Archives for category: True Self


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.


Adair, B. (2011, May 1). Politifact: In 2008, obama vowed to kill osama bin laden. Retrieved from

Buechner, F. (2012). Goodreads: Frederick buechner quotes. Retrieved from

CNN. (2012, November). America’s choice 2012: Election center exit polls. Retrieved from

Drummond, T. (2008, September 4). Barack obama, harvard law review editor, march 19, 1990. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from

Espo, D. (2012, December 5). Obama and boehner discuss fiscal cliff by phone. Retrieved from

Gibson, J. (2011, April 5). A brief look at candidate obama’s 2008 campaign promises. Retrieved from

Greenleaf, R. K. (2008). The servant as leader. Westfield, IN: The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.

Koh, H. (2001, September 13). What war powers does the president have?. Retrieved from

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2011). Credibility: How leaders gain and lose it, why people demand it. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Obama, B. H. (2004). Dreams from my father: A story of race and inheritance. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

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

Obama, B. H. (2008, November 4) Retrieved from

Obama, B.H. (2012, November 7). Transcript of president obama’s election night speech. The New York Times.  Retrieved from

Sorrentino, J. (2012). Barack obama on education. Retrieved from

Weber, M. (1919). Politics as a vocation. Retrieved from



In my recent paper, The Servant Led Family (2012), I discussed various servant leadership concepts covered in the first section of this course I wanted to implement within my family.  I applied these concepts to the leadership improvement process used by Hunter (2004) in his consultation work with individuals and teams who want to strengthen their servant leadership skills.  In this paper, I intend to reflect more deeply upon this improvement process and why I chose to utilize it with my family.

Hunter’s (2004, p. 172) three-step leadership improvement process is based upon a quality model he was introduced to in the early 1980s. It consists of first defining the specifications, then identifying any deviations from the specifications, and finally eliminating the deviations.  To this model Hunter inserted what he considers vital to ensuring long-term behavior change, the Three Fs: foundation, feedback, and friction.

Long-term behavior change is the key phrase in this process.  My husband and I have been lax when it comes to developing solid interpersonal behaviors within our family.  Even though we share a life together, the three of us have operated independently of one another for over 10 years.  During that time we have developed dysfunctional habits that need changing so we can be more supportive of one another in achieving our full potential as individuals and as a family.  These well developed bad habits are not going to go away quickly.

This is why I proposed a structured improvement process for our family.  These long-term, poor interpersonal habits are not going to vanish simply by being aware of them.  There may be a short-term shift towards the positive if each individual attempts to change the way they interact with the others, but chances are we will revert back to old habits.  It is only in supporting each other through a structured change process that servant leaders will develop.

It has been half a month since I envisioned what our servant led family would look like and how we would reach our destination.  During this time, our son went away to camp and has come back a changed man; he is more respectful and engaging.  It is apparent he began doing the inner work necessary in building the foundation of authenticity.  However, in order for these changes to become new habits they need to be reinforced by the rest of the family through feedback and friction, in other words, active accountability.  To ensure it is done in a healthy, positive way, the structured process I outlined in The Servant Led Family is the most effective method.

My prayer is we each do our own inner work soon so we can come together as a family this fall to support each other as servant leaders. Then feedback will be offered and received with respect and dignity, and the resulting friction will be the catalyst for long-term behavior change.


Clements Orlan, K. S. (2012). The servant led family. Informally published manuscript, Master of Arts in Servant Leadership, Viterbo University, La Crosse, WI, Retrieved from

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



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

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

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

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

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


Developing a Family of Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Implementing Servant Leadership in my Family

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

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

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

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

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


Influencing Positive Change through my Family

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

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

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

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



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



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

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

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

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

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

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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

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

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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.


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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.


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I had the awesome privilege of working with a true servant leader several years ago during my year of service as an Americorps VISTA.  Steve Nagle is the executive director of West Central Minnesota Communities Action where I coordinated the Land of Lakes Group Workcamp.  At the time, I was not fully aware of what a “servant leader” was; however, hindsight has revealed I was being mentored by an amazing leader who had a profound impact on who I am and how I work within the context of community.  Recently, Steve and I had the opportunity to discuss his role as a leader within the Community Action Partnership.

Steve began his career as an educator, however, he only taught briefly before he began working with the Community Youth Corps, a program for disadvantaged teens.  It was here that he discovered his passion for human services and after working as a community action case manager for several years began his graduate studies in public and human service administration at Moorhead State University.  There he said he learned three things that formed his leadership style today: 1) he learned how to use a computer, 2) he became more sensitive to harassment and discrimination issues, especially those directed towards women, and 3) he became aware of people’s “busy talk”, how annoying it is to listen to, and how he makes an effort to not feed into that mindset.

Admittedly, I was expecting to hear about profound leadership concepts that were conveyed to Steve at Moorhead State.  I was expecting to hear amazing theories that led to the development of an amazing leader.  However, now that I’ve had a chance to think about it more, my expectations were a result of my employment in an academic environment.  Steve is not that type of guy.  He’s your average Joe with a heart of gold that cares deeply for helping people lift themselves out of poverty.  That is what makes Steve a great leader.  He was born to organize individuals into teams and lead teams to organize communities in making change for the common good.  These skills cannot be learned in graduate school, only fostered and nurtured.

Even though you may have a natural gift for organizing people you can still have doubts or concerns about certain projects along the way.  I asked Steve to tell me about a project with a high risk of failure that he trusted would succeed.  It was the Group Work/Cares Camp program that WCMCA has been offering in their five-county region for the past 10 years, a housing program that I had the privilege of coordinating as an Americorps VISTA during its second year.  The program brings together over 450 youth volunteers from across the United States to West Central Minnesota.  They work alongside approximately 100 local adult volunteers to rehabilitate housing for elderly, disabled, and low-income individuals.  Steve was initially nervous about the program because he foresaw all these young people descending upon our communities and going bonkers.  It also seemed like a potential logistical disaster with the needed coordination of people, equipment, funds, and governmental cooperation over such a wide geographical distance.  The project would have an enormous positive impact on our communities if it was successful, so it was worth the risk.  Steve decided to trust his gut intuition that all would be well instead of listening to the fears his mind generated.  Everyone rallied together to make the project a huge success and it continues to be one of WCMCA’s largest volunteer driven programs.

While effective leaders experience the freedom of spirit that happens when things go beautifully right, they also experience those instances of feeling stifled in their leadership.  Steve related a situation that has been a tripping point for him for the last two years.  He asked the local director of a federal program hosted by WCMCA to research practices of a successful volunteer tax preparation program in another part of Minnesota.  Steve thought this would be a good fit with the local director’s duties as the majority of volunteers in the tax prep program are also participants in the federal program.  When the state office became aware that their local director had been asked to manage the tax prep program for WCMCA, Steve was told this was not permissible and found himself in a bit of hot water.  This has caused him two years of distraction – having to travel several times to the Twin Cities to answer to the program office, dealing with a mound of paperwork, and facing the possibility of having this valuable program taken away from their agency.  Steve did not feel his request was asking anything inappropriate of the director or the program, and is unsure why this particular instance became a stumbling point.  Shortly after the issue was raised the local director retired, leaving Steve with lots of questions.  It has caused him stress over the last two years, and has distracted him from supporting his agency team as fully as he would like.

Steve appreciated the support of WCMCA’s board of directors during the difficult process of the last two years, and their commitment to him and the agency over the last 13 years.  The board is comprised of one-third elected officials, one-third private sector representatives, and one-third low-income individuals elected by the people the agency serves.  This board make-up is set at the national level, and was proposed by President Lyndon B. Johnson during the War on Poverty.  Community Action is “dedicated to helping people help themselves and each other” (CAP, 2008), and involving the people they serve in leadership opportunities is an important aspect of the agency’s mission.  Board member selection is based upon what resources a member can provide to further the progress of WCMCA.  Steve attributes a good portion of the agency’s success to having a consistently dedicated board.

WCMCA has developed a dedicated board by making them feel appreciated.  Simple acts like having a light supper prior to board meetings, providing a kitchenette in the break room and monthly potlucks organized by each department help to create an environment in which people feel appreciated.  Outside the break/board room is a patio complete with a grill and picnic table that is well used in the summertime by the staff.  I can remember several instances of impromptu cookouts when Steve would show up with a package of sausage and buns, drawing people outside for a moment to chat and have a “snack”.  I asked Steve where WCMCA’s “food culture” came from.  He said he thought it came with him – food is important to him, it brings people together and most people enjoy it – and it just seems to work in rallying people together.

When I contacted Steve Nagle for this conversation he said he didn’t have a clue what servant leadership was about.  Even though Steve may not know the ins and outs of the theory and practice, he is a true servant leader to his core.  There are many points made by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader from Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness (2002) that I see Steve understanding at a gut level.

But the leader needs more than inspiration.  He ventures to say, ‘I will go; come with me!’  He initiates, provides the ideas and the structure, and takes the risk of failure along with the chance of success.  He says, ‘I will go, follow me!’ when he knows that the path is uncertain, even dangerous.  And he trusts those who go with him. (p. 28)  This was my experience of Steve’s leadership style when I worked at WCMCA.  If he knew people needed help, and there was a program to help them, he would rally up support around the agency to join the cause.

Many attempts to communicate are nullified by saying too much. (p. 32)  Actually, this is one thing Steve said he did learn at graduate school.  This quote kept coming back to me as he was talking about the situation where he was feeling stifled in his leadership.  In his efforts to try to justify and explain himself to the state office things became messier.  Steve did not suggest that withholding information would have made the problem go away (lack of transparency) but perhaps just accepting the initial communication and moving on would have brought about a quicker resolution.

An institution starts on a course toward people-building with leadership that has a firmly established context of people first. (p. 54)  Steve’s number one priority is the people that WCMCA serves, not his position or anyone else’s at the agency.  Steve had started our conversation talking about having a difficult day because he needed to lay off a number of people at the agency.  He was distressed because not only did he not want to have to say goodbye to these employees, but it also meant they would not be able to serve as many people because of the staff reduction.  I recall the numerous times I had the chance to hear Steve speak to government officials about the work WCMCA was doing in their communities.  His stories were always about client successes and never a pat on the back for the agency.

The great leader is seen as servant first. (p. 21)  Of all the things that I learned from Steve, this is the most important aspect of being a great leader.  A lot of good work is accomplished by WCMCA not because Steve has his hand in all the projects, but because he trusts everyone on his team to get the job done well.  Steve is there to offer support.  He is there to offer advice or to lend a helping hand if needed.  He may recommend someone else’s assistance if he thinks they have something to contribute.  Otherwise Steve steps back and allows the project coordinators to shine.  He trusts the team he has assembled will be successful in their work.

I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Steve Nagle for mentoring me in leadership.  He modeled a people-centered style of leadership that I have adopted in turn.  Steve showed me how you can simultaneously have fun, get the job done, and build relationships that will serve you for future projects.  I learned the most work is accomplished when the leader is present to support the team in getting their jobs done, and trusting that they will do just that.  What I appreciate most is Steve never judged my abilities because I was a client of WCMCA before working there, in fact he saw my experience as a program client an asset in serving others through the program I coordinated.  My life is richer for knowing Steve Nagle and I hope to share that richness with everyone I serve as a leader.


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The concept of yin and yang, darkness and light, and how the concept is played out in life has intrigued me for years.  The idea reality does not truly exist in terms of black and white, but shades of grey along a circular continuum, energizes me.  It gives me hope.  So when Richard Kyte referred to the yin and yang in his discussion on the prediction of consequential states in, An Ethical Life:  A Practical Guide to Ethical Decision Making  (2012,draft), I could not help but respond to the topic.

Kyte (2012) claims that future states are impossible to predict because of the yin/yang continuum and impermanence of pleasure and pain:

Sometimes what looks like a good turn of events has unexpected consequences that lead to misfortune; and sometimes an apparent misfortune leads to something good. This idea—that good and bad are intertwined—is symbolized in the yin and yang image. Light pushes into the darkness, and darkness pushes into the light, suggesting that neither is stationary but always moves into the territory of the other. (p. 18)

Consequentialism, or attempting to predict the consequences of our actions for not only ourselves but others, is a method of ethical thinking that we constantly use to navigate our day-to-day choices.  Routinely, before we take action, we consider the possible positive and negative effects of that action, and the prudent individual chooses the action with the most positive and/or least negative results.  Kyte (2012) suggests a step by step strategy when considering consequences in decision making with groups, especially those that are widely divisive or those where personal and emotional baggage are entwined with the issue:  1) define the situation; 2) identify the possible solutions; 3) identify who may be affected by the various solutions; 4) predict positive and negative outcomes; and 5) determine which solution will produce the most positive effects. (p. 2)

While this strategy provides a starting point for conversation amongst groups and an organized way for the individual to manage decision making, it can be problematic because of what I term the “yin/yang continuum” – the circular span of positivity and negativity upon which all energy flows.  While the above mentioned strategy is helpful in defining cause and effect, and it is possible to determine whether a consequence will produce pleasure or pain in the short-term, it is relatively impossible to ascertain how the consequence will move along the yin/yang continuum in the long-term.

Let me present a real situation from my life to illustrate Kyte’s claim that the nature of consequences moves along a yin/yang continuum.  I had good friends back in Minnesota who had lived in their home for about five years.  They were about to embark on a number of large scale property improvements and decided to have their property surveyed.  The survey showed one of their neighbors’ fences was built directly on the property line instead of three feet within his property, as stated by city ordinance.  Sean and Stacy were concerned the current, and incorrect, placement of the fence would cause problems for their future projects.  They understood the fence had been there a long time, and it may be a while before they had the money saved up for their building project, but they decided the most prudent time to approach their neighbor about the fence was while the survey stakes were still in the ground.

The neighbor, George, was not happy.  He did not understand why he should move his fence now after it had been up for the last 10 years.  Sean’s offer to help clear the brush that had grown up on George’s side of the fence was not “Minnesota nice” enough for him.  The man did not speak to my friends for the next five years because he was so upset with being asked to move the fence off the property line.  That is, until the water main to his house broke.  Had the fence still been standing where it was five years previous, the city would have had to tear out the brush and the fence in order to get to the water main.  George would have been without water to his home for several days.  However the new position of the fence made it easy for a backhoe to access the broken main.  He had running water in his home within a day.  After five years of neighborly silence, George came over to my friends’ home to thank them for suggesting the fence move and helping with the brush project.  The fence issue had moved from being on the yin (dark) side of the continuum to the yang (light) after five long years, and it took less than 24 hours for that movement to occur!

Consequences are not always expressed physically; they can be inwardly transformative as well.  The positive effect of a misfortune or the negative nature of lucky circumstance is difficult to predict because they are often experienced internally, away from outside observation.  If one has the courage to embrace the misfortune, to experience the “desert”, as this time is often referred to, one can be positively transformed in innumerable ways.  Likewise a good turn of events can warp an individual so drastically their personalities are no longer recognizable to friends and family.  An example is those instances when someone receives a promotion at work, becomes arrogant and self-absorbed, and no longer speaks with his coworkers or has time for his family.  Job promotions are normally considered a positive event, but in some instances relationships are harmed when the individual allows their new role to change who they authentically are.

I agree with Kyte’s (2012) observation that, “The yin and yang reminds us that good and bad experiences—we could even say the pleasurable and the painful—are not sharply and permanently separated from each other but are always flowing into and out of one another.” (p. 19).  This understanding makes it impossible to compartmentalize life into neat little boxes to be shelved into good and bad sections.  If you find it difficult to decide where to place the box in your hand, it will be impossible for you to predict where to place all the boxes that are waiting in the truck outside.  That is why defining consequences is only one part of Kyte’s Four Way Method of Ethical Decision Making (p. 5).  Taking into consideration truth, fairness, and character in tandem with consequences can give one a more complete evaluation when doing ethical decision making.


Kyte, Richard (2012, draft). An ethical life: A practical guide to ethical decision making.

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ImageIt is scary to be true to Self.  Today I was confronted with past decisions in an unexpected way and I was startled by the amount of courage that I had to muster in order to own up to my own history.

Now that I’m a “poor grad student”, I decided to give donating plasma a try in order to make a few extra bucks to help pay bills.  I have never donated any sort of blood products before because I am a bit afraid of needles, but I figured I could take one for the team since I could read my textbooks while I sat with said needle in my arm and get paid.  So this morning I showed up for for my “new donor appointment”.

The first part was easy:  proving who I was and filling out the necessary paperwork.  Next I had a blood screening to make sure I had all the necessary proportions to donate plasma that day.  I looked away for the pin prick, like I always do, and a quick swirl showed my blood to be healthy and ready for harvesting.

It was the next part that unexpectedly tripped me up – medical history.  I sat down at a computer that asked me a bunch of questions to which to answer “yes” or “no”.  Now this isn’t the first time that I’ve answered a medical history questionnaire.  I’m used to racing through these things because I don’t have much medical history.  I’ve lived a healthy life, I don’t take medications, I haven’t suffered any major illnesses, I really don’t have much history to record. However this one asked me some questions I had never been asked before, or instead of qualifying time frames to “within the last year” it asked if I had EVER done something.  Now this was different and this is where the courage was needed.

My first reaction was to tell a white lie.  “Oh, one time doesn’t count” or “This doesn’t apply to ME” came into my head.  But as I sat there and watched the computer ask me if I had abandoned the questionnaire I had to admit to myself that I WAS being asked these questions, and they did apply to me, and it was important to tell the truth because some part of me was potentially going to be going inside of someone else.  I had to be truthful.

My next reaction was to just get up and leave.  For the first time, I actually felt regret for some of my past choices.  I have always lived by the maxim “no regrets”.  I know that I have made some poor choices in my life, but they are my life and they are part of who I am, and I think who I am now is pretty darn wonderful.  A bad choice in the moment is just that – it doesn’t doom you to a life of badness – you can choose to allow that bad choice to transform you in a positive way over time.  Goodness will prevail in my life, so no regrets.  But here it was, Regret, sitting on my shoulder and telling me to just get up and walk out if I wasn’t going to lie.  It was the only way to save face.

That’s when Courage came and sat in my lap.  He wouldn’t let me walk out that door.  He knew if I did, Regret would never leave me alone.  Courage encouraged me to own up to where I’ve been in my life because I am here now and this is all about the Learning.  Goodness will prevail I stick around for it.  So I stayed and finished the questionnaire honestly.

Finally I was called in for my interview and physical.  We never got to the physical part.  I had learned from the questionnaire that a sodium citrate / saline solution would be pumped inside my body to replace the plasma that I was donating.  I am very aware of everything that goes into this corpus – food, drugs, chemicals – and I wanted to know a lot about this anticoagulant before it was becoming a part of me.  They didn’t have a whole lot of information to give me.  They also didn’t have a lot of information about the various privacy laws that were referred to when giving consent.  So I decided to leave to do further research, knowing that they wouldn’t take my donation regardless of what my research uncovered.

What did I learn?  I had just received a very delayed bite in the ass from my past poor choices.  This was the first instance in which they were preventing me from doing good for others.  I was immediately reminded of politicians with good intent who suffer from the “I didn’t inhale” syndrome on occasion.  While their past poor choices have a tendency to peek up at inopportune times, they are still able to do some good in the world.  It may be a little more difficult, but no one ever said life was easy.  My challenge now if to find ways to use those past experiences for good when they fall out of the closet, and to allow Courage to stand beside me.

In less than a week I will return to the world of graduate school, this time in the master of arts in servant leadership program at Viterbo University.  I am doing so full-time, no job so that I can focus on my studies and spend lots of time doing this sort of thing – writing.  I already feel like I have so much inside to share with the world and it is my hope that graduate school will help me to unleash the intuitive wisdom I have collected over the last 40 years.

This blog will be the format for writing about what I have learned, what I am learning, how it all connects together, and sharing it with whoever needs to hear it.  It will serve as an archive and a place to put ideas out there for discussion so that I can learn from all of you too.

I hope to challenge and be challenged.

I hope to nurture and grow.

I hope you will journey with me into the center of the whole.

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