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ImageMy Journey with Norwex

2010 was a year charged with change.  My husband had accepted a job working for a school district in Wisconsin and we would be closing the computer business we had owned and operated for the previous 10 years.  This would require a five month transition process of our family living between two households in two states.  While I remained in Minnesota to close our business, my husband would start his new job and rehabilitate our new home in Wisconsin.

I had begun applying for jobs in Wisconsin starting in the fall of 2009.  The recession was in full swing and jobs were scarce.  I was fortunate to land an interview with each company for which I had applied, but could not secure a position.  As our transition time approached I began to feel uncertain about how I was going to financially contribute to this enormous journey our family was about to embark.  This is when I was introduced to a direct sales company that was relatively new to the United States, Norwex.

This was not my first encounter with network marketing.  Shortly after graduating from college, I had worked as an Avon sales representative.  I enjoyed meeting new people and making connections, as well as the freedom that came with being self-employed.  However I didn’t have the same passion for cosmetic sales as I had for my field in the performing arts, and there was no sense of purpose linked with the products I was sharing with my friends and family.  It did not take long for me to move on to where my passion resided – on the stage.  I did not see myself working in network marketing again.

            Perhaps the timing and circumstances were right, but when I was introduced to Norwex at a home party it seemed the perfect fit.  The Norwex mission is to improve the quality of life by radically reducing the use of chemicals in personal care and cleaning (Norwex, 2012, p. 8).  The company’s mission statement resonated with the 2010 Franciscan Living Challenge to clean green, which I had been called to focus on as an affiliate of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.  I was also impressed to learn the company’s core values were integrity, trust, and respect.  With an ideology to “strive to improve quality of life rather than standard of living” (Norwex, 2012, p.5) this multi-level marketing (MLM) company was obviously working from a different paradigm than any other direct sales company I had encountered.

For the last two and a half years I have been a part of the Norwex team as an independent sales consultant and during that time I have shared the Norwex mission with hundreds of people.  I have gathered other like minded people to my sales team, advancing to the team coordinator level, and am poised to advance to the sales leader level should I be able to support my team in achieving consistent sales.  Additionally, as I had hoped, I was able to financially contribute to my family’s move to Wisconsin.

One of the Norwex sales mottos is “Part-time, Full-time, Big-time!” (2012, website).  It was never my goal to go “big-time” with Norwex.  I simply wanted to use it as a career bridge from Minnesota to whatever was in store for me in Wisconsin.  At times it was a full-time endeavor, and as of late it has become very part-time as I work toward my graduate degree.  I had been intending to “phase out” my Norwex business as I move on to the new opportunities lying ahead of me after graduate school; however I am finding it difficult to do so because of the amazing connections I am making in my studies between servant leadership, ethical organizations, and network marketing.  This is particularly so with Norwex because of the unique purpose they have claimed for their company and its consultants.

I believe the next opportunity lying ahead of me is as a business consultant to network marketing companies in building the foundations of ethical leadership within their organizations by emerging servant leaders on multiple levels through structured training and mentor/coaching.  Following is an outline of how this training process would look.  My intent is to provide a basic overview, not a detailed outline, of how I would implement such a program.  I will use specific references to how this training could be applied to my Norwex team for illustrative purposes.


Building the Foundations of Ethical Leadership within a Networking Marketing Organization

            C.S. Lewis writes, “every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.  And taking your life as a whole, with all you innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature … Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other” (as cited in Hunter, 2004, p. 125).

In order to build the foundations of ethical leadership within an organization you must support as many people as possible in turning into “heavenly creatures”.  In terms of servant leadership, this is necessary on multiple levels – not just among ranking leadership – in order to create an ethics-based culture.  Because “the servant-leader is servant first” (Greenleaf, 2008, p. 15) and everyone has the ability to serve, all members within an organization have the capacity to lead.  In order to develop a strong servant led culture within a business, every person needs to accept their responsibility to support one another in achievement and ethical decision making.  The first goal of a quality leadership training program should be to provide each team member with basic servant leadership and ethical decision making concepts.

According to Jim Hunter (2004, p. 174) in his three-step leadership improvement process, the first training session should focus on identifying the standard and setting the bar for quality leadership, as well as provide a general orientation to the training program in its entirety.  In order to provide a good foundation for ongoing training, I would cover an overview of leadership styles, an introduction to servant leadership, the basics of virtue ethics and the Four Way Method to Ethical Decision Making, and a synopsis of the ongoing improvement process.

Everyone has a different idea of what it means to be a leader and, more importantly, what it takes to be an effective leader.  A quick survey of the Internet brought up at least seven commonly identified leadership styles, and an search of “leadership books” brought up a staggering 89,079 results!  I would begin the session with personal introductions and welcoming exercises followed by an exploration into the training group’s current understanding of leadership.  This will enable us to gather a diverse understanding of leadership and focus it towards what I identify as the way to authentic leadership – servant leadership.

Prior to this first training session, I would have the group read Robert K. Greenleaf’s essay, The Servant as Leader.  At this training session, I would introduce the basics of servant leadership as outlined in the essay, and apply Greenleaf’s servant leader test to discover the servant leaders in our lives.  This discussion will lead to the understanding that everyone has the potential to be a leader in their own circles of influence, regardless of their current role or position, including within a network marketing company.  With leadership comes responsibility and if everyone is a leader in their own right, then we are all bound to ethical behavior in an ethics-centered organization.

There was a time when business and ethics were thought to be mutually exclusive.  In recent years, scandals involving Enron and the banking industry have proven the need for business to be inclusive of ethical thinking in decision making.  This would be the focus of the next part of the first training session.  We would take the MLM’s existing mission and vision statements, core values, ideology, and goals and discuss them in terms of the virtues they support.  For instance, the Norwex (2012, p. 6-7) core values are integrity, trust, and respect.  Hunter (2004, p. 90-109) identifies these virtues as essential traits to effective leadership. I would lead a discussion defining these virtues and how they can be lived out in our Norwex businesses.  I would also introduce Dr. Richard Kyte’s (2012) Four-Way Method to Ethical Decision Making and give the group an opportunity to apply it to a real life ethical dilemma or one from the business fiction anthology, Minding the Store (Coles & LaFarge, Eds., 2008).  These practical exercises will help lift away the awe and mystique surrounding ethics and present ethical thinking in a tangible manner.

The final part of the first training session would be preparation for the ongoing leadership improvement process.  I would wrap up by introducing the concepts of authenticity, purpose, and community, and how these are expressed through our work in the network marketing organization.  I would also emphasize the necessity for continuous honing of leadership skills through feedback in a group setting and friction with a mentor/coach to provide for accountability.  This is the process of the emerging servant leader.


Emerging Multi-Level Servant Leaders

Once the foundations of ethical leadership are built on the hearts and in the minds of a network marketing team, we can begin the work of emerging servant leaders throughout the organization, at whatever leadership level a consultant is positioned.  Hunter (2004) recommends the second step in the leadership improvement process “require participants to clearly understand their personal deviations from the high standard of servant leadership and their current leadership skills.  Simply put, we must identify the gaps between the set standard and current performance” (p. 174).   The second leadership training session for MLM teams would focus on discovering authentic self, defining purpose, and working within the context of abundant community.

We would begin with an exploration into authentic self, who we truly are as opposed to who we think we are or how others identify us.  The discovery of true self is an ongoing, never-ending process that will not be accomplished during a single training session.  The objective here would be to introduce the notion of authenticity through an exploration of strengths.  Through a variety of reflection exercises we would compare our perceived talents to the strengths others see in us, enabling us to identify the gifts we possess for further development. 

Once our strengths have been identified we can begin to explore how they can be best utilized within the context of the organization through discussion and assessment tools. Using myself to illustrate the objective, my top five strengths according StrengthsFinder 2.0 are connectedness, input, ideation, responsibility, and adaptability.  When I use my strengths together I am at my best, fulfilling my purpose.  Specifically, it is when I help others connect their talents, actions, and mission to enhance achievement.  I do this by researching information and sharing it with others, and I communicate this information best through presentations and written work.  In the context of my direct sales organization, this means that I may not be the best sales consultant or a great recruiter, but I do have the ability to motivate and train others to reach their full potentials as sales consultants and team leaders within my organization.  This is how I would best contribute my talents to the common good of the organization.

The final part of this second training session would focus on abundant community.  An abundant community is characterized by people of like-mind coming together to share their gifts and offer hospitality (McKnight & Block, 2012, p. 119).  This definition could also be used to describe a healthy network marketing organization such as Norwex.  When looking at the Norwex (2012) ideology, I can see people are attracted to the company because they share an “ecological approach that considers all living species and nature are interdependent” (p. 4), those who believe “we must find a way to provide for the needs of the present, without sacrificing future generations” (p.4), and those who care about the health implications of using chemical cleaners in the home (p. 5).  In terms of hospitality, it is a hallmark of the network marketing sales experience.  The bulk of sales are done through home parties where a hostess invites the consultant and her guests to come together around refreshments.  I would use this training time to explore the unique qualities of the MLM community and how each individual resonates with the association, as well as the important place hospitality holds in a servant led culture.  Abundant community is about people fulfilling their purposes together in order to affect positive change in the world.  We would conclude the second training session with the group brainstorming ways our teams could become actively involved in the company mission.

The group training sessions do not end here.  Hunter recommends quarterly training on a variety of foundational and leadership mastery topics as a catalyst for the third step of the leadership improvement process.


The Importance of Leadership Coaching on the Direct Sales Team

The final step in Hunter’s leadership improvement process centers on accountability.  He writes:

In order to create friction – a healthy tension, if you prefer – it is important for people to become convinced that the top leadership if fully committed to the process and is expecting to see continuous improvement in the form of growth and behavior change (Hunter, 2012, p. 176)

Hunter goes on to detail a friction process that includes meetings with continuous improvement panels, sharing SMART goals with peers and subordinates, and monthly small group meetings.  While this methodology works well in the context of a traditional business structure, it is not practical for the unique business structure of an MLM.  Each consultant is an independent contractor working out of their own home.  Sales teams may get together on a monthly basis and leaders may make support calls to their downline consultants, but there is no formal accountability structure built into the direct sales business.

            This is where I envision leadership coaching and mentorship playing a vital role in providing the accountability needed to catalyze growth.  It is important for each individual sales consultant and team leader to have a relationship with a mentor/coach with whom they can discuss their gaps and goals for self-improvement.  Hunter (2012, p. 178) recommends an ongoing training session occur immediately prior to accountability sessions for this reason.  Besides being a companion along the journey, a mentor/coach can be a general business resource as well as a challenger to put into practice the concepts being learned through training.

In terms of the leadership improvement training program I would like to develop, I would offer individual coaching sessions in person or over the phone in conjunction with the regular program as a way to support leadership development and growth within the sales team.



Where do I go from here?  I have a growing Norwex sales team of my own along with the beginnings of a solid leadership training program, and many connections within the direct sales industry.  My first goal is to develop the foundational training session this fall.  I plan to pilot the program with my Norwex team and another local team in an effort to work out the kinks.  If the pilot program is well received it is my hope the Norwex head office will hire me to offer webinar training sessions so the entire organization can have access to this valuable tool.  Once the program is solid I also hope to offer it to other network marketing companies through webinars, regional meetings, and conferences.

This is my contribution to Norwex and the direct sales industry.  The time is right to shift training focus from the microcosm of booking parties and recruiting to macrocosmic thinking which leads to widespread success.  I have already begun to feel the ripples of servant and ethical leadership positively affect all areas of my life since beginning my studies three months ago.  I want to share the abundance with all my communities, including Norwex.


Photo Credit: Neighborhood City Church, La Crosse, WI

There has been recent interest in revitalization efforts in the Washburn, Powell, Hood, and Hamilton (PHH) neighborhoods of La Crosse, Wisconsin.  The need for intervention in these neighborhoods was a major platform point during local elections in early 2013 (Sullivan & Londre, 2013) along with a desire by neighboring institutions to spearhead development efforts (Gundersen Lutheran Health System & City of La Crosse, 2013).  After a review of the local literature, neighborhood planning efforts are focused on four areas:  safety/security, property improvement, public infrastructure improvement, and economic development (Burian, 2013; GLHS & City of La Crosse, 2013; Kirch, Anderson & Cantellano, 2002; Sullivan & Londre, 2013).  Primary stakeholders and critical supporters identified include businesses, social service agencies, and private individuals, with an overwhelming emphasis on government sponsored agencies (GLHS & City of La Crosse, 2013).   While there is a general reference to churches as a critical supporter in the PHH/Gundersen plan (GLHS & City of La Crosse, 2013), and the Washburn Neighborhood Plan (Kirch, Anderson & Cantellano, 2002) categorizes churches as “Places of Worship” in its neighborhood assets map, it is noted a detailed examination of the current place and future roles of these religious associations is missing from the neighborhood development conversation as a whole.

Addressing the omission of religious congregations in the visioning process for these communities is the focus of this proposed research.  Greenleaf (1996) identifies religious associations and their leaders as having a distinct role in the social change process from impoverishment to abundance.  They are the vehicle that seeds abundance throughout communities by acknowledging the leadership of all, including the stranger, and developing that leadership.  This is done by helping the individual identify their personal assets, and connecting that individual with a community institution whose needs will be served by the emerging servant leader (Greenleaf, 1996).  It is also done with the hope the new leader will further seed abundance in the institution by helping others, and the institution itself, identify assets to be put into service (Greenleaf, 1996).  As the cycle of asset-naming and needs-connection replicates, a community grows in abundance.

This is where Greenleaf’s vision of religious congregations and leaders as servant leaders in neighborhood social change intersects with asset-based community development.  ABCD focuses on identifying assets to build upon as opposed to the traditional community development model where problems in need of fixing are identified (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1996).  In Greenleaf’s (1996) essay, “The Inner City Church as Servant to Its Community”, he points to a key role of religious congregations as coordinating asset-mapping and development for the neighborhood.  Churches and religious leaders as servant leaders do not look for problems to solve, but instead look for goodness to lift up so all may access it.  The ABCD approach recognizes the gifts of even the most alienated communities.  It avoids belittling what may be an already struggling neighborhood in the effort to make it better, as can happen in traditional community development scenarios.  When ABCD research utilizes community members, in much the same way Greenleaf envisioned via neighborhood churches, the community as a whole is empowered in their abundance seeking. 

Sampson and Graif (2009) note the more disadvantaged a neighborhood community, the less involved residents become, with community leader involvement increasing.  They identify religious institutions as key community leaders in neighborhoods (Sampson & Graif, 2009), therefore religious congregations should already be deeply involved in supporting the Washburn-PHH neighborhoods being studied, and will be instrumental in future redevelopment efforts. According to Greenleaf (1996), these religious associations should be accustomed to identifying and developing assets.  These assets include tangible events such as community picnics and resources such as food shelves, but they also include certain properties (i.e., recognizing member gifts, nurturing communal life, hospitality to the stranger) and capacities (i. e., kindness, generosity, cooperation, forgiveness, acceptance of fallibility, mystery) that provide for satisfying communal relationships (McKnight & Block, 2012).  These properties and capacities are the intangible assets offered by churches to their membership and to those they serve in their neighborhoods.  Identifying the current tangible and intangible assets of religious congregations within the Washburn-PHH neighborhood will clarify areas for partnership, foundational assets to be built upon, and untapped assets that will help the neighborhoods grow in abundance.

Conceptual Definitions

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). 

Despite the fact there has been increasing interest over the last two decades in the role of faith-based organizations as social service providers in civil society (Wuthnow, 2004), the integral role of religious associations in these areas is often absent from crucial conversations outside of the religious realm, especially when it comes to community development and revitalization efforts.  This may be due to the low-key approach religious associations have in providing these services.  Chaves (2004) makes six claims about congregational social services from his work with the National Congregations Study: 1) congregations are involved in a peripheral way; 2) congregational involvement is through a small group of well-organized volunteers.; 3) congregations are involved in crisis management that involves minimal interaction with those being served; 4) congregational social services depend upon secular social services to exist; 5) congregational social service has never had more prominence than secular social services in society; and 6) congregational collaboration with government does not discourage the prophetic voice of these associations. Congregations do not garner the same amount of attention as other providers of social assets.  This fact is evidenced in the revitalization plans created for the neighborhoods included in this study (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 other social services.  According to Chaves (2004), food programs, housing programs, and programs aimed at children and students are the most common social services offered.  Few churches are intensely involved in offering these services on their own and either rely on, or partner with, secular associations (Chaves, 2004).

However there are many assets congregations provide in the dispensing of services that are not available when offered through secular agencies (Olivier, Cochrane & Schmid, 2006; Chaves, 2004).  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).  They are provided through a holistic approach that is “relational, morally compelling, and personable; provides love, guidance, and friendship; and helps people transform their lives” (Chaves, 2004, p. 58).  Religious congregations play an essential role in neighborhood revitalization because of this layering of assets that can be further enhanced in the development of an abundant community through the empowerment of community servant leaders.  The following section looks at what others have learned about religious congregations and community assets.

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.   This literature review will first look at what makes a community abundant, and then considers a method of community development oriented toward the features of abundant communities, namely, asset-based community development.  Next it will discuss the various types of assets an abundant community possesses, and then focus on religious congregations and the unique assets they provide a community, especially that of leadership development.  Finally, the review 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).  They are distinctive from other communities because “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.  McKnight and Block (2012) describe abundant communities as places where physical and social environments are supportive of individual health outside of medical systems; they are stewards of the land they occupy and of the food they eat in ways that further support the health of citizens; they are safe and secure communities because neighbors know each other by name and spend time outside their homes, with some of this time spent in developing the local economy either by providing goods and services in the community or by shopping at neighborhood businesses;  they 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.  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 (McKnight & Block, 2012).

According to McKnight and Block (2012) 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, with these properties creating a community environment where certain capacities are created within families and neighborhoods:  kindness, generosity, cooperation, forgiveness, acceptance of fallibility, and mystery.  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 describe an alternative that promotes community healing from within.

Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD)

Traditional methods of community revitalization focus on neighborhood deficiencies.  According to Kretzmann and McKnight (1993), these deficiencies represent only part of the truth about neighborhood, “but they are not regarded as part of the truth; they are regarded as the whole truth” (p. 2) when doing community development. This tendency creates a downward spiral of negative consequences for the community.  It disassociates residents from the development process, making them believe they are fundamentally deficient and incapable of providing for their own future change.  They become victimized, relying on outside experts to fix problems instead of working together to problem solve (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993).  This dissociative effect is corroborated in a study by Sampson & Graif (2009) showing residents of disadvantaged communities as less involved in community life than those confident in their resources. 

Kretzmann and McKnight (1993) identify further consequences from outsourcing services due to needs-based development strategies.  Outside experts tend to view the neighborhood as a list of problems instead of a cohesive whole, causing a fragmentation of efforts that further complicate the community’s ability to problem-solve together.  Available funding is routed to these outside service providers instead of to the community directly.  In order to procure this funding, community leaders are forced to denigrate the neighborhood by highlighting problems instead of strengths, and problems must continue to worsen in order to obtain repeat funding.  Bonds within the community are further weakened with the persistent focus on deficits and dependency on service relationships from outside.   Needs-mapping tends to focus services towards individual clients instead of community development as a whole which creates a cycle of never-ending need throughout the community.  The traditional needs-based approach to community development provides a maintenance strategy at best (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993).

An alternative approach 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).  Other scholars have attempted to further refine this analytical framework by further differentiating 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 (Sampson and Graif, 2009).  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).  ABCD researchers acknowledge outside resources may be needed at times, but they are only truly successful when assisting communities in developing their own assets (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1996).

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 tangible and intangible assets and how they are both an important part of the asset-mapping process will be discussed.

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 present 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, especially those of an intangible nature, of which churches may be a particularly powerful source.  Because of this they play an essential role in neighborhood revitalization and development.  The following section 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).   From the servant leadership perspective, in Greenleaf’s (1996) essay, “The Inner City Church as Servant to Its Community”, it is proposed that churches act as mediating institutions, connecting individual community member strengths with neighborhood needs by developing trustees for their non-profit institutions.  He suggests congregations become actively involved in the community building process in order to know neighborhood institutions and their trustees on a personal level so they can more easily anticipate needs and make 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).  The final section considers how this sense of vocation is expressed in leadership motivations.

Leadership Motivations

According to Rich (1980), 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 (Rich, 1980).

 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 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.  Available research in this area is slim, and there is 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.


The methodology of this hermeneutic phenomenological study is to harvest and digest the stories of 6-10 leaders of religious congregations in the Washburn-PHH neighborhoods, and identify the tangible assets offered by the churches to the neighborhood community.  A deeper exploration of these service stories will begin to reveal the intangible assets associated with these religious congregations as well.  The research questions that provide the framework for this study are:

  1.  What tangible assets do religious associations located within the Washburn, Powell, Hood, and Hamilton neighborhoods of La Crosse, Wisconsin provide to those communities?
  2. What intangible assets are offered to these neighborhood communities through the services provided by these congregations?
  3. How can this religious asset-mapping be of service in community development and revitalization efforts?

A hermeneutic phenomenological qualitative study will identify the tangible and intangible assets offered by religious congregations through the perspective of the community’s religious leader.  Phenomenology is “a philosophy of experience that attempts to understand the ways in which meaning is constructed in and through human experience” (Swinton & Mowat, 2006, p. 106).  Hermeneutics “has to do with the ways in which human beings interpret and make sense of the world” (Swinton & Mowat, 2006, p. 107).  Intangible assets are the meaning constructed in and through the human experience of tangible assets, which the researcher will interpret in an effort to make sense of constructive ways they can be utilized in revitalization efforts.

The research design approach used in this study is an adaptation of a framework proposed by Swinton and Mowat (2006) that is based on the work of Smith(1996), Diekelmann et al. (1989), and Van Manen (1990).  First, interviews will be conducted using phenomenological principles.  They will be digitally recorded and transcribed into a text format.  Then the researcher will thoroughly familiarize with the texts, and use lectio divina to distill the texts into themes and concepts.  The researcher then uses dialogical reflection to authenticate the themes to the texts in order to develop a deepening meaning from the qualitative interviews. Next, a thematic analysis is conducted connecting various themes with illustrative text extracts in narrative form.  These thematized narratives are then shared with research participants, as well as expert qualitative researchers, for validation.  These validated texts will then have further interpretation done by the researcher through comparison and contrast in search of unifying patterns.  These individual thematic texts are then merged together into a final account.  This final account is presented to the research participant group so their reactions to the document can be incorporated into the final draft.



Burian, H. (2013, April 13). Community looks to ReNEW Powell-Hood-Hamilton. WXOW News19. Retrieved from

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

Diekelmann, N., Allen, D., & Tanner, C. (1989). The NLN criteria for the appraisal of baccalaureate programmes: A critical hermeneutical analysis. In N. Diekelmann & D. Allen (Eds.), The NLN criteria for appraisal of baccalaureate programmes: A critical hermeneutical analysis. New York, NY: NLN Press.

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). The inner city church as servant to its community. In A. T. Fraker & L. C. Spears (Eds.), Seeker and servant: Reflections on religious leadership (pp. 257-273). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Greenleaf, R. K. (1996). Spirituality as leadership. In A. T. Fraker & L. C. Spears (Eds.), Seeker and servant: Reflections on religious leadership (pp. 51-64). 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. P., & McKnight, J. L. (1993). Building communities from the inside out: A path toward finding and mobilizing a community’s assets. Chicago, IL: ACTA Publications.

Kretzmann, J. P., & McKnight, J. L. (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

Smith, B. (1996). The problem drinker’s lived experience of suffering: A hermeneutic-phenomenological study. (Unpublished master’s thesis, University of Aberdeen).

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

Sullivan, S., & Londre, A. (2013, April 21). Sara Sullivan and Andrew Londre: Three steps will help city’s neighborhoods. La Crosse Tribune. Retrieved from

Swinton, J., & Mowat, H. (2006). Practical theology and qualitative research. London, England: SCM Press.

Van Manen, M. (1990). Researching lived experience: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. New York, NY: State University of New York Press.

Wuthnow, R. (2004). Saving America?: Faith-based services and the future of civil society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Relationships between Servant Leadership and Conflict Management Style

Krista S. Clements Orlan and Adele V. DiNatale-Svetnicka

Viterbo University












Servant leadership has been gaining speed as a desired leadership form since its introduction in the 1970s by Robert Greenleaf. With the characteristics of servant leadership focusing on the employee rather than the leader, (Greenleaf, 1970) it seems logical that servant leadership would be desired to successfully manage conflict in the work place. However, limited research exists on servant leadership’s effect on conflict management strategies in the work place. This study sought to provide empirical research demonstrating that servant leadership positively correlates with collaborative, accommodating, and compromising conflict management strategies while negatively correlating with competitive and avoidance conflict management strategies.                                                                                  

Surveys of servant leadership and conflict management attitudes, both utilizing the Likert-type format were received from 94 subjects in and around the campus of Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The results show servant leadership has a significant positive relationship with compromising and collaborative styles while there were no relationships supported with either avoidance or accommodating styles. The results indicate servant leadership having a significant negative relationship with competition but it is regarded cautiously with .68 reliability.

Keywords: servant leadership, conflict management styles, avoidance, compromise, accommodation, collaboration, competition


Relationships between Servant Leadership and Conflict Management Style

Conflict occurs everywhere, and the business or organizational setting is no exception. Different personalities and experiences lead to a variety of styles used to manage conflict; not all of them conducive to a productive and pleasant work environment. While much information is available on conflict management behaviors, there have not been a great number of studies on servant leadership’s affect on conflict management styles. By bringing servant leadership practices to conflict management styles, the consideration and development of the individual is considered as foundational to attaining a satisfactory resolution with any conflict.

Successful conflict resolution is beneficial for an organization as it positively affects job clarification, job satisfaction, and therefore better job performance. This led to our study of five research hypotheses: 1) Servant leadership is negatively related to competitive styles of conflict management; 2) Servant leadership is negatively correlated to avoidance styles of conflict management; 3) Servant leadership is positively related to collaborative styles of conflict management; 4) Servant leadership is positively correlated to accommodating styles of conflict management; 5) Servant leadership is positively related to compromising styles of conflict management.

Review of the Literature


Our study considers the relationship between the variables of servant leadership and conflict management.  First we examined published literature about servant leadership in regards to organizational practice, and then explored the understood dynamics of conflict management in the workplace. 

Servant Leadership (SL)

While the notion of servant leadership has been practiced since biblical times, the concept as a distinct management 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.  The field of servant leadership has grown over the years with a deepening understanding around the theological and philosophical implications, while empirically based studies linking servant leadership to business practice have emerged only recently.

Current studies show servant leadership positively impacts employee performance and workplace behaviors (Al-Sharafi & Rajiani, 2013; Hu & Liden, 2011; Susanj & Jakopec, 2012; Walumbwa, Hartnell, & Oke, 2010).  Hu and Liden (2011) found that team leaders who use servant leadership naturally raise the confidence of the team through positive motivation, leading to higher levels of overall team effectiveness and team organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB), or positive behaviors beyond the duties of the job position.  SL can enhance team effectiveness regardless of the starting level of team potency (Hu & Liden, 2011).  This style of leadership not only indirectly raises team effectiveness by elevating the level of team potency, but it also seems to directly increase team effectiveness (Hu & Liden, 2011).  Supervisors who engage in SL serve their employees by making sure they understand their work goals and have the tools at their disposal to engage in the process of completing those goals.  This in turn raises the level of team potency (Hu & Liden, 2011), facilitating a collaborative team environment.

While OCBs can be developed naturally by working with the SL, formal training can facilitate positive organizational climates:  “…servant leadership is instrumental in developing positive climates that can then be used to enhance employee citizenship behavior in organizations … leadership programs aimed at enhancing procedural justice climate and service climate can be improved further by incorporating training in servant leadership skills” (Walumbwa, Hartnell, & Oke, 2010, p. 527), as well as a discussion on fairness in decision making and specific work related practices and policies, and quality customer service.  All three practices heighten the willingness to learn more and to assist others outside of defined job roles (Walumbwa, Hartnell, & Oke, 2010).  Jones (2012) also recommended upper management make a priority of establishing people-centered hiring and training practices that would recruit and develop the type of employee base where a servant leadership organizational culture would flourish.

Many of the organizational citizenship behaviors encouraged by servant leadership, whether through a training program or by working alongside a SL, are attitudes indicative of servant leadership in themselves.  Gibbs, Rosenfeld, and Javidi (1994) noted the OCBs of sportsmanship and conscientiousness positively influence job satisfaction.  Both OCBs are reflected in different attributes common to SL:  sportsmanship requires humility to sustain and conscientiousness is a product of empathy.  In terms of sportsmanship, people who are generally satisfied with their job are less likely to complain (Gibbs, Rosenfeld, & Javidi, 1994).  Even those who may not be satisfied with their coworkers, but are satisfied with all other aspects of their job, will tend to be conscientious because these behaviors are not individual specific but something one does in the spirit of being a good employee (Gibbs, Rosenfeld, & Javidi, 1994).  Compromise for the common good is developed in emerging SL employees.

While Gibbs, Rosenfeld, and Javidi (1994) found SL infused OCBs positively correlated to job satisfaction, Susanj and Jakopec (2012) found job satisfaction and fairness perceptions to be positive mediating factors between active leadership and OCB.  Servant leadership can be categorized as a type of active leadership according to Susanj and Jakopec’s (2012) definition whereby the leader motivates others to do more than they intended, or even thought possible; provides clear goal and process clarity; and rewards and disciplines fairly based upon the follower’s performance.  They also found no relationship when considering passive/avoiding leadership.  Because of this, Susanj and Jakopec (2012) recommend managers be active in clarifying job requirements, providing direction as needed and rewards for good job performance, while at the same time setting an example of work ethic by creating optimistic vision that inspires problem-solving, and treating each team member with dignity and respect.  Putting it simply, “managers should practice (active) leadership and avoid avoiding it” (Susanj & Jakopec, 2012, p. 522).

Walumbwa, Hartnell, and Oke (2010) expand the idea of servant leadership from individual attributes to the organizational level conceptualizing it “as ambient behavior directed toward the leader’s entire work unit that is a common stimulus shared among group members” (p. 518).  This organizational servant leader culture can be expressed as “corporate integrity”.  According to Soye (2011), “It is thus appropriate to conceptualise integrity as an organizational level concept since organizations are engaged in a web of relationships with stakeholders and are therefore bound by the ensuing expectations and agreed standards of operation” (p. 79).  Integrity in itself encapsulates SL.  This is further highlighted when considering the fullness of integrity as character, truthfulness, honesty, and conscientiousness – all characteristics commonly attributed to servant leadership (Soye, 2011).  SL can be lived and worked on individual and corporate levels.

For the purposes of this study we conceptualize servant leadership as an ambient behavior set of attributes as described by Spears (2010): listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community.  These are communicated within individuals and between organizational units.  According to Soye (2011), this integral culture of servant leadership on an organizational level has the power to heal conflict from within so as to reach outside the organization into the community in ways that promote conflict resolution.


Servant leadership is an ancient concept that is finding new applications in today’s culture.  In the workplace, the practice of SL leads to increased job performance.  It can be utilized by supervisors in their daily interactions with employees, and taught more formally through specialized training.  These servant leadership practices develop organizational citizenship behaviors that further promote a SL culture.  Once servant leadership is established on an organizational level, there is a corporate tendency to heal from within that is facilitated through various types of conflict management styles.

Conflict Management Styles (CMS)

The prevalence of conflict in the workplace requires that its resolution be of great importance to organizational management.  Conflict Management Strategies can have either positive or negative effects on an organization’s employees and their performance. Conflict, as seen in this study, is a disagreement that naturally occurs when individuals or groups have different attitudes, needs, values, or beliefs (Bakhare, 2010).  We agree with Soye (2011) that conflict management is a communication behavior and that an effective vehicle is needed for that communication to be successful. This desired successful communication will come from knowledge of effective conflict management styles that lead employees to work together and talk through their contrary stances in reaching a united consensus. As stated in Mohd Soieb, Othman and D’Silva (2013) an organization’s success and soundness relies on its managers’ capability not only to recognize conflict but to manage it well and effectively; they should model positive styles of conflict management.  

While individual managers have great influence in aiding conflict resolution between employees, their effectiveness is enhanced when the organization as a whole provides a conducive environment for constructive conflict management strategies (Mohd Soieb, et al., 2013).  This is “conflict culture” (Gelfand, Leslie, Keller, & de Dreu, 2012, p. 1131).  With both organizations and managers effectively recognizing, managing, and allowing an environment conducive to positive conflict management styles, trust between employees will increase when working within their own team as well as with other teams (Hempel, Zhang, & Tjosvold, 2009).   Given the many studies conducted on CMS, some with variations of labels, we will use the concept labels developed by Kilmann and Thomas (1974): compromising, accommodating, competing, avoiding, and collaborating.  As with servant leadership, developing personal relationships is key to effective communication and a willingness to understand the other’s point of view in managing conflict. In using the conflict management styles developed by Thomas and Kilmann (1974); competing, avoiding, accommodating, compromising, and collaborating, different skills are utilized in each area. As reiterated by Bakhare (2010) these styles can be distinguished by two scales: assertiveness and cooperation, and she goes on to elaborate on each style giving concise summarized skill sets for each style. With Bakhare (2010), we define compromising as “moderate assertiveness and moderate cooperation. Some people define compromise as ‘giving up more than you want,’ while others see compromise as both parties winning” (Bakhare, 2010, p. 46). There may be times when compromising is more appropriate than others, especially when the issues at hand are of moderate importance, the balance of power remains equal, or when resolving the issue is of utmost priority. The skills attached to being able to compromise are “negotiating, finding a middle ground, assessing value, and making concessions” (Bakhare, 2010, p. 47).

The style of accommodating is characterized by low assertiveness and high cooperation (Bakhare, 2010).  Situations indicating use of this style would be appropriate when it is desired to show fairness, improve performance, develop community and fellowship, and to maintain peacefulness. This style could be used when an issue or result is of little concern to someone. However, accommodation can cause problems if the person keeps track of all the times he or she accommodates, especially when it is not reciprocated. Skills used to accommodate are “forgetting your desires, selflessness, ability to yield, and obeying orders” (Bakhare, 2010, p. 47).

A competition type of CMS is high in assertiveness and low in cooperation (Bakhare, 2010).  Situations when this style would be appropriate would be when a quick decision or action is needed, when the decision needing to be made is unpopular, when essential issues need to be addressed, or when protection of one’s self interests is needed (Bakhare, 2010).  Competition type skills would include “arguing or debating, using rank or influence, asserting your opinions and feelings, standing your ground, and stating your position clearly” (Bakhare, 2010, p. 47).

The avoidance mode is low in both cooperation and assertiveness; it tends to be used because of a lack of ability or lack of confidence in that ability or just because there is a fear of engaging in conflict. Avoidance may be appropriate in times when the issue is not of high importance, tensions need to be reduced, if someone is in a position of lower power, or if more time will be gained with avoidance (Bakhare, 2010).  Skills found in avoidance are the “ability to withdraw, ability to sidestep issues, ability to leave things unresolved, and a sense of timing” (Bakhare, 2010, p. 48).

With collaboration one will find a great amount of both cooperation and assertiveness. Collaboration uses many ideas from multiple people leading not only to the best solution, but a better solution than would have been created by just a single person. Because collaboration produces such positive results some people believe it should always be the CMS to use. It should be kept in mind that collaboration takes a good deal of time and effort thus it should be used when the time and effort are available to allow it to work. Collaboration would be suitable for times when issues are too significant to compromise, when different perspectives are combined, when increasing commitment and developing relationships, when learning, and when the conflict is important to those who are building an assimilated solution (Bakhare, 2010).  Collaboration would include skills such as “active listening, non-threatening confrontation, identifying concerns, and analyzing input” (Bakhare, 2010, p. 48).

As stated in Gelfand, et al., (2012) cultures in which conflict is managed with a collaborative style will lend itself more to “viability (i.e. be characterized by high cohesion, high potency, and low burnout)” (p. 1135) while culture that uses a dominating conflict management style will have viability negatively affected  with “low cohesion, low potency, and high burnout” (p. 1135). Whereas conflict cultures that have the prevalent CMS of avoidance will find employees’ creativity stifled and a reduction in viability (Gelfand, et al., 2012).  In these situations an organization itself acts as the mediator between the conflicting parties in which it is vital that the manager is effective in carrying out their knowledge and experience in conflict management (Mohd Soieb, et al., 2013).

Hempel, Zhang, and Tjosvold (2009) found that a cooperative conflict management style increases trust among employees, especially team members, while a competitive conflict management style decreases this trust. They also found that the cooperative conflict management style affects conflict management between different teams by positively aiding the conflict resolution within that team and lessening the competition between teams. This is opposite of the competitive CMS that adds to internal competition within the team and makes it less likely that there will be cooperation between teams (Hempel, Zhang, & Tjosvold, 2009).


In general, we regard collaboration, compromise, and accommodation to be the preferred and more productive conflict management strategies. They tend to enhance effective communication and personal relationships, and positively contribute to a culture that handles conflict well thereby increasing employees’ viability and trust.  Contrasting that, avoidance and competition are less preferred as they tend to inhibit effective communication which negatively affects personal relationships and employee viability. We discern that servant leadership is highly in line with the collaboration style, and would serve compromising and accommodation well; while servant leaders would tend not to use avoidance or competition.



A hallmark of servant leadership is the willingness to engage with others in the task of problem solving.  Certain relational identifiers are encompassed in the ambient behaviors of servant leadership: collaboration, compromise, and accommodation to name a few.  These servant leader traits might be identified as specific styles of conflict management, as they align with Spears’ (2010) SL attributes of listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community to some extent, while avoidance and competition do not.  The goal of this study is to investigate these relationships.


Servant leadership is a subset of transformational leadership. While transformational leadership seeks organizational change by inspiring employees (Bass, 1990; Susanj & Jakopec, 2012), SL promotes change by serving. Servant leadership is generally regarded as visionary and inspirational (see Spears, 1998). This underscores a fundamental tension in the servant leadership literature regarding management style. In day-to-day managing, serving others may build trust and good will as is often demonstrated through OCB (Hempel, Zhang, & Tjosvold, 2009; Hu & Liden, 2011; Walumbwa, Hartnell, & Oke, 2010). Organizational members may elect to follow the SL as a gesture of faith in her or his judgment and acknowledgement of the common ground they share (Walumbwa, Hartnell, & Oke (2010). In tumultuous times, however, the motive for following a SL is less clear. The SL may need to privilege one set of followers over others, prioritize one organizational unit over others, or discipline a follower when a legitimate need runs counter to the greater good (Susanj & Jakopec, 2012). 

Conflict is a normal experience within organizations.  Regardless of the pervasive leadership style within an organization there will be some conflict amongst team members because of differing preferences, opinions, and world views (Bakhare, 2010).  In a conflict context, the motivation to follow a SL may be eroded. The SL may elect to counter this erosion by using a conflict management style that adapts to followers’ situations, expectations, and preferences, or they may choose to model positive CMS that promotes organizational success (Soieb, et al, 2013).  Figure 1 demonstrates where each of Wilmot and Hockers’ CMS fall within an axis of interpersonal preference as well as the perceived outcomes for the parties involved in the conflict.







Figure 1: Wilmot and Hockers’ (2014) CMS model.

This study attempts to add to the literature by identifying the relationship between servant leadership and the type of conflict management styles typically used by those who espouse SL.

The SL’s role is to build community by working with others for their benefit instead of selfish motives (Spears, 1998).  By listening to employee concerns and empathizing with their struggles, the SL models behavior that is reflected throughout the team (Soieb, et la, 2013; Walumbwa, Hartnell, & Oke, 2010).  Hempel, Zhang, and Tjosvold (2009) found competitive CMS to diminish trust and increase internal conflict within the team and organization.  Thus it is reasonable to conclude that:

H1:  Servant leadership is negatively correlated with competitive CMS.

Spears (1998) suggests persuasion, foresight, and healing are important attributes of servant leadership.   SLs naturally raise team potency through positive motivation techniques (Hu & Liden, 2011).  Bakhare (2010) notes avoidance is typically used by those with high fear and low confidence.  Susanj & Jakopec (2012) recommend managers utilize positive vision in order to inspire problem-solving.  SL on the organizational level has the power to heal from within in a way that promotes conflict resolution even beyond the organizational boundaries (Soye, 2011).  Thus it does not appear a SL would avoid conflict:

H2:  Servant leadership is negatively correlated with avoidance CMS.

The collaborative CMS is characterized by active listening and identifying concerns (Bakhare, 2010), which Spears (1998) identifies listening and empathy as key SL attributes.  Gelfand, et al (2012) found collaborative conflict cultures to be highly conducive to team potency, along with several other viability factors.  Likewise, Hu and Liden (2011) found SL to raise team potency levels.  Collaboration is the best CMS when aiming to gain commitment and improve relationships (Bakhare, 2010).  Employee commitment has been shown to be a positive mediator between SL and OCB (Walumbwa, Hartnell, & Oke, 2010), thus it is reasonable to predict:      

H3:  Servant leadership is positively correlated with collaborative CMS.

Putting others first by placing personal needs to the side, acts of selflessness, and obeying orders are all typical skills in the accommodating mode of conflict management (Bakhare, 2010).  “Servant first” is Greenleaf’s (1970) motto for the servant leadership movement.  Walumbwa, Hartnell, and Oke (2010) found training in SL skills increased willingness to do things for others, especially OCBs.  Therefore:

H4:  Servant leadership is positively correlated with accommodating CMS.

Bakhare (2010) notes compromise as the typical CMS among individuals of equal power.  The ideal model of SL is not a hierarchical one, but similar to a flat plate with an unobtrusive bump in the center (Greenleaf, 1977/2002), an organization of equals.  In order to work effectively amongst equals, a SL demonstrates humility.  Gibbs, Rosenfeld, and Javidi (1994) noted employees working alongside SL would use the OCBs of sportsmanship (humility) and conscientiousness (empathy) when resolving conflicts with other coworkers.  Because of the willingness of the servant leader to engage in “give and take” behaviors in the interest of the common good it is plausible that:

H5:  Servant leadership is positively correlated with compromising CMS.

Methods Section


Participants for the experiment were recruited around a small, private university campus.  While the survey sample was random and demographic information was not collected, it is assumed the subject population resembled the demographics surrounding the campus community in terms of age, ethnicity and gender. 

Participants were spontaneously approached by the researchers with paper surveys to complete on the spot, taking about 12 minutes to complete.


The Interpersonal Conflict Scale (Hocker & Wilmot, 2014) was used to assess the subject’s personal conflict management style.  A total of 25 items were presented in a Likert-type format with a scale ranging from (1 = never) to (5 = always).  Five items measured avoidance (e. g., “I like to avoid being “put on the spot”; I keep conflicts to myself.”), five items measured compromise (e. g., “I negotiate with the other to reach a compromise.”), five items measured competition (e. g., “I sometimes use my power to win.”), five items measured collaboration (e. g., “I try to integrate my ideas with the other’s to come up with a decision jointly.”), and five items measured accommodation (e. g., “I usually accommodate the other’s wishes.”)

The Servant Leadership Attitudes Inventory was used to assess the participant’s propensity to servant leader attitudes (SLAI; Preiss, 2012).  A total of 36 items were presented in a Likert-type format with a scale ranging from (1 = strongly agree) to (5 = strongly disagree).  Six items measured “community service and stewardship” (e. g., “I would like to work for a leader who encourages me to have a community spirit in the workplace.”), six items measured “authenticity/trust” (e. g., “I would like to work for a boss who considers the opinions of others as a basis for making appropriate decisions.”), six measured “humility/accepts others” (e. g., “I would like to work for a boss who is courteous and respectful.”), six items measured “helps subordinates succeed while standing back” (e. g., “I would like to work for a boss who stands aside and lets me do my best work.”), six items measured “conceptual skills, vision, and accountability” (e. g., “I would like to work for a manager who admits his or her mistakes and improves performance by learning from errors.”), and six items measured “behaves ethically and courageously” (e. g., “I would like to work for a boss who is willing to make personal sacrifices when ethical principles are at stake.”) .

Data analysis involved conducting a reliability analysis for each instrument, computing composite scores for each instrument, and computing a correlation matrix for all instruments.


Ninety-two of 94 responses to our survey utilizing the Servant Leadership Attitudes Inventory and the Interpersonal Conflict Scale were used.  Two surveys were incomplete and not included in some calculations. Examination of frequency statistics indicated that both surveys performed as expected and were found to be reliable. The measure of central tendency and dispersion for the Servant Leadership Attitudes Inventory (SLAI) (M = 152.61; SD = 14.96) and the Interpersonal Conflict Scale (ICS) for competition (M = 13.53; SD = 3.07), avoidance (M = 16.1; SD = 3.4), collaboration (M = 19.43; SD = 2.83), accommodation (M = 16.63; SD = 2.86), and compromise (M = 17.68; SD = 2.91) were consistent with earlier studies using these scales. The reliabilities of the instruments were satisfactory (SLAI alpha was .91; ICS alphas  =  competition (.68), avoidance (.76), collaboration (.77), accommodation (.76), and compromise (.75).  All of which are above the minimum alpha of .70 except for competition. This led us to be cautious about the finding in regards to the competition variable.

The test of our first hypothesis, servant leadership is negatively related to competitive conflict management strategies (CMS), involved correlating the SLAI and the ICS.  The result supported the hypothesis of a negative relationship with the correlation of r = -.19, p = .04, n = 92. However with r being so small and the reliability only being .68, we hesitate to readily accept this result and are cautious in its consideration.

Our second hypothesis’ testing, servant leadership is negatively related to avoidance CMS, involved correlating the SLAI and the ICS. Contrary to the hypothesis, the scores on the two questionnaires were not significantly associated. This correlation was r = .03, p = .38, n = 92.

The third hypothesis’ test, servant leadership is positively related to collaboration type CMS, involved correlating the SLAI and the ICS. This correlation was r = .46, p = .00, n = 92 supporting the hypothesis and showing a highly significant positive relationship between servant leadership and collaborative behaviors.

Testing of our fourth hypothesis, servant leadership is positively related to accommodation CMS, involved correlating the SLAI and the ICS. Contrary to our hypothesis, there was no statistical significance and it does not support the hypothesis. The correlation was r = .11, p = .14, n = 92.

The testing of our final hypothesis, servant leadership is positively related to compromising CMS, involved correlating the SLAI and the ICS. As hypothesized, the scores on the two questionnaires were significantly related showing a positive relationship. The correlation was r = .47, p = .00, n = 90.


Conflict exists in all types of organizations and is something every leader needs to manage on a daily basis to some extent.  Depending on how conflict is managed, it can have positive and negative impacts on individuals and the institution as a whole.  This study was undertaken to increase the empirical data on the relationship between servant leadership and conflict management strategies.  There is no existing research investigating correlations between either individual servant leaders or servant leader organizations and their preferred style of conflict management in the literature to date.  This study appears to be the first attempt to validate certain assumptions as to how servant leaders operate in organizations with conflict.  We will begin with a discussion of the findings on how servant leadership relates to each of the five conflict management styles.  Limitations of the study will be identified and put into context.  Finally, recommendations for future research in this area will be made.

A significant finding from the study showed servant leadership to be positively correlated with compromise, the conflict management style typically used between equals (Bakhare, 2010).  Greenleaf (1977/2002) emphasized the concept of a community of equals, as well as the idea that everyone is called to be a servant leader, in his writings on servant led institutions.  The concept of equality is fundamental to both servant leadership and compromise, so it is to be expected in a power relationship where each individual has the opportunity to be leader and follower concurrently, that these individuals would use compromise in solving conflict because of its give and take nature.

The study findings also revealed that servant leadership has a highly significant influence on collaboration being used in conflict management. This result was expected, as servant leaders tend to listen to others’ points of view and seek to understand it, thereby being more apt to use or incorporate others’ ideas (Spears, 1998) and collaboration is characterized by these attributes according to Bakhare’s (2010) definition of the style.  Studies showed a positive correlation between both servant leadership and collaborative conflict management to team potency (Gelfand, et al., 2012; Hu & Liden, 2011).  The high significance of the correlation was not surprising because collaboration epitomizes the servant leader value of interpersonal relationship.

The research tentatively confirmed the hypothesis that competition between coworkers is not typical in servant led organizations.  While a significant negative correlation was identified, the measure only approached reliability indicating the results should be considered carefully.  This being noted, building community and commitment to the common good are hallmarks of servant leadership (Spears, 1998) with positive interpersonal relationships and teamwork dynamics emphasized within servant led organizations (Soieb, et al., 2013), all behaviors that are not typically associated with competition.  Considering this, and the fact the measure very nearly approached reliability, these findings can be seen in a preliminary fashion with further testing necessary to fully validate.

Surprisingly, there was no significant relationship found between servant leadership and conflict avoidance.  A negative correlation had been predicted as interpersonal communication is highly emphasized in servant leadership training and techniques in order to raise team confidence levels (Hu & Liden, 2011).  Servant leaders communicate their vision to team members in a persuasive fashion in order to inspire problem-solving in the face of conflict (Spears, 1998; Susanj & Jakopec, 2012).  Avoidance of conflict is antithetical to these qualities.  The results may be explained by the fact that avoidance can be used in positive ways depending on the situation, for example, when the conflict is of minimal importance in the big picture or as a tactic when trying to gain time in order to address the conflict in a more appropriate environment (Bakhare, 2010).  Servant leaders may use avoidance in a situational context as opposed to a preferred style.

Another surprising finding was that there was no significant relationship between servant leadership and accommodation.  Accommodation is embodied by selflessness and placing others’ needs first, all attributes that are strongly identified with servant leadership (Bakhare, 2010; Greenleaf, 1970).  Walumbwa, Hartnell, and Oke (2010) had found servant leadership skills increased employee willingness to accommodate others by way of OCB.  However the hypothesis that accommodation would be a frequently used conflict management style by servant leaders was left unsupported by the current study.  A possible explanation for this inconsistency between theory and empirical data is because of servant leaders’ strong propensity for compromise (win-a-bit/lose-a-bit) and collaboration (win/win) there is rare occasion to enter into a conflict management style where there is a clear winner and loser in the interaction, especially when the issues are highly important or essential.

There were several limitations to this study because of its small scale, classroom-oriented nature, and limited time frame.  The participant sample was small and completely random in its demographics.  All of the people surveyed were from around the Viterbo University campus, an institution known for its servant leadership emphasis in curriculum and culture. It is likely the sample, though random, possessed above average knowledge and practice of servant leadership behaviors.  This knowledge of servant leadership may have also enhanced the study reliability because participants put these concepts into practice on a regular basis as a natural part of the culture and not just a theory.  The time allotted to collect the samples was extremely limited, from the end of one class day until the beginning of the next class day, and during summer evening hours when campus activity is limited and transient. This potentially had an adverse affect on the quantity of the samples as many participants were interrupted in their end of day activities.  Future studies should allow for more time to gather a larger sample. It should also be considered whether or not a completely random selection of participants is best or whether participants should be more uniform in background.

Future studies are needed to gain better understanding into the relationships between servant leadership and conflict management as this is an emerging area for research.  Modifications can be made to the current study to make it more rigorous.  There is a need to address the reliability issue with the competition component of the tool.  A more exhaustive study including essay questions and follow up interviews, along with the Likert-type questions would give additional information and insight into the responses, potentially filling in some gaps in the data.  Subsequent investigations into why servant leadership does not correlate to avoidance and accommodation would provide further clarity.

Potential questions for further study of servant leadership and conflict management include: is there less perceived conflict in servant led organizations as opposed to other organizations; what formal conflict resolution processes are utilized by servant led institutions; what type of disciplinary measures do servant leaders typically use in the workplace?


Each individual will encounter conflict at some point when working with others.  Servant leaders have the unique ability to look at the world through the lens of equality, humility, and community-focus, vastly different qualities from other leader contemporaries.  Many of the attributes typically associated with servant leadership lend them to prefer various conflict management styles over others.  Servant leaders tend to utilize compromise and collaboration, and avoid competition, when managing conflict in their organizations.  They value opportunities to work alongside others in solving differences, and navigate away from situations where more conflict may be generated.



We would like to thank Dr. Barbara Mae Gayle and Dr. Ray Preiss for their invaluable help with this study.  Dr. Gayle was instrumental in outlining the writing format for this article, and Dr. Preiss lead us through the IRB process, developed one of our tools, analyzed the data, and contributed to the overall rationale for conducting this research.




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Instrument Appendix



Think of a situation where you have had a conflict, disagreement, argument, or disappointment with someone. Examples might be someone you live with or a work associate. Then, use the following five point scale to respond to each question.

1=Never        2=Seldom             3=Sometimes 4=Often                 5=Always

We would like to know how you deal with a conflicts involving the other person. There are no right or wrong answers, so work quickly and provide your first impression. 

____1)   I like to avoid being “put on the spot”; I keep conflicts to myself.
____2)   I like to use influence to get my ideas accepted.
____3)   I usually try to “split the difference” in order to resolve an issue.
____4)   I usually try to satisfy the other’s needs.
____5)   I usually try to investigate an issue to find a solution acceptable to us.
____6)   I like to avoid open discussion of my differences with the other.
____7)   I like to use my authority to make a decision in my favor.
____8)   I usually try to find the middle course to resolve an impasse.
____9)   I usually accommodate the other’s wishes.
____10)  I try to integrate my ideas with the other’s to come up with a decision jointly.
____11)  I try to stay away from disagreement with the other.
____12)  I try to use my expertise to make a decision that favors me.
____13)  I propose a middle ground for breaking deadlocks.
____14)  I give in to other’s wishes.
____15)  I try to work with the other to find solutions that satisfy both our expectations.
____16)  I try to keep my disagreements to myself in order to avoid hard feelings.
____17)  I usually pursue my side of an issue.
____18)  I negotiate with the other to reach a compromise.
____19)  I often go with the other’s suggestions.
____20)  I exchange accurate information with the other so we can solve a problem together.

____21)  I try to avoid unpleasant exchanges with the other.
____22)  I sometimes use my power to win.
____23)  I use “give and take” so that a compromise can be made.
____24)  I try to satisfy the other’s expectations.
____25)  I try to bring all our concerns out in the open so that the issues can be solved.







Directions:  We are examining the preferences people have for various styles of business leadership.  We are interested in the qualities people would like to see in their employers. Please consider each of the statements in this scale and select the number that corresponds to how you feel about each statement.  Mark a “5” if you extremely disagree with the statement.  Write a “4” in the blank if you disagree with the statement.  If you are neutral, write a “3” in the blank.  If you agree with the statement, write a “2” in the blank.  If you strongly agree with the statement, mark a “1”.


    Strongly                        Agree                         Neutral              Disagree              Strongly

    Agree                                                                                                            Disagree

         1                     2                                  3                             4                         5

Community Service and Stewardship

_____1. I would not want to work for a boss who is always talking about the company’s potential to contribute to society.

_____2. I would like to work for a leader that encourages me to have a community spirit in the workplace.

_____3. It makes no sense to work hard for a boss that believes the organization needs to play a moral role in society.

_____4. I would like to work for a leader that is always preparing the organization to make a positive difference in the future.

_____5. I would like to work for a boss who is committed to serving coworkers, the organization, and society.

_____6. I would like to work for a boss who responds to the needs of individuals who live in today’s modern workplace.




Strongly                  Agree                        Neutral              Disagree              Strongly

    Agree                                                                                                            Disagree

         1                      2                                3                             4                         5


_____1. I would like to work for a boss who is assertive and supports others’ decisions.

_____2. I don’t think it would be wise to work for a leader who lets me know exactly where he or she stands.

_____3. I would like to work for a boss who I can trust to sacrifice his or her time for the benefit of the company.

_____4. I would like to work for a leader who is honest enough to consult others in the organization when he or she does not have all the answers.

 _____5. I would like to work for a boss who considers the opinions of others as a basis for making appropriate decisions.

_____6. I would not like to work for a boss who is authentic and reliable.


   Strongly                   Agree                         Neutral             Disagree               Strongly

    Agree                                                                                                            Disagree

         1                      2                                  3                            4                         5

Humility/Accept others

_____1. I would NOT like to work for a leader who is humble and accessible.

_____2. I would feel uncomfortable if my superior appeared to be genuinely interested in me as a person.

_____3. I would work hard for a leader who does not call attention on his or her own accomplishments.

_____4. I would like to work for a boss who is courteous and respectful.

_____5. I would like to work for a boss who engages with and accepts others for who they are.

_____6. I would like to work for a boss who treats all people equality and with dignity.




Strongly                Agree                         Neutral             Disagree               Strongly

    Agree                                                                                                            Disagree

         1                      2                                  3                            4                         5

Help subordinates succeed while standing back

_____1. I would like to work for someone who enables me to solve problems on my own.

_____2. I would enjoy working for an employer who gives me the training and opportunities to do my best work.

_____3. I would like to work for a boss who provides opportunities for learning and growth.

_____4. I would question the judgment of a leader who remains in the background and gives credit to others.

_____5. I would be suspicious of a boss who tries to helps me grow on the job and be a better person in all aspects of my life.

_____6. I would like to work for a boss who stands aside and lets me do my best work.

   Strongly             Agree                         Neutral             Disagree               Strongly

    Agree                                                                                                            Disagree

         1                      2                                  3                            4                         5

Conceptual skills, vision, and accountability

_____1. I would like to work for a boss that seeks my commitment concerning the shared vision of our company.

_____2. I would feel manipulated if a leader tried to include my vision into the firm’s goals and objectives.

_____3. I would like to work for a manager who admits his or her mistakes and improves performance by learning from errors.

_____4. I would like to work for a boss that has a clear and concise vision of what the company wants to become in ten or twenty years.

_____5. I would like to work for a boss who has the ability to conceive new ideas, to re-think current procedures, and to guide the company to new levels of success.

_____6. I would NOT be motivated by a leader that encourages me to dream big and makes my vision part of the organization’s vision.


   Strongly             Agree                         Neutral              Disagree              Strongly

    Agree                                                                                                            Disagree

         1                      2                                  3                            4                         5


Behave ethically and courageously

_____1. I would work for a leader who creates a culture that fosters high standards that are based upon clear ethical principles.

_____2. I would like to work for an employer who is a role model of good moral principles in his or her actions and words.

_____3. I would feel uncomfortable working for a boss who has the courage to take action for moral reasons that may have risky consequences.

 _____4. I would like to work for a boss who uses ends and means that are are morally legitimate, thoughtfully reasoned, and ethically justified.

_____5. It is NOT a good idea to work for a leader who adheres to moral and ethical principles.

_____6. I would like to work for a boss who is willing to make personal sacrifices when ethical principles are at stake.







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.


The one human who has had the most profound impact on all of humanity was a servant leader – Jesus Christ.  My favorite time of the liturgical year is Holy Week, when we tell the BIG servant leader stories.  Holy Thursday starts off with Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, a story that is less emphasized than the First Eucharist in our liturgies, but more deeply moving to me as an emerging servant leader.

Jesus understood that 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.

I had the opportunity to learn and experience reflexology at the recent Clare Seminar.  Touching another’s feet is healing, relaxing, and promotes positive relationship.  There is something very vulnerable and intimate about baring your feet to another and allowing them to be touched.  Initially I experienced nervousness with the group exercises, but it was quickly replaced by a total feeling of calm, love, and acceptance, both in the receiving and the giving.  Placing one’s hands on another’s feet is a harmonious action; if you think about it, it is very difficult to be angry with someone when they are touching your feet.

How can I practice washing of feet in my daily life as a remembrance of who I am called to be in the Body of Christ?


Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. (2012). United states conference of catholic bishops: Evening mass of the lord’s supper . Retrieved from

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