines the process of implementation as “seek[ing] a better, more humane way of living in integrity” (p. ix).  I ran across a TEDxTalk by evolutionary theologian, Michael Dowd (2012), the other day and his statement, “Integrity is not a solo sport”, really struck me. (2012) defines integrity as the “adherence to moral and ethical principals; soundness of moral character; honesty” and “the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished”.  It takes a group of people working together in order to develop the morals, character, honesty, and wholeness of each individual.  This is the result of implementing servant leadership.


Influencing Positive Change through my Family

We do not have to wait for servant leadership to be fully integrated into our family life before we start positively influencing the community around us.  All it takes is for us to be doing one task well together for us to be able to share it with others.  This is the idea behind an abundant community – focus on what we do well and deficiencies are set aside.

Frick (2009) suggests that “reflect[ing] together on how to widen the circle of servanthood so that it embraces persons and policies, missions and mandates” (p. x) is the natural culmination of the servant leadership implementation process.  Likewise, Cashman (2008, p. 24) observes the effective leader pattern of value creation, the desire to serve multiple constituencies over the long-term.  Once you begin working well together as a group, in our case a family, it is a natural consequence that we want to share the abundance with others.

McKnight & Block (2012) recognize three properties that constitute an abundant community:  gifts, association, and hospitality.  If I apply these three concepts to my family and how we can be a positive force together in our community, a natural process emerges.  First we identify what we do well together that we can share with others.  For instance, I could see our family selecting music as a common gift.  Next, we select with whom to share our gifts.  This may be a group of others who share our common talent, or it could be a group that is in need of what we have to offer.  Sticking with the music example, our family has considered participating in our parish choir together this year.  Finally, we invite others to join us (this is also called making friends).  Perhaps we invite others with the common interest to join the association as well, or we invite someone to fill a need of our family.  If our family decides to join the church choir this year, we could also invite my cousin’s family to do the same because they have expressed an interest in being in the choir too.  The effect of all this is a thriving, abundant community.  The parish choir will grow, the quality of music increases and is more consistent, and connections are made for further community growth and change.

As servant leadership becomes a habit within our family dynamic we will naturally reach out further as a family unit.  Energy and joy are created through our positive interactions with each other that provide for sustained commitment to positive contributions in the community.  If done correctly, by honoring the individual and providing for adequate leisure time, we will grow closer as a family and accomplish amazing works of abundance together at the same time.



Let me conclude by dreaming about the exciting possibilities that lay ahead for my husband, son, and I if we are able to implement servant leadership within our family.  We will each begin to uncover our True Selves.  My husband will find the confidence to succeed in the ways he desires.  My son will grow into a compassionate leader who guides us toward a peaceful future.  I will discover a healthy balance between the hermit and the evangelist within me.  Our family will begin communicating better, there will be less interpersonal conflict, and we will discover interests in common that everyone enjoys doing together.  No one will feel unappreciated, constantly overwhelmed, or worthless.  Everyone will feel supported, valued, and loved.  We will begin to make strong community connections in our neighborhood, our parish, our extended family, and in association with like-minded people.  And these connections will lead to positive change that ripples out to the entire world.  This is what abundant community is all about, and abundant community starts right here in our home.



Cashman, K. (2008). Leadership from the inside out: Becoming a leader for life. (2nd. ed.). San Francisco, C.A.: Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc. (2012). Retrieved from

Dowd, M. (2012, June). Why we struggle now. Paper presented at Tedxgrandrapids, Grand Rapids, MI. Retrieved from

Frick, D. M. (2009). Implementing servant leadership: Stories from the field. La Crosse, W.I.: D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership at Viterbo University.

Hunter, J. C. (2004). The world’s most powerful leadership principle: How to become a servant leader. New York, NY: Crown Business.

McKnight, J., & Block, P. (2012). The abundant community: Awakening the power of families and neighborhoods. San Francisco, C.A.: Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

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