Archives for category: Purpose

Casa Hogar Optical Mission Trip

The people of Lurin, Peru are in need of eye care and we have been asked to help out with the optical mission trip. Please consider helping us get there by making a contribution and/or sharing this with friends and family. Contributions of any amount and PRAYER are very much appreciated!

If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog over the last couple of years, consider showing your appreciation by helping me be of service to the people of Peru.

**We have updated our perks!  You can now receive the reflection book I’m writing with a $75 contribution.  This book will feature reflections on the intangible assets I observe during my time providing the tangible asset of the eye clinic in a novena-like format.**


before-casa La Familia



Conceptual Definition

While the notion of servant leadership has been practiced since biblical times, the concept as applied to institutions, organizations, and as an individual leadership style has only been of interest in recent history.  Greenleaf (1970, 1977) generalized this set of behaviors as a leader’s desire to be “servant first” rather than “leader first”, putting others’ needs before their own.  He expanded this leadership concept to organizations of all types including businesses, academic institutions, board of trustees, and religious associations (Greenleaf, 1970, 1977, 1996).

Greenleaf (1996) took special interest in reflecting upon the role of religious leaders and congregations as servant leaders, observing how the spiritual life intersects with business and society in meaningful and necessary ways.  He defined a church as any organization that effectively “nurture[s] the spirituality of individuals and model[s] for others as a serving institution” (Greenleaf, 1996, p. 55).  Likewise, Greenleaf identified religious leaders as anyone who has hope that: 1) all who suffer alienation can be helped to accept and nurture their inner servant; 2) all who lead can be helped to maintain a level of spirituality that buffers them from the stresses of leadership; and 3) are open to receive the gift of spiritual leadership in themselves and acknowledge it in others (Greenleaf, 1996).  From a servant leadership perspective, religious associations and their leaders have a distinct role in shaping culture and society (Greenleaf, 1996).

Yet the integral role of religious leadership in these areas is often absent from crucial conversations outside of the religious realm, especially when it comes to community development and revitalization efforts (Gundersen Lutheran Health System & City of La Crosse, 2013; Kirch, Anderson, & Cantellano, 2002).  Traditional neighborhood planning tends to be needs-driven as opposed to asset-based, creating the perception only resources from outside the community will solve community problems (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1996).  If assets mapping is included in the neighborhood development process, churches are often lumped together as a whole with no explanation of the specific assets each congregation offers (GLHS & City of La Crosse, 2012), or they are simply recognized as various places of worship (Kirch, Anderson, & Cantellano, 2002).  The full range of tangible and intangible assets religious associations offer to neighborhoods is typically not identified in revitalization efforts.

Historically, churches have provided many tangible assets to the community in the areas of education, health care, and social services (Chaves, 2004).  However there are many assets congregations provide in the dispensing of these services that are not available when offered through secular agencies (Olivier, Cochrane & Schmid, 2006).  These intangible assets are “the volitional, motivational and mobilizing capacities that are rooted in vital affective and symbolic dimensions of religious faith, belief and behavior” (Olivier, Cochrane & Schmid, 2006, p. 11).  Religious congregations play a vital role in neighborhood revitalization because of this layering of assets that can be further enhanced in the development of an abundant community.

Review of the Literature

            Change is inevitable.  It affects every aspect of our lives including the neighborhood communities of which we are a part.  According to Somerville, Van Beckhoven, & Van Kempen (2009) the primary source of neighborhood change is socio-economic factors mediated by the housing market and neighborhood relationships.  As a neighborhood community moves through its cycles of change it is important to have a holistic view of the neighborhood revitalization process in order to effectively move in positive directions.   First we will look at what makes a community abundant, and then consider the best method of community development that supports the building of abundant communities.  Next we will discuss the various types of assets an abundant community possesses.  We will then focus in on religious congregations and the unique assets they provide a community, especially that of leadership development.  Finally, we will look at the motivations behind neighborhood leadership and discuss how they align with the assets of religious organizations.

Abundant Communities

According to McKnight and Block (2012) an abundant community is a unique living organism.  There is no definitive blueprint for what constitutes an abundant community because it is not organized in a systematic way (McKnight & Block, 2012).  “A competent community, one that takes advantage of its abundance, admits the realities of the human condition and the truth of the decay, restoration, and growth processes that are a part of every living system.  Variety, uniqueness, and appreciation for the one-of-a-kind are its essence” (McKnight & Block, 2012, p. 65).

However certain generalizations can be made about communities where abundance is a focus, creating a stabilizing effect as the neighborhood moves through its cycles of change.  These neighborhoods provide a physical and social environment supportive of individual health outside of medical systems (McKnight & Block, 2012).  Abundant communities are stewards of the land they occupy and of the food they eat in ways that further support the health of its citizens (McKnight & Block, 2012).  They are safe and secure communities because neighbors know each other by name and spend time outside their homes (McKnight & Block, 2012).   Some of this time is spent in developing the local economy either by providing goods and services in the community or by shopping at neighborhood businesses (McKnight & Block, 2012).  Abundant communities care for each other.  They care for their children and their elders as their own and there is no need to outsource care to agencies or systems (McKnight & Block, 2012).  The residents of neighborhoods where these elements exist are generally satisfied with their community life in such a way that these assets can be further built upon.

The satisfaction with these tangible assets comes from a set of organizing principles for achieving community competence: focus on member gifts, nurture of associational life, and hospitality to strangers (McKnight & Block, 2012).  These properties create a community environment where certain capacities are created within families and neighborhoods:  kindness, generosity, cooperation, forgiveness, acceptance of fallibility, and mystery (McKnight & Block, 2012).  These properties and capacities are a way of being in community that facilitates participation in tangible asset development, and measures to support this way of being augment communal satisfaction (McKnight & Block, 2012).

Unfortunately few neighborhoods recognize the communal assets in their midst because of the traditional way of addressing development as a neighborhood changes and grows.  In the next section we discuss concerns with the most common approach to community development and propose an alternative that promotes community healing from within.

Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD)

Traditional methods of community revitalization focus on neighborhood deficiencies.  Needs-driven community development ignores communal assets and capacities, and focuses instead on problems to be solved (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1996).  This approach to neighborhood regeneration disassociates residents from the development process and relies on outside experts to fix problems while forcing local community leadership to denigrate the community in order to attract resources (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1996).  This dissociative effect was corroborated in a study by Sampson & Graif (2009) showing residents of disadvantaged communities as less involved in community life than those confident in their assets.  Because of the negative effects needs-mapping generates, an alternative method to neighborhood revitalization is recommended.

One such alternative is asset or capacity-based community development.  This focuses on identifying the gifts and positive relationships existing on the individual, associational, and institutional levels of a local community (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1996).  In their research on social capital, Sampson & Graif (2009) further differentiate these levels into the domains of education, religion, business, politics, law enforcement, and community organizations along with individuals such as long-time residents, youth club/gang leaders, and youth mentors.  According to Kretzmann and McKnight (1996), “historic evidence indicates that significant community development takes place only when local community people are committed to investing themselves and their resources in the effort” (p. 25). Necessary outside resources are successful when assisting communities in developing their own assets.

The ABCD approach can be characterized in three ways.  First, it takes into account community strengths as opposed to weaknesses.  Policies and decisions are based on the good the community has to offer instead of what is wrong with the neighborhood (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1996).  Secondly, it is internally focused so that agenda building and problem solving are done on a local level instead of by outside experts.  If outside resources are needed they work in a way that supports local definition, investment, creativity, hope, and control (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1996).  Finally, it is a relationship-driven process.  Building partnerships, networks, and other connections between all levels of community life and their assets is at the heart of the asset-based approach (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1996).

This process is more than just an inventory of services offered within the community however.  While tangible assets are the easiest to identify, and therefore the typical focus of assets-mapping, there are many other capacities of a more intangible nature that are often overlooked in the process.  In the next section we discuss tangible and intangible assets, and how they are both an important part of the asset-mapping process.

Tangible and Intangible Assets

The unique assets a community has to offer its residents are as varied as the communities themselves.  On a surface level it would appear the identification of these assets can be accomplished by a simple walking tour of the neighborhood or surveying the phone book.  These strategies are part of the typical asset analysis and result in detailed lists of businesses, institutions, and the services they offer within the neighborhood.  However communities offer other, less tangible assets that are equally important in supporting an abundant community.

There is a growing body of research in the field of global health that is evaluating the impact tangible and intangible assets of religious associations have on the communities of which they are a part (Olivier, Cochrane, & Schmid, 2006).  While the African Religious Health Assets Programme (ARHAP) research is based in sub-Saharan Africa, the conceptualization is rooted in the asset-based community development of the United States, particularly in the work of Kretzmann and McKnight (Olivier, Cochrane, & Schmid, 2006).  Tangible religious assets include facilities such as schools, clinics, and places of worship, and services such as food pantries, clothes closets, and childcare (McKnight & Block, 2012; Olivier, Cochrane, & Schmid, 2006).  Intangible assets are the unseen “volitional, motivational and mobilizing capacities” that come from performing service, receiving an education, changing behavior for the positive, and engaging in religious belief and practice, that when understood and utilized can have tremendous effect on the development of abundant community (Olivier, Cochrane, & Schmid, 2006, p. 11).

McKnight and Block (2012) group intangible assets together in what they term the capacities of an abundant – or competent – community, and are individually identified as kindness, generosity, cooperation, forgiveness, fallibility, and mystery.  According to McKnight & Block (2012), “capacities reside in individuals and can be nurtured to exist in the collective.  They are the core elements that need to be visible and manifest to create an abundant community, and a family and neighborhood to function” (p. 83-84).  While this analysis is of a more secular vane as compared to that of ARHAP, the transferability of these six capacities to religious associations is quite apparent.

Religious congregations are natural community hubs for assets of all types.  Because of this they play an essential role in neighborhood revitalization and development.  In the following section we will look at the role of religious associations in neighborhood communities through the lens of servant leadership.

Religious Associations in Neighborhoods

Asset-based community development research has identified religious associations as serving an important role in neighborhood revitalization efforts due to the tangible and intangible assets they offer the community (Olivier, Cochrane, & Schmid, 2006).   Greenleaf (1996) proposes that churches act as mediating institutions, connecting individual community member assets with neighborhood needs.  He suggests congregations become actively involved in the asset mapping process in order to know neighborhood institutions and their trustees on a personal level so they can more easily make these connections (Greenleaf, 1996).  At the same time Greenleaf (1996) warns “it is important for a pastor to strive to make his or her contribution in a way that strengthens, rather than diminishes, the ability of neighborhood people to help themselves and to evolve strong leaders for their institutions” (p. 265).

One way this is accomplished is by religious associations taking on the mission of developing community leaders.  Greenleaf (1996) explains, “one measure of the center city church as servant to its community is how well it nurtures men and women who will lead, or otherwise influence, the center city neighborhood institutions they are involved in, to the end that those institutions are effective as servants to every person they touch” (p. 260).  Churches nurture community leaders by empowering them to create, inspire, persuade, and persevere as servants (Greenleaf, 1996).  This is primarily done by mentoring residents as trustees in the hope they will lead institutions to respond to community needs with vision (intangible assets) as opposed to simply listing services (tangible assets) (Greenleaf, 1996).

In the end a religious association’s ultimate goal is to develop a sense of vocational calling in an expanded “priesthood” of community leaders (Greenleaf, 1996).  In doing so, the “church achieves servanthood to its neighborhood by being servant to those who are servants to the neighborhood’s institutions, their trustees” (Greenleaf, 1996, p. 272-273).  In the final section we consider how this sense of vocation is expressed in leadership motivations.

Leadership Motivations

Traditional leadership theories hypothesize people become neighborhood leaders because the benefits outweigh the costs of leadership.  Benefits include “welfare goods”, material goods or compensation that come with leadership; “deference goods”, psychological gratification such as increase self-esteem and respect; and “collective goods”, benefits shared by the community such as garbage removal.  Leaders are motivated by access to a surplus in welfare goods, receiving notoriety in the community for their leadership, and access to the collective goods for which the association advocates – all self-serving motivations for leadership.

However Rich’s (1980) case study analysis revealed a very different set of motivations for those accepting neighborhood leadership.  Most leaders are motivated by deference benefits and do not self-report welfare goods as primary benefits to leadership (Rich, 1980).  Satisfaction with the results of their leadership, as opposed to material compensation, is what motivates them to continue on (Rich, 1980).  This satisfaction does not come from others affirming their role as leader, but from their personal values and their calling to community service (Rich, 1980).

People become neighborhood leaders not for self-serving reasons, but because they want to serve their communities (Greenleaf, 1996; Rich, 1980).  They access intangible assets, such as psychic gratification and pleasure in a job done well; as they help others access tangible assets or collective goods (Rich, 1980).  According to Rich (1980), “these benefits are available to them only because they feel an ethical commitment to serve the community and find fulfilling that commitment rewarding” (p. 579).


Abundant communities contain all of the resources necessary to meet the ongoing and changing needs of the community.  These resources include the visible, tangible assets that meet neighborhood needs in practical ways, as well as intangible assets that are not so easy to identify, but absolutely necessary in developing holistic communities.  Neighborhood religious associations are an untapped resource for all types of community assets.  They have a long history of providing tangible assets to their communities; however explorations into the intangible assets congregations hold is an emerging field in community development.  Greenleaf (1996) theorized about the role of churches in neighborhood communities, and identified leadership development, which infuses emerging leaders with the intangible assets offered by the congregation, as being their primary function.  The Rich (1980) study supports Greenleaf’s (1996) contention by demonstrating neighborhood leaders are motivated to lead by a calling to serve, as opposed to desiring compensation or notoriety.  Developing neighborhood servant leadership is essential to developing competent communities and this is best accomplished by religious associations because of their access to tangible and intangible assets.

The power of community assets is at the core of the literature reviewed.  An abundant community is characterized by its focus on and development of these assets.  Minimal time is spent looking at community deficiencies because the community trusts these weaknesses will be addressed by bolstering asset networks.  Asset-based community development takes its cues from what abundant communities already know.  Instead of accessing community problems as is done in traditional community development processes, ABCD maps the assets in order to better connect them with community needs.  Communities find their power not only in the practical assets they offer to help their residents from within, but also most especially from the good that comes from being a part of a caring community, an asset unto itself.  Religious associations understand well how this interplay between tangible and intangible assets builds the power of their community life.  They can be of best service to their communities by developing leaders to go into the neighborhood with this asset-based way of thinking.  Finally, the Rich (1980) study shows that assets motivate people into leadership, but not the sort of assets expected.  Leaders are motivated in their work not by their personal access to tangible assets, but to all the intangible assets received in being of service to others.

More research is needed into intangible assets.  These assets seem to provide the connective power that ties neighborhoods to their tangible assets in a way that the community grows in abundance.  There is not much research in this area, and disagreement in the research that does exist (Olivier, Cochrane, & Schmid, 2006) because of the fact these assets are intangible, invisible, hard to identify, and difficult to name.  They are not concrete, but more akin to the spiritual and therefore difficult to empirically analyze.  The proposed research will attempt to identify the intangible assets held by the religious associations in the Washburn, Powell, Hood, and Hamilton neighborhoods of La Crosse, Wisconsin.  This will add to the body of community asset research with the hopes it can be applied for future community development.


Chaves, M. (2004). Congregations in america. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. Retrieved from

Greenleaf, R. K. (1970). The servant as leader. Newton Centre, MA: Robert K. Greenleaf Center.

Greenleaf, R. K. (1977/2002). Servant-leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Greenleaf, R. K. (1996). A. T. Fraker & L. C. Spears (Eds.), Seeker and servant: Reflections on religious leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Gundersen Lutheran Health System, & City of La Crosse, (2013). Powell-Hood-Hamilton/Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center: Joint neighborhood and campus plan. La Crosse, WI: Gundersen Lutheran Health System.

Kirch, L. J., Anderson, M. L., & Cantellano, A. City of La Crosse Planning Department & Washburn Neighborhood Association, (2002). Washburn neighborhood plan (File No. 2002-06-029). Retrieved from City of La Crosse, WI website:

Kretzmann, J., & McKnight, J. P. (1996). Assets-based community development. National Civic Review, 85(4), 23. Retrieved from

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

Olivier, J., Cochrane, J. R., & Schmid, B. (2006). ARHAP literature review: Working in abounded field of unknowing. Cape Town, South Africa: African Religious Health Assets Programme. Retrieved from

Purdue, D. (2005). Community leadership cycles and the consolidation of neighbourhood coalitions in the new local governance. Public Management Review, 7(2), 247-266. doi:10.1080/14719030500091418

Rich, R. C. (1980). The dynamics of leadership in neighborhood organizations. Social Science Quarterly (University of Texas Press), 60(4), 570-587. Retrieved from

Sampson, R. J., & Graif, C. (2009). Neighborhood social capital as differential social

organization: Resident and leadership dimensions. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(11), 1579-1605. Retrieved from

Somerville, P., Van Beckhoven, E., & Van Kempen, R. (2009). The decline and rise of neighbourhoods: The importance of neighbourhood governance. European Journal of Housing Policy, 9(1), 25-44. doi:10.1080/14616710802693557

I have decided to post my weekly progress on my colloquium project towards an MA in Servant Leadership in this forum in order to get community feedback.  I want to this project to bubble from the grassroots as much as possible, and hope people of interest will weigh in for the benefit of the ReNEW Neighborhood Project.  At this point I am looking for help in defining a clear research question and for peer-reviewed articles from the servant leadership literature that will help me to further clarify my research question in regards to this topic.  I welcome suggestions for good research questions and scholarly articles.


Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Amanda Acklin, executive director of Habitat for Humanity and the ReNEW neighborhood housing project, at the Servant Leadership Conversation hosted by Viterbo University.  Through our conversations it was clear the ReNEW project paralleled the housing work I had coordinated previously as an Americorps VISTA.  We met a week later to brainstorm, and determined my colloquium project could be of service to ReNEW.  The program is currently in a holding pattern because of lack of funding and human resources to coordinate.  To prevent this program from fading away, it must reach its next step of garnering grant funding and financial backing from the community.

My focus would be to harvest servant leader stories from the residents of the ReNEW neighborhoods as my colloquium project.  The greater La Crosse community stigmatizes these neighborhoods as harboring drug dealers, prostitutes, and people from out-of-state here to take advantage of the welfare system; thus demolition and redevelopment are often seen as the best solutions for these areas, i.e. gentrification.  From my experience of living in a stigmatized neighborhood in Minnesota, I understand there are more residents and families who have contributed positively for the good of the greater community, however their stories are not told in the media, only the criminal behaviors of the few.  As a student of servant leadership I understand we are all called to be servant leaders, even those who have no voice due to various types of societal oppression and judgment.  A reaping of these servant leader stories would demonstrate the value these neighborhoods have for the La Crosse community, and could be used to generate both financial and human support for the ReNEW efforts.

I would gather these servant leader stories through video recorded one-on-one interviews that would be woven together in a narrated film documentary format.  Clips from the documentary along with commentary would be used for the public colloquium presentation, while the documentary as a whole could be used by ReNEW in public relations and grant writing efforts.


It is easy to move through life, living moment to moment, appointment to appointment, deadline to deadline, and never stepping back to look at where you have been and where you are going.  Life becomes a meaningless blur of unrelated events.  Compiling the information for this portfolio has afforded me the opportunity to stop and reflect upon a previous chapter of my life with perspective.  My year as a Minnesota Housing Partnership Americorps VISTA working at West Central Minnesota Communities Action as program coordinator for the Land of Lakes Group Workcamp was a defining moment in my life.  All my random life experiences up to that point in 2004 converged in that position, and the work and training I received that year shaped who I am and what I would accomplish later.

I have always had varied interests; more so than most people it seems.  My undergraduate training and early career was mainly in theatre, however I was one of those odd ducks that worked onstage, backstage, and in the box office.  Onstage I was considered a “triple threat” – someone who could sing, act, and dance – I was comfortable being in front of large groups of people.  Unlike many performers, I was also very organized, and utilized this skill as a stage director.  I could see the big picture and was able to communicate and motivate others in creating that vision.  I also had good business sense, something quite uncommon among the theatre crowd, and this led me to become involved in the administrative aspects of theatre – such as fundraising, volunteer recruitment, contracting, and event coordination.

Regardless of what area of the theatre I was working in at the time, it always involved building community.  It takes a multitude of people to come together and put on a show.  Good old friends and strangers somehow manage to gather together around a common cause and create.  During the month or so a show is in production intense relationships are developed.  You have to trust everyone is going to do their part to make the production a success.  My role consistently involved connecting people together, helping them communicate, and getting the resources needed to get the job done.

That was exactly what I was asked to do by Americorps.  The cause was not entertainment, the goal was not to put on a quality production without killing each other, and the venue was not a theatre space, but the building of community around something was all the same.  I had all the tools and experience necessary to help build a community of people around rehabilitating housing for modest-income, elderly, and disabled people in a five country region.  Even though I had never worked in social services, housing, or with local governments, God had prepared me for the work I was called to do.

I fully believe my involvement in the Land of Lakes Group Workcamp and time as an Americorps VISTA was part of God’s purpose for my life.  Besides all of the community building skills I had developed in the theatre world, God had provided me with other necessary “tools” for my “toolbox” in accomplishing this project.  At the time my husband and I owned an established computer business in the region.  Through that business people knew who I was and already had a level of trust in me – something critical in accomplishing any task in a close knit, rural community.  Had an “outsider” been placed in the position, they would have met with obstacles with which I did not have to contend.  I also was very active in the local faith community, especially in youth ministry and education. Once again, people from this community knew who I was and had a sense of trust in me.  I understood, and was comfortable with, what was important to people of faith and why they would want to be involved in this project.  I knew the “language of faith” and could communicate to this community in a way that someone who is not active in church life would find difficult and uncomfortable.  I was also familiar with local politics.  I had run for city council several years previously and was a frequent attendee of Elbow Lake city council meetings.  I had become involved in local politics out of boredom, but this experience helped me to be comfortable with the language and procedure of politics.  This was another helpful tool for me when coming to local governments for financial and legal support of the work we were doing in their communities.  None of this past experience was at all related, at the time it seemed just random life to me, but it coalesced in this particular work I found myself doing.  The only explanation I have is it was the hand of God at work in my life, shaping me as the potter does the clay into a tool to build His kingdom.

In much the same way that all this past experience formed me for the community building I did with the Land of Lakes Group Workcamp, I can hear echoes of the training I received through Americorps and Community Action in my life after 2005.  Four years later I helped our neighborhood form a community association in response to city infrastructure plans and policies we felt would be detrimental to our neighborhood.  Each project I did with the Westside Association, from organizing the neighborhood meetings, to putting together door campaigns to notifying the community of what was going on, to working with the city government to come to a just solution, I learned through the community organizing training I had received as an Americorps VISTA.  Even something as simple as purchasing our produce through a CSA (community supported agriculture), our staples through a community purchasing group (Fare for All; Angel Food Ministries), and our meat from local farmers, those decisions and relationships grew out of my broadening experience of working for the common good through the context of community cooperation.  God continues to shape me and I continue to try to respond to how He calls me to service.

It has been almost three years since I moved away from West Central Minnesota, where I was first initiated into community-mindedness, and returned to my hometown of La Crosse, Wisconsin.  I have been waiting, often impatiently, to discover the next chapter of my life, to understand God’s purposes for me in this community.  But much like I could not see the road unfolding ahead of me from theatre to Americorps to Westside Association, I cannot see past the horizon here in La Crosse.  I simply must trust that God is forming me right now for the next part of His plan, and be open and ready to respond when He calls my name.


To:  Barack Obama, President of the United States

From:  Krista Clements Orlan, Student of Servant Leadership

Re:  Thoughts as You Enter Your Second Term

Congratulations on your recent election win!  As a constituent who voted for you in both the 2008 and 2012 elections I want to express my joy that you are our president.  I appreciate the charismatic style of leadership you have brought to the office.  In these difficult times our country has been facing, with the fears of terrorism and the threat of economic collapse, it is important for the people to have a friendly face and voice of hope to go to when the future is uncertain.  You have confidently and optimistically led our country over the last four years despite fierce partisan opposition, and I am certain you will bring the hard work you began to a positive resolution as you move “Forward” into your second term.

I have been studying servant leadership and politics this semester at Viterbo University.  It has been an insightful course of study during the last leg of your election campaign, and now looking into the future of your next term.  There were several topics covered during the course that I would like to share with you as you go forward.  I hope you find my thoughts on politics as a vocation, credibility, and how they apply to you specifically, helpful in navigating through these next four years.  In the end, I offer these insights as rain and sunshine for the emerging servant leader within you.

Politics as a Vocation

            One of the first topics explored in class was the idea of politics as a vocation according to German economist and sociologist, Max Weber.  In a lecture given to the Free Students Union of Munich University in 1919, Weber offers his definition of politics and the state, explains politics as a vocation, discusses the three types of authority, and considers the needed compromise between an ethic of ultimate ends and an ethic of responsibility in decision-making.

Weber defines politics as “any kind of independent leadership in action” (1919, p.1).  Politics happen within the family, in the workplace, within any aspect of life.  For purposes here, I am referring to the politics of the state.  Weber defines the modern state “sociologically only in terms of the specific means peculiar to it, as to every political association, namely, the use of physical force” (1919, p.1).  Using this definition, the United States of America is an association of governments acting together to decide if and when physical force is used to control international or civil situations.  As the president of these United States it is your primary duty to decide when and when not to go to war as the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Army and Navy (Koh, 2001).

The authority of president, this power to make or not make war, has come to you due to your charisma.  Weber outlines three distinct types of leadership in his lecture.  There is the traditional or legitimate leader – one who assumes his position through inheritance or local custom.  Second is leadership by legality – someone whose power is a product of policy or law.  And finally, there is the charismatic leader – a person who rises to the position due to a heroic personality that inspires confidence from his constituents (Weber, 1919, p. 2).

This last leadership type is that of the elected official, and where the heart of politics as a vocation lies.  The charismatic personality of the elected politician bubbles up from who they are, not from the position itself.  Elected officials are called by their constituents to their positions by virtue of who they are and when the leader’s “deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” (Buechner, 2012).  This makes charismatic leadership unstable because authority can be taken away based on the whim of constituents.  This whim is continually being swayed by the leader’s personality and the day-to-day decisions made on behalf of the state.

Weber continues to discuss utilizing various ethics in political decision-making.  A charismatic leader will tend towards an ethic of ultimate ends where his focused passion for a cause will lead to any means necessary to achieve the end.  However this ethic lacks any regard for consequences, and this is where a politician can find himself in trouble with his constituents.  An ethic of responsibility is needed to balance the fervor of the ethic of ultimate ends so that all stakeholders are considered.  Weber surmises that political leaders acting through the vocational call will balance an ethic of ultimate ends and an ethic of responsibility in sound decision-making.  This is the path of the mature leader; the one who is able to guide the state along the path of long-term success and not get lost in the short-term wins.  This tactic will lead to credibility with constituents and support longevity in the vocation.

An interesting picture emerges when considering Weber’s thoughts on politics as a vocation and the direction for your second term as president.  I believe you were re-elected largely in part to your past decision-making on war and other physical conflict on behalf of the nation.  During the 2008 campaign you promised to end the Iraq War safely and responsibly within sixteen months and this was a promise you kept (Gibson, 2011).  During a 2008 presidential debate against Senator McCain you stated:

“And if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think we have to act, and we will take them out.  We will kill bin Laden.  We will crush al-Qaida.  That has to be our biggest national security priority” (Adair, 2011).

This was another promise kept.

Not only did you keep these promises but you demonstrated a good balance in ethics of ultimate ends and responsibility in achieving these goals. “Although about 48,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq as a transitional force, the bulk of the combat forces were headed home by the end of summer 2010,” reported FOX News (Gibson, 2011).    You considered the consequences to the Iraqi people if you pulled our troops out all at once and decided a transition was needed to ensure long-term peace in the region. According to CNN, 57% of Americans trust you to handle an international crisis as opposed to only 50% for Romney (2012).  This demonstrates your decisions in regards to international force have created credibility with the American people.

It is important to move forward with other international conflicts in a similar manner during your second term.  The American people are expecting you to move firmly, yet not recklessly, in international affairs.  We want to consider the impact our forceful actions have on other countries.  Proceeding in this same direction will ensure continued call by your constituents to the role of the charismatic leader as your presidency is over and new political opportunities evolve.


The course bookend to Weber has been James Kouzes & Barry Posner’s book Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It.  The book fleshes out thirty years of ongoing research into leadership.  The bulk of the work focuses on the six steps to building and maintaining credibility as a leader: discover your self, appreciate constituents, affirm shared values, develop capacity, serve a purpose, and sustain hope (Kouzes & Posner, 2011, p. 35).  As I stated earlier, you were successful in building credibility with American voters during your first term of office; this is why you were re-elected.  Now your challenge is to maintain that credibility throughout the remainder of your presidential career.  Indulge me as I explore how you built credibility in each of the six areas, and make recommendations on how you can continue to build credibility into the future.

“To be credible, you need to have trust in your abilities to do what you believe, especially in uncertain and challenging situations” (Kouzes & Posner, 2011, p. 43).  In a nutshell, this is the ultimate challenge of self-discovery for a leader.  You are a great leader because your life has been focused on self-discovery and this self- awareness has provided you what you needed to lead an entire country.  Author, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, called your book, Dreams from My Father, “one of the most powerful books of self-discovery I’ve ever read” (Obama, 2004, back cover).  Through the process of writing this book you were able to unpack a lifetime worth of searching for your True Self in a way most people do not take the time or energy to embark.

I also had the pleasure of reading your second book, The Audacity of Hope, where you explore what you believe about our nation and how the government can best address our country’s needs.  You sought out the best educational opportunities available in our country at Harvard, and have taken your book smarts to the streets as a community organizer in Chicago, as well as the halls of Congress, in order to build your competencies.  The sum of all your life experiences and how you have aggressively sought to make sense of them has instilled in you the confidence to lead a nation.

As you move through these next four years, it is important that you always take time to contemplate who you are at this moment.  Self-discovery is an ongoing process.  Who we are is constantly developing.  Being in touch with who you are right now will keep you grounded and confident in making the difficult decisions needed of the president.

Credible leaders appreciate their constituents.  They listen deeply and ask for feedback.  They also encourage constructive controversy as a way to make better decisions and build commitment within their teams.  In observing you through the media over the last several years, you make a point of relating to the average American. You are frequently pictured in everyday situations with everyday people, for instance, eating pie in a café or playing a game of basketball.  You always look completely comfortable and honestly happy to be spending time with these people.  As an “average American” myself, I have always enjoyed these media moments as a window into a man who is just like me and appreciates who I am and what I go through as part of this society.  That is pretty amazing considering you are a black man and I am a white woman.

Moving forward, I think it will be necessary for you to shift your energy toward building credibility with your immediate stakeholders, namely the Republican members of Congress. There is much bi-partisan work to be done in addressing the federal budget deficit, the sagging economy, and federal healthcare legislation. It will be important for you to promote constructive controversy in order to come to the best decisions in a way that does not drive a wedge further between the two political parties.  This is a tall order, but a challenge I believe you can undertake.  While editor of the Harvard Law Review you were known for your unique ability to work constructively with conservative editors on the Review.  In an interview shortly after being elected as the first black president of the Review board you explained, “If I’m talking to a white conservative who wants to dismantle the welfare state, he has the respect to listen to me and I to him. That’s the biggest value of the Harvard Law Review. Ideas get fleshed out and there is no party line to follow” (Drummond, 2008).  Unfortunately, in the White House there is a party line to follow, and this is what will make your second term particularly challenging.  Keep striving to understand conservative perceptions, concerns, and values in regards to these issues as a way to keep the conversation headed toward compromise.

Once a credible leader understands their stakeholders values they can build further credibility and confidence by affirming the values that are held in common.  This has been a difficult task during your first term and the most complicated area of credible leadership in the current political climate.  The problem of affirming shared values between liberal and conservative factions has not been your problem, but that of the parties.  Christine Lee, a black Harvard law student during your time on the Review board noted, “He’s willing to talk to them (the conservatives) and he has a grasp of where they are coming from, which is something a lot of blacks don’t have and don’t care to have” (Drummond, 2008).  This aspect of credible leadership comes naturally to you; however it is the deep seated stalemate between the GOP and the DFL that has been a barrier to constructive compromise in Washington.

Your challenge going forward is to build genuine working relationships with every person involved in party negotiations.  Building these types of relationships takes a lot of time and energy.  You understand this from your time as a community organizer in Chicago.  In fact, you may spend your remaining four years building these relationships so that constructive compromises can be made immediately before leaving the presidency, or perhaps you will be laying the groundwork for the next president.  Regardless, your work now is in building a community of politicians committed to making changes for the common good based upon shared values and blind to party affiliation.  It may seem an insurmountable task, but if anyone can do it, you can.

Credible leaders build the capacity of their constituents so they can better help the leader address those insurmountable tasks.  They “provide the resources and other organizational supports that enable constituents to build their skills and put their abilities to constructive use.  Credible leaders foster an ownership mindset by making sure people have choices and the freedom to use their training, their judgment, and their experience to do what is right” (Kouzes & Posner, 2011, p. 131).  You are in the unique position of offering this to all Americans who need access to an affordable, quality education.  According to online parent resource, you have made education a priority as president.  You have supported the development of new federal assessment standards to replace the problematic No Child Left Behind, provided grant money to states for starting charter schools as a way to offer more school choice, made the federal student loan system more efficient in order to free up money for Pell grants, offered grant money to make preschool accessible to more people, increased funding for science and math education, and funded experiments in merit pay for teachers (Sorrentino, 2012).  You see the importance of training the next generation of our country’s leaders and back up that value with federal support.  I encourage more of the same from you in the upcoming years.  It is the best way to leave behind a legacy as a leader – empowering others to do what was not yours to do.

Serving a purpose is also important to building credibility in leadership.  This is done by putting the country’s guiding principles before anything else (Kouzes & Posner, 2011, p. 152).  You spoke about this in your 2012 victory speech:

“By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock, resolve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward.  But that common bond is where we must begin” (Obama, 2012).

A guiding principle of our nation is that we are united in innumerable ways, including a unity of diversity in opinion and worldview, and it is in working through our diversity that our country’s unity is perfected through consensus and compromise.  Living out this purpose on the political stage has not been an easy task; in fact it often seemed there was no hope for consensus and compromise in the midst of all the hard-line partisan rhetoric.  But you persistently tried, and from recent headlines it seems as if the long held stalemate may soon fall aside in the interest of addressing the deficit (Espo, 2012).  To keep the momentum of compromise going I recommend remaining open to constructive conversations and opposition because “credible leaders provide tangible evidence of their commitment and are visible models of the kinds of behaviors that are expected” (Kouzes & Posner, 2011, p.152).

The final, and what I consider most essential quality of credible leadership, is the ability to sustain hope.  Hope has been an abiding theme in your life and your presidency.  Through your childhood you held on to the hope of finding where you belonged.  During college you participated in political demonstrations in the hope of ending apartheid (Drummond, 2008).  You moved to Chicago to work as a community organizer in the hope of bringing just treatment to those living in impoverished neighborhoods. Your conversion experience into the Christian faith involved listening to a sermon entitled “The Audacity of Hope” surrounded by those you were called to serve.  You went on to write a book by the same title about your hopes and dreams for America’s future. “Hope” was your first presidential campaign slogan.  Hope has been a driving force in your life and you have not been afraid to embrace the power of hope when others have dismissed it as a soft and wistful emotion.  Your very presence as the President of these United States, a young black man from an unstable home, has brought hope to so many Americans.  Hope has made you a leader “with a positive, confident, gritty, can-do approach [Yes, we can!] who remain[s] passionate despite obstacles and setbacks” (Kouzes & Posner, 2011, p. 173).  And you will sustain hope in our nation by helping us all think positively about the future through your gift as an orator.  You are America’s cheerleader and that is exactly what we need in order to rise above our country’s difficulties.  Thank you for your gift of hope!

Servant Leadership & Politics

In conclusion, I want to share with you some thoughts on servant leadership and politics.  It has been a topic of conversation in our servant leadership classes on campus this semester.  Opinion is divided about whether or not it is possible to be a politician and a servant leader simultaneously.    Some think it impossible because of the large number of constituents a politician represents.  It is not possible to build interpersonal relationships with most of them, and that is a key component of servant leadership.  In today’s political climate, politicians have to answer to their parties and supporting lobbies more so than to the people they represent in order to be effective in their positions.

This makes it difficult to actually listen to constituents and act according to personal values.  The battleground of politics is an unfriendly place for the servant leader.

However I think someone who is firmly grounded in their role as servant leader can successfully navigate the world of politics, and I think you are a prime example.  Robert Greenleaf defines a servant leader as “servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.  Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead” (Greenleaf, 2008, p. 15).  You demonstrated this when you chose to work as a community organizer before heading to law school.  You continued to demonstrate this when you chose to work in civil rights and as an educator before initiating your political career.  Your political career in itself is an act of civil service.  Your service to others, and inspiring others to service, has always been a motivator for you.

Servant leadership emerges from you in other ways as well.  I have already written about your desire to connect with people on an interpersonal level and how that positively affects the rest of us who will never have the opportunity to meet you in person.  Of all the presidents I have known in my lifetime, you are by far the best storyteller of the lot.  You have the gift to connect, inspire, and reassure with your words, both orally and in written form.  Critics often claim this is all you have going for you, but when looking through the servant leader lens, the ability to uplift and motivate others to service through story is the key to successful leadership.  The servant leader does not have to do it all by himself, he does not want to because his primary purpose is to develop other servant leaders.  In your 2008 victory speech you expressed this desire:

“This victory alone is not the change we seek; it is only the chance for us to make that change.  And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It can’t happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice. So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other” (Obama, 2012, November 4).

You clearly understand what it takes to be a servant leader and have tried your best to apply what you know in your role as president.  You may not have always been successful in your leadership – what servant leader has not failed in some way – but I observe you continually use your failures to grow and develop as a leader.  This is all we can legitimately ask of our leaders, and of ourselves.

You have spent the last four years laying the groundwork for your next four as president.  I have hope and confidence that you have built the relationships necessary to break down the walls of partisanship and build the bridges of cooperation and compromise in Washington, D.C.  Despite having never met you in person, you have managed to build credibility with me during your first term, and I am sure there are thousands of others like me.  I want you to know how very proud I am of being an American during the term of our first African American president.  I want you to know how very proud I am of you.


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Obama, B. H. (2008). The audacity of hope: Thoughts on reclaiming the american dream. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

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We are the sum of all our parts.  No single aspect of ourselves totally defines us; we are a product of our education, our culture, our family life, and our religious upbringing, or lack thereof.  In his book, Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs, Ninian Smart (2000) identifies six dimensions of belief that shape how an individual perceives and interacts with the world.

This paper is an exploration into what constitutes the worldview of Krista Clements Orlan.  I have used Smart’s worldview dimensions – experiential, mythic, doctrinal, ethical, ritual, and social – to begin to uncover what fuels the emerging servant leader within me.  For each dimension I offer a story or two from my life, and how that story was the seed for a core commitment for me as a servant leader.  This paper is not intended to be an exhaustive study into my worldview – that would require a book-length work – but an initial scratching of the surface to demonstrate my understanding of what makes each worldview dimension unique.  I also hope it helps me identify my immediate strengths as a servant leader so I can grow in my giftedness in service to others.

The Experiential Dimension

Sharp defines the experiential dimension as those individual experiences “of a majestic, terrifying, overwhelming, loving Being, a divine Reality” (2000, p. 55).  These personal religious experiences can be further identified as numinous or mystical.  Numinous experiences encapsulate feelings of the mysterious and fearful while simultaneously being awe-inspiring and fascinating, drawing one further into the experience (Smart, 2000, p. 56).  These intense feelings are in stark contrast to the stillness of feeling typical of the mystical experience.  The individual experiences a release of self and thought that leads to a blissful quietness.

I have experienced the divine in a very tangible way throughout my life.  There have been moments in prayer and contemplation when I have been completely embraced within the presence of God.  I can feel God’s presence with me in the room; filling me with peace and the knowledge I am not alone.  As I grew older the experience transformed into a merging into the Other, not in a way where my Self was lost, but where I became a lilting melody line within a robust symphony.

I have also experienced this merging with Creation when walking in the woods barefoot, the dew dripping between my toes, the trees whispering my name, and the dragonfly escorting me on my journey.  This is where I have experienced the deep knowing I belong because I am part of the whole.  All anxiety melts away because I know I am safe and protected by this Other of which I AM.

A handful of times I have experienced this merging of spirit with another human, my husband Steve.  The best description I can give is “falling into one another”.  It is a very rare occasion indeed, and a moment we have not experienced for many, many years.  It requires a softening of spirit, vulnerability, and willingness from both to neither dominate nor acquiesce in being.  It is as if you both occupy the same space in time, yet beyond the confines of space and time entirely.  It was through these experiences I came to know the very essence of Steve.  We could meld into One, but not lose our sense of identity.  Like a peanut butter cup, when combined we were something wonderfully new that was greater than our essences separate and alone.

My experience of God is somewhere between numinous and mystical.  While I have experienced being one with the Other, be it God or Creation or the Universe, to the point where I no longer feel separate, I never completely lose my sense of Self as described in the traditional sense of the mystical experience.  I liken it to a tree.  I am a leaf, a distinct element of the tree, but a vital part of the tree as a whole.  When someone looks at the tree and is asked, “What do you see?” the observer will identify the tree and then may go on to the specific details of the trunk covered by bark, and the roots that are seen and those far beneath the ground away from view, and the leaves, some of which have begun to turn with the brisk autumn air.  The leaf shares identity with “tree” but never loses its identity as “leaf”.

These spiritual experiences have tempered my sense of individualism in favor of a focus on interpersonal relationship.  Growing up in the United States I was instilled with the power and importance of the individual spirit.  It was important to take care of Self by putting Self first because you could not depend on anyone but yourself to take care of you.  This led to very self-centered thinking in my teens and early 20s.  However after these first experiences of “Self as one with Other” I began to find it increasingly difficult to only focus on my own well-being without also considering impacts on others as well.  These were my personal experiences of Thich Nhat Hanh’s concept of interbeing – “I am, therefore you are.  You are, therefore I am” (Marshall, 2008, p. 12) – and Desmond Tutu’s definition of ubuntu – “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours” (Marshall, 2008, p. 12) – from which the unconditional love of a servant leader emerged within me.

My experience of unconditional love and connectedness is lived out in my work as a servant leader.  I acknowledge the importance of building interpersonal relationships for healthy team dynamics.  I see the importance of every person’s contribution within an organization, with the leader’s primary role to support individuals in achieving personal excellence for the good of the entire organization.  Most importantly, I attempt to respond to everyone with unconditional love knowing we are equals in imperfection.

The Mythic Dimension

Smart defines the mythic dimension as stories of divine or sacred significance that present an example of how humans should act (2000, p. 71-72).  They can either be false myths or purportedly “true” accounts that offer patterns for right behavior.

My favorite time of the liturgical year is Holy Week, when we tell the last stories from the life of the great servant leader, Jesus Christ.  Holy Thursday, the beginning of the Easter Triduum, is the big servant leader story, the Last Supper.  The evening starts off with Jesus washing the feet of his disciples:

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later … If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.  I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. (Jn 13:6-7,14-15 NABRE)

Jesus understood the best leaders are seen as “one of us”.  The most effective leaders develop authentic relationships with those who they serve through their leadership.  The love from these authentic relationships is what generates their positive power and authority to lead.  The leader who serves first acts as a model of service to his followers.  They will do likewise and the Kingdom of God will be built.  As a servant leader I contribute to the building of the Kingdom through my service that leads to the development of servant led cultures in the organizations of which I am a part.

This story offers more than just an example of a leader in service.  It is also a story of unconditional love.  This past spring I had the opportunity to learn and experience washing of feet through the practice of reflexology.  Touching another’s feet is healing, relaxing, and promotes positive relationship.  It is a very vulnerable and intimate feeling when baring your feet to another and allowing them to be touched.  I experienced nervousness at first, but that was soon replaced by a total feeling of calm, love, and acceptance, both in the receiving and the giving.  Placing ones hands on the feet of another is a harmonious action; it is very difficult to be angry with someone when they are touching your feet.

Service as an act of unconditional love is what separates the servant leader from others who serve.  It is what transforms the servant into leader.  Service can be performed without love, as a transactional response, however this service will wither and fail to pass on to others. Service with love grows within the person who receives it and emerges as servant leadership.  My goal is to serve with love.  This evening my husband validated my commitment to this goal by recognizing all that I do is motivated by love for others.  His comment was a welcome affirmation that I continue to grow as a servant leader.

The Doctrinal Dimension

Doctrine is any particular principle, position, or policy that is taught and advocated by a religious or governmental institution (, 2012).  Smart identifies five functions of the doctrinal dimension.  First, it gives order to teachings contained within religious narrative.  Perhaps a religious practice appears contradictory to what is contained in scripture, so a doctrine is articulated that justifies the practice within the broader teaching.  Another function of doctrine is “to safeguard the reference myths have to that which lies Beyond, to that which transcends the cosmos” (Smart, 2000, p. 88).  The narratives express these teachings through image and symbol while the doctrine provides a systematic framework for the teaching.  Doctrines also provide the function of relating religious claims to the current knowledge of the day (Smart, 2000, p. 88).  They synthesize the current understanding of life and the world around us with the teachings illustrated by sacred narrative so as to keep religious claims relevant.  Likewise, another function of doctrine is to keep an individual’s outlook on the world fresh.  A person can apply doctrine to their current understanding of the world and come to a deeper, sometimes revolutionary, way of seeing life and its complexities.  Finally, the doctrinal dimension helps define community.  Everyone who buys into a certain set of teachings is part of the group.  Not accepting certain teachings distances the individual from the group, perhaps to the point where they are expelled from the community.  I will attempt to address all of the functions identified by Smart in my journey with Trinitarian doctrine.

When I was in seventh grade I remember a special religion class at school.  Normally religion was taught by our homeroom teacher, but on this day one of our parish priests came to our room to teach.  It is one of only two times I can recall a priest coming over to the grade school to teach religion.  This instance was to provide the first two functions of doctrine in regards to the Trinity.

To begin Father created a large Venn diagram on the chalkboard to represent the intertwined relationship of the three aspects of the Trinity.  I recall him talking about the council where the doctrine was validated and using words like “nature” and “persons”.  His lecture topic was not new to me – I had heard it all before in previous classes – I understood there was only one God  and three “persons” or aspects that came together to make one God.  I cannot remember what the priest said that I questioned, or what my question was exactly, but I was persistently asking for clarification on the concept and Father was having a very difficult time explaining to us.  Finally in frustration he shouted that some things were simply a matter of faith.  I needed to trust he knew what he was talking about and just believe.

That answer did not sit well with me.  It was the first time I was told not to bother to intellectually understand, but just accept.  It was best that way.  This sounded like the easy way out, for both the priest and me, and I am not one to take the easy path or to just accept what I am told.  Thus my preoccupation with Triune relationships began.

For a while I was preoccupied with applying my experiences of interbeing to the Trinitarian model.  Mary represents humanity and she can be seen as a connecting force between the Triune persons.  Therefore humanity is a conduit for the Divine or, at the risk of sounding heretical (the fifth function of doctrine) humanity is part of the Divine. I drew out Venn diagrams and strained my brain to make connections within the doctrinal dimension where I had so effortlessly made the connections experientially   Now I just need to wait for the next bit of current knowledge to occupy my brain so I can apply it to Trinitarian doctrine and break open the egg.  This is one way I currently wrestle with the third function of doctrine.

I see Trinitarian relationships everywhere.  Utilizing the fourth function of doctrine – applying doctrine to the world around – is second nature to me.  Body/mind/spirit, good skincare regimes, BLT sandwiches, even a rationale for having only one child – the most effective relationships come in threes.  It is this first triplet – body, mind, spirit – that has really held my attention for the last six years.  It is the definition of wholeness, necessary for proper life balance, and a core commitment within the servant leader ideology.

The ongoing process of developing and nurturing authentic 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, the center of the Trinitarian Venn diagram the priest drew on my seventh grade chalkboard.  According to business poet David 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 of defining a Self reflective of Trinitarian relationship.  It is the lens through which I view my development as a servant leader, and how I want to help other servant leaders emerge so that we are doing the work that is ours to do.

The Ethical Dimension

According to Smart, “the ethical dimension of a religion or worldview is shaped by the other dimensions, but it also helps to shape them” (2000, p. 104).  While the moral environment of our upbringing may have been influenced by religious experiences, favorite scripture stories, church teachings, and the like, our unique moral fiber is likely to have made certain experiences, stories, and teachings resonate for us in poignant ways.

I attended Catholic schools for over sixteen years of my life, from first grade until I obtained my undergraduate degree, and now into graduate school.  All of these schools were staffed by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.  The woman who I am is a product of their commitment to quality academics and their Franciscan values of contemplation, hospitality, integrity, stewardship, and service.  I was not aware of my Franciscan indoctrination at the time.  The sisters were very low key with their evangelization.  Just like Francis, they spoke with their actions more than their words.

Through the discernment process in becoming an FSPA Affiliate I have had the opportunity to reflect upon the impact these women, and their values, have had on who I am and my way of being in the world.  I need a contemplative life in order to feel sane and whole.  I am not one to make a hasty decision.  I consider the facts and contemplate the impacts my ethical decisions have on others.  I am a “people person” who loves to celebrate others with ritual and cheer.  I seek to be Eucharist to others by welcoming them without judgment or condition, the hallmark of Christian hospitality.  I strive to be a person of integrity who can be trusted with responsibility, confidentiality, and forthright effort.  I have a great respect and love for all Creation, and am humbled to be a part of its grandeur.  And all of this leads me to be of service to others, especially the downtrodden and the underdog, anyone who is the modern-day leper.

Three years of intense contemplation on the Franciscan values with which I have been imprinted helped me to begin to recognize my True Self.  The Franciscan values of contemplation, hospitality, integrity, stewardship, and service, along with my core commitments to prayer, ministry, and community as a covenant affiliate are emerging and merging within me as I grow as a servant leader.

The Ritual Dimension

The ritual dimension consists of those things having to do with worship that are part of a person’s religious experience.  It is the practice of movement and action that one uses when worshipping.  It is the prescribed words spoken and sung in praise.  It is the sacred objects used in ceremony.  All of these things come together to form the rituals we use to articulate our relationship with the Divine and demonstrate our understanding of the Sacred.

I grew up attending Roman Catholic Mass on a weekly basis, oftentimes more with school Mass during the week.  My experience of the Mass was always in a post-Vatican II context.  Catholic ritual is very physical, involving a routine of standing, sitting, kneeling, and bowing.  Despite the fact the language of the Mass has always been in the vernacular for me, the sisters at my school made sure we could all speak Latin for special chants and songs.  Recently, the language of the Mass dramatically changed.  The English translation of the Roman Missal was revised in an attempt to make the wording more consistent with scripture.  This has meant 40 years of verbal programming has been upended for me recently.  Catholic ritual also involves lots of “stuff” – candles, statues, tableware, food, books, furniture, clothing, oils, incense, different spaces within the church building – the list is never ending.  All of these items have a very specific use and there tends to be lots of rules that go along with them.  Traditional Roman Catholic ritual, whether it is in the context of the Mass or simply in personal prayer, tends to be codified, ordered, and specific.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist is considered the “summit” of the Roman Catholic Mass.  It is the remembrance and celebration of the Last Supper story where Jesus gave of himself to his disciples in the form of bread and wine.  There is much ritual surrounding all matters related to the Eucharistic, and this ritual has been a formative influence on me.  My family belonged to Blessed Sacrament Church in La Crosse for most of my youth, and I attended their school for eight years.  The school was staffed by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.  As you can imagine, Eucharistic ritual and theology was emphasized in my schooling and parish community life.  I became well versed in Eucharistic theology and how our ritual illustrates our beliefs. We believe that Jesus Christ is truly present in the consecrated host, and that it is a permanent state once achieved.  This is why we treat what appears to be a wafer of wheat as God in our midst, because it is Him. This is also why the leftover hosts are reserved in the tabernacle after Mass, because Jesus needs a holy place to wait until he is consumed by a believer.  The ritual of communion also demonstrates communal aspects of Eucharistic theology.   All are equal in God’s eyes, and the procession to receive communion signifies the solidarity of the Catholic union.  How one receives the host is also important.  We receive the Lord – we don’t take him – and so one outstretches their hands or tongue in order to receive the host.  It is not correct to take or grab the host from the minister. And in receiving the Lord through communion we become One with Him, and with each other, as the Body of Christ.

Of all the worldview dimensions the ritual dimension, in terms of the Eucharist, has shaped who I am as a servant leader the most.  The ritual around Eucharist is a beautiful expression of interbeing.  As I write this I hear the songs we sing during communion in my head:

“We are many parts, we are all one body and the gifts we have, we are given to share” (We Are Many Parts, Haugen, 1986).

“One bread, one body, one Lord of all, one cup of blessing which we bless.  And we, though many, throughout the earth, we are one body in this one Lord” (One Bread, One Body, Foley, 1978).

“Let us be bread, blessed by the Lord, broken and shared, life for the world.  Let us be wine, love freely poured.  Let us be one in the Lord” (Lets Us Be Bread, Porter, 1990).

We are all joined together in this sacred meal.  Not only do we share of it equally, but we become what we eat, and we are called to share what we have become with each other.  As a servant leader I am called to share my gifts of service and enable others to do likewise. As part of “one body” I must respect and honor all the other parts, lest I dishonor myself.  I cannot lead alone in the tower.  I must be surrounded by my community, my team, in order for us all to succeed together.

The Social Dimension

The cultural norms of the community of which we are a part shape our worldview through the social dimension.  These norms can be generalized to most members of a particular society.  This is changing with the advent of more sophisticated communication technology, namely the Internet.  In both small-scale societies and large, the trend towards pluralism and secularization is blurring the definition of what it means to be a member of a given cultural community.  I have experienced this blurring of culture and belief as a Gen Xer living in America, both culturally and religiously.

I am a cultural mutt.  I am 100% American.  I always chuckle to myself when people start talking about their heritage because most people list off three to four nationalities while I am aware of at least seven countries from which my ancestors came.  It is apparent my ancestors did not have the hang ups with mixing outside of their cultural group that were common in early America.

With the dilution of my blood came a dilution of culture as well.  I did not grow up surrounded by the cultural traditions of one specific nationality.  My enculturation was piecemeal.  Grandpa Fredrickson insisted on having lutefisk and lefse at our family Easter meal every year; that is what I know about being Norwegian.  My German heritage was expressed in lots of food and beer surrounding all celebrations, and dancing the polka at any gathering that was so large as to require renting a hall to hold everyone.  My Polish roots can be seen in my love for big patterned clothing, and the Bohemian in me is expressed through my free spirit, my love for travel, and my ability to adapt to whatever new community I find myself a part.

All other influences have been lost in the mix of American culture.  We celebrated the secularized holidays of Halloween, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter in the typical way of most Americans (scary costumes, Santa Claus, turkey, and big bunny).  As a Catholic, the religious aspects of these holidays were emphasized in our home and at school, but this focus often took a backseat to the secular traditions of the day.

My family has a history of religious mixing as well; also uncommon in early American society.  I have a set of great-grandparents who were Protestant/Catholic and one who was different flavors of Lutheran (German/English).  One set of grandparents were Lutheran/Catholic until Grandma finally convinced Grandpa to convert to Catholicism after the children had all grown up.  The openness to differing religious perspectives has been carried on by my sister who married a Shiite Muslim and has converted to Islam herself.  The idea that love knows no barriers is evident in my family history.

How has this melding of culture and religion in my life shaped me as a servant leader?  I am very welcoming of the “other”.  I don’t judge someone based upon their label; I look to their character and spirit to define who they are.  I am comfortable around lots of different types of people, and can easily assimilate into their customs and traditions since I was not raised within a closed box of custom.  I do not seek to pigeon-hole people because I have a hard time pigeon-holing myself.  And I have learned that love is a very powerful force.  It can overcome all obstacles if the love is strong.  Love can build bridges and close gaps.  Every good relationship has its basis in love.


Through the course of this paper I identified a number of core commitments in servant leadership that emerged from certain dimensions of my worldview:  adaptability, balance and wholeness, and justice to name a few.  However three core commitments came up repeatedly in several worldview dimensions:  service, connectedness or interbeing, and love.  These three commitments define who I AM.  They are the essence of Krista Clements Orlan.  They are the seeds of the emerging servant leader that I am.  It is now my work to tend to these seeds as I continue to grow and blossom as a servant leader.


References (2012). Retrieved from

Marshall, E. O. (2008). Christians in the public square: Faith that transforms politics. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Smart, N. (2000). Worldviews: Crosscultural explorations of human beliefs. (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (2012).Evening mass of the lord’s supper. Retrieved from

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.




by: Thomas Porter

© 1990 GIA Publications, Inc. All rights administered by GIA Publications, 7404 South Mason Avenue, Chicago, IL 60638.

All Rights Reserved


by: John Foley, SJ

© 1978 John B. Foley, SJ and New Dawn Music. All rights administered by GIA Publications, 7404 South Mason Avenue, Chicago, IL 60683

All Rights Reserved.


by: Marty Haugen

© 1986 GIA Publications, Inc. (Renewed) All rights administered by GIA Publications, 7404 South Mason Avenue, Chicago, IL 60638.

All Rights Reserved.

ImagePlace of Grace was one of the first communities my family and I connected with when we moved back to La Crosse.  We wanted to start making those connections with people whom we could live in solidarity.  Practically, we needed the support of the community because we were in the midst of our own financial struggles.  Place of Grace provided a stabilizing place for us.

Frick observed that “much of American life is centered around entertainment, appearances, and narcissism rather than calm and effective servanthood” (2009, p. 74).  Those first few months back were very difficult.  We were desperate to have “the good life” of a well-accessorized home and big toys that our siblings and parents seemed to enjoy.  I jumped on the first job opportunity that came my way so we’d have a second income, even though we had managed on a single income for years living on the prairie.  The pursuit of appearances suddenly became a priority, and it was distracting me from everything I truly valued.  The varied hours of my job were such that I had a hard time engaging in any form of community life, even within my own family.  And I found it difficult to engage in the social advocacy work that had become my passion.  I had lost focus on my journey.

But I am changing.  I recognized I had strayed from the beautiful path I had been exploring and made the choice to regroup through my studies.  Ironically, the MASL program has brought me right back to where I left off, Place of Grace.  A couple of weeks ago my son and I had lunch, did some dishes, sang John Denver songs accompanied by a duct taped kid’s guitar in the living room, and left with some items from the garage food shelf because we ran short on grocery cash for the month.  It seems that in humbly returning to Place of Grace for support I discovered an open door along the path of which I had lost track.  A few days later I was invited to explore a possible service opportunity at Place of Grace; an opportunity that will provide for intimate connections within the Catholic Worker community and a place to offer meaningful service.

Frick’s description of a young woman who serves the Clarke Estate community in Cape Town, South Africa, was inspiring to me:

“Onalisa is one of the quiet ones, a girl who emerges from her ramshackle home with no electricity or running water and shows up day after day to sing, cook, and distribute food to people who are in worse condition than she is … Like so many of her other modest friends involved in the ministry at Clarke’s Estate, Onalisa simply serves in any way she can – with modesty, sincerity, and near-anonymity” (2009, p. 74).

This is how I hope to be of service to Place of Grace in the future.  I want to meet everyone there as brother and sister – from a place of understanding – as equals.  I want to offer those gifts that God has given me freely to share.  And I hope to do it with humility – in a way where I become less so that others become more.


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.


There is one instance in my life that immediately comes to mind “when I felt most completely myself, not meeting others expectations, but just being centered in expressing who I was” (Cashman, 2008, p. 54) – as coordinator of the Land of Lakes Group Work Camp. This was a fulltime volunteer position as a Minnesota Housing Partnership Americorps*VISTA assigned to West Central Minnesota Communities Action.  The purpose of the program was to rehabilitate 30 homes of disabled, elderly, and modest-income people living in the agency’s five-county region.  In order to accomplish this goal we brought together 450 youth volunteers from around the nation along with approximately 100 local volunteers, churches, civic organizations, city and county governments, businesses, and the school district to complete the work in one week’s time.

This job involved coordinating a large group of people working towards a common goal.  My primary role was to gather the people and organizations together in order to accomplish the task, to support them in doing their work, and to connect everyone together so that obstacles could easily be overcome.  My secondary role was to act as spokesperson and publicist.

I remember after the interview for the job I had the sense I was designed by God to do the work.  This project explained all the seemingly random training and experiences I had had for the 10 years previous.  I would be utilizing every single bit of it in this position.  I can still recall the deep sense of grounding I had in realizing this position was not one that just anyone could be placed in and do well; there was a need for someone with a broad skill set, and how perfectly God had filled my toolbox in order to get the job done.  So many people would benefit in so many ways if the job was done well.  I would be remiss in not accepting the position.  Even though I had never coordinated a project of this size or worked in housing rehabilitation before, I felt absolutely confident I could bring all the pieces and people together.  It was a profoundly empowering experience for me.

That is not to say the project didn’t have its trying times and struggles.  There were the unexpected curveballs I didn’t see coming or those instances when someone on the team was not meeting expectations and I was unsuccessful in supporting them in getting back on task.  However, those turbulent moments were met with ease because the whole process flowed so smoothly.  Instead of tidal waves they were mere ripples coaxing us on in new directions.  It was always in those moments that being grounded and confident in God’s design for me and my calling moved me away from worrisome thinking, and above anyone’s expectations.  I trusted in there being a solution to every problem; all I needed to do was look for it.

I am looking for the next opportunity for which God has created me.  In the meantime I am adding more tools to my toolbox and trying to find time to be still, listen, and wait.  Instead of trying to create similar projects, my strategy is to wait expectantly to be invited, to be called to the work God has planned for me.  I know if I am open to the opportunity; God will place it before me.  I just need to be patient.


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

Publishers Inc.



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.



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.


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

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

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

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.


I was happy to see Hayes & Comer’s book, Start with Humility:  Lessons from America’s Quiet CEOs on How to Build Trust and Inspire Followers (2010) on the reading list for Servant Leadership in Theory & Practice.  I have struggled to find balance with self-esteem, humility, and arrogance for most of my life.  True humility is a character trait that has eluded me.  I will attempt to honestly reflect upon my journey in finding humility at the center of True Self and my recent efforts to bring humility forward in my leadership practices.

I struggled with poor self-esteem throughout most of my childhood and adolescence.  I came from a nuclear family that valued appearances, was very status aware, and perfection was something to be sought after.  I never felt like I could live up to my maternal family’s expectations for physical appearance, social behavior, or academic achievement.  It seemed like no matter what I did, I wasn’t good enough; I was always just shy of expectations.  This, coupled with an elementary school environment where I was persistently teased by a number of classmates in a time when bullying was “just something that kids do”, produced in me an almost paralyzing form of low self-esteem.  It manifested within me as eating disorders, a sense of worthlessness, and a lack of self-respect.

Through peer counseling in high school and a myriad of self-help books I began to address my self-esteem issues.  One area that I had particular trouble with was accepting positive affirmation from people.  If I was complimented on something, I would disagree and point out all of the things I could have done better.  To this day I continue to make an effort to gracefully say “thank you” when complimented instead of being critical of myself.

Over the last 22 years I have made great progress in learning to love and accept myself for who I am authentically.  I owe this in large part to my husband, Steve, and a diverse community of friends who all loved and accepted me as well.  It is easy to like yourself when you are surrounded with people who embrace you for all your quirks and uniqueness.

As a young adult I had acquired the confidence needed to become an effective leader in my work and within the community.  However I began to realize in my 30s that I had overcompensated a bit for my low self-esteem.  To those who were less confident or outspoken, I was coming off as arrogant.  For the last five years I have made a special effort to become more cognizant of how my words affect people.  I try to consider how I phrase what I am saying, so that my words lift everyone up and not just myself.  This practice has been especially helpful when accepting compliments.  Instead of going with my first reaction to argue why my performance was not deserving of praise, or simply saying “thank you” politely, I now accept the compliment and direct it toward someone else who was also involved with the accomplishment.  This is a habit of Linda Combs, former controller for the U.S. Office of Management & Budget:

Linda was not interested in this being just her day, her ‘moment’.  She was anxious to share the spotlight with a special person … The idea of ‘checking one’s ego at the door’ and putting the emphasis on others, was abundantly demonstrated on this warm August day at a retirement ceremony (Hayes & Comer, 2010, p. 64).

No matter if your ego is damaged or inflated, checking it at the door is absolutely necessary in discovering True Self.

My husband would say we took the idea of checking your ego at the door to a whole new level with a number of decisions we made after I began the discernment process to become a covenant affiliate with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.  I had been studying the book St. Francis & the Foolishness of God (Dennis, Nangle, Moe-Lobeda & Taylor, 1993) and had been discussing ministry and radical humility with my FSPA contact for several months.  My high profile position as managing director of a professional children’s theatre company was no longer fulfilling.  I was feeling called to minister more fully to my family and the community where we had made our home in West Central Minnesota, but didn’t know where to begin.

I looked to the example of my Brother Francis.  Before he fully began his ministry of service to the poor and disenfranchised, he spent approximately three years disengaging from his former life as a merchant and making himself the lowest of the low.  He became the poor and disenfranchised before he began ministering to them.  This radical act of humility enabled him to serve on a grassroots level instead of from above.  Francis intimately understood the lens through which the community he served viewed the world.  It changed everything – how he related to those he served and how they related to him.  Had Francis not humbled himself in this radical way, his ministry would not have been as effective.

St. Francis is not alone in seeing the wisdom of developing authentic relationship with those he serves.  Four-star General and West Point teacher, Frederick M. Franks, Jr. is noted as making this a hallmark of his leadership in the U. S. Army:

It was on the Czech border during the height of the Cold War that Franks learned another lesson valuable to humble leadership, the importance of staying close to the troops, getting opinions of others, and trusting what they say (Hayes & Comer, 2010, p. 53).

Hayes & Comer go on to relay a story on how Franks finds his platoon stuck in the fog in unfamiliar and hostile territory.  They are led to safety by a scout section leader who speaks up after the troop comes to a standstill.  Because Franks knew his troops on a personal level they were comfortable offering him assistance when the need arose and he was trusting of their capacity to get the job done.

Steve and I needed to develop authentic relationship with our neighborhood and the Elbow Lake community as well.  We had lived in the small town for about three years, but were still very much outsiders.  Our jobs had kept us busy and on the road so we did not know many of our neighbors.  We were just becoming aware that our neighborhood was perceived as the “slum” by the rest of Elbow Lake, and that this perception was the source of many injustices for the people who lived on the west side of town.  There was a lot of work to be done.

And so with blind faith I resigned from my leadership position at the children’s theatre and became a stay-at-home mom.  At the same time my husband lost his teaching job at the community college (funny God’s timing) so we started up our own computer business.  While these situations happening at the same time were a huge source of stress for us, it gave us the freedom to build relationships.  Since we were home for the majority of the year, we had the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with our neighbors.  We were also able to build good relationships with the rest of the Elbow Lake community as local business owners.

While we had the freedom to build relationships during this time, it was also a time of struggle with very little income.  We were forced to seek the help of Social Services, the Salvation Army, Public Health, Community Action, and other local support systems.  We became familiar with the processes that modest-income people need to go through in order to access assistance with health care, heating the home, and food.  This process showed me where my help was needed and how to best approach the problems.  After several years of living simply I was ready to advocate for my community in the areas of housing rehabilitation and municipal policy through both the Land of Lakes Group Workcamp and the Westside Association.

Steve and I have embarked upon the second leg of our journey in humility.  I left the workforce about a month ago in order to study servant leadership full-time in graduate school.  We are drawing the purse strings tight again because there aren’t many coins to fall out when living on one income.  We have cut our food budget in half, which means we need to seek out the services of WAFER in order to keep the pantry stocked.  Sam and I have been volunteering at the food shelf to “pay back” the generosity.  I am sure come winter we will be getting heating assistance again too.  I thank God for this opportunity to understand how modest-income folk make their way through the system in Wisconsin as well, and I pray that the experience will show me how I am to be of service in my hometown now that I am back.

I don’t foresee my journey towards true humility ever coming to a close.  I believe it is a balancing act that most leaders strive to maintain throughout their lives.  All experiences I have related here on my humble journey were full of pain, fear, and at times doubt.    Luckily, the pain has worn away some of the layers of ego so that my True Self is free to claim its place as an effective servant leader.


Dennis, M., Nangle, J., Moe-Lobeda, C., & Taylor, S. (1993). St. francis and the foolishness of god. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

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.


Herrmann Computer Services, Inc. (2012). Franciscan sisters of perpetual adoration: Hot topics/events. Retrieved from

Paiz, J., Angeli, E., Wagner, J., Lawrick, E., Moore, K., Anderson, M., Soderlund, L., Brizee, A., Keck, A. (2012, March 14). In-text citations: The basics. Retrieved from

Son of citation machine. (2010). Retrieved from


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