The Servant Leader – Becoming a “Solutionary” Part 1
What is a servant’s heart? To most people, the quintessential servant’s heart is – Mother Teresa and her team of sisters in blue-piped white saris *washing the feet of the poor and sickly in Calcutta, India. An important fact is that on a train ride in 1946, she answered the “call within the call” to give up her role as Principal of Saint Mary’s to work in the slums with the poorest and sickest in Calcutta without a perfect seven-point plan on how to make that happen. Two years later, with official permission granted and basic medical training, she walked into the streets and her life’s work.
Having accessed what was needed on the ground, she founded the Order of the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 with a small team of former teachers and students. By the time of her death in 1997, she oversaw a leper colony, a home for those affected by HIV/AIDs, mobile clinics, nursing homes, a center for special-needs children in Kochi, and so much more. Were there hard, gut-wrenching times? Undoubtedly. But the servant’s heart does not strive for perfection but stays focused on being a solution as long as there is an entrenched need. She garnered some criticisms but also accolades, donations, and humanitarian awards including the 1979 Nobel peace prize. Canonized in 2016 as St. Teresa of Calcutta, today, the revered servant’s humanitarian work has expanded to an international, multi-million dollar charity with 5150 sisters actively working in more than 758 missions across 139 countries.**
Two things recently got me thinking about servant leaders and the servant’s heart. First, team members were asked to take up supervisory positions and more responsibilities for a special ministry at church. Everyone took some time to consider our request. Some needed to hear from God and others needed to consult their families before committing. Of course, one must always consider the impact of serving on the family. Is hearing from God seeking an audible confirmation? Is that trying to make a distinction between what’s generally good and what’s specifically good for me? As believers, we have the Word, His peace, and His Spirit to guide us and these do. While we can’t accept every assignment, I think if it calls you up higher and beyond yourself, if it seems challenging and taunts any sense of inadequacy, it is so worth trying. But lean on God and like a miner, dig deep within for strengths and abilities that would otherwise remain dormant. A stagnant life is like the Dead Sea. Living things and beings need to grow. My breakthrough moments have always happened when I challenged myself to take the scary, unusual, and unexpected path.
Secondly, I came across Dr. Angela Lauria (Author’s Incubator) ideas on the servant’s heart.
Dr. Lauria states that “being in a place to serve has a lot to do with building your leadership muscle…becoming an object in motion…a forward-moving being.” Thus a servant’s heart is not passively idling till directions are given. Robert K. Greenleaf originally coined the term ‘servant leader’ in the publication of his classic 1970 essay, ‘The Servant as Leader‘ which launched the modern servant-leadership movement. The best leaders with an enduring impact like St. Teresa, whose maxim “I thirst…” reminds us of the words and sufferings of Christ, adjure us to do as they have done. They are active catalysts for change, upturning the status quo, being and urging others to become “solutionaries.” Their work seeks a higher purpose to better humanity and transcends the individual. According to Greenleaf, their philosophy and practices seek to create “a more just and caring world.” A true servant detests inertia. One’s usefulness expires when they can no longer move forward. There are always new goals and challenges to tackle if we resist the paralyzing need to be 100% certain of success.
Now, even though I know that our greatest lessons come from failures, I am just as guilty of research overload, calculating, and planning every step, making sure all the data and algorithms are just right, but then guess what happens? Nothing. Nothing but analysis-paralysis, because once we seek a no-fail process, we create an artificial biosphere, one so perfect that it has no place in reality and we lose the fun and adventure of fully living as we try to avoid (at all costs) the tension between what is and what could be. St. Teresa of Calcutta would have probably died as an excellent school principal if she had over-analyzed the extent of her assignment and in fear, refused to step out.
Okay, back to the church request – not everyone accepted the higher call but we truly love and appreciate every member of our team because in their own ways they actively serve and care for the most vulnerable amongst our children.
Servants are actually leaders who roll up their sleeves’ and “get action.” (Theodore Roosevelt) But if everyone leads, who will follow? Some people will never step up and then others who are “leader-first” are selfishly motivated by the quest for power, fame, or wealth. “Servant-first” people who make a “conscious choice to lead” then take deliberate action are in the people business. Greenleaf states that we can test a servant leader’s effectiveness by accessing if our collective humanity is better for it. Therefore, I’m convinced that we can both selectively follow and consciously lead. Our leadership and genius manifest in our specific assignments and we can learn from others in the arena.
So, take the instinct, volunteer, fan the flames of natural tendencies and build with commitment. Servant leaders act and recognize excuses for what they are – stumbling blocks to one’s true calling. Examples of servant leaders abound like Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, St. Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Moses, Albert Schweitzer, Jack Ma, Herb Kelleher, etc. This world can be hard and full of pain-points, but servant leaders are altruistic and the real heroes of our time. They have answered the call to be solutionaries and to an adventure – imperfect, unpredictable, and scary…but so worth it!
References & Notes:
(1)The command or *mandatum in St. John’s gospel has become a religious rite observed in Islam and Christianity. Maundy Thursday during the Holy Week imitates the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus as a lesson in humility and service to each other. In Islam, the Wudu is a partial ablution or purifying activity before salat (formal prayers) and handling the Qur’an.
(2) Data of Active Contemplative Sisters (2015) The Order of the Missionaries of Charity. https://www.motherteresa.org/missionaries-of-charity.html website accessed 1/21/2020
(3) Mother Teresa (1910-1997) https://www.biography.com/religious-figure/mother-teresa. updd. 08/26/19
(4) Dr. Angela E. Lauria, 2016. “The Incubated Author – 10 Steps to Start a Movement With Your Message.” KPP eBook
(5) Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. 1970. ‘The Servant as Leader’ https://www.greenleaf.org/what-is-servant-leadership/ website accessed 1/21/2020
(6)”Solutionary” is the word used by my brother, Hon. Idopise Essien to describe his life work as a compassionate, solution-driven entrepreneur seeking to address the problems of entrenched rural communities. His company, Seteiye Integrated Services, takes solar-powered lighting to off-grid villages in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. I’ll explore his journey in the upcoming “A Servant’s Heart – Part 2.”
Image Credits: Google & Pixabay