Archive for the ‘ Service-Marked Leadership ’ Category

Service Marked Leadership

My sister and I recently visited my aunt and uncle in New York.  My aunt is a Catholic nun, serving in the Maryknoll Mission.  My uncle is a priest serving in the same order.  Together, they have spent over 100 years of their lives serving people in communities across the United States and South America.

I stayed the night at the convent.  My room mirrored the same sparse furniture and belongings of the grey-haired Sisters who lived there.  As I wandered the labyrinthine hallways in search of the cafeteria, Sisters pushing walkers and poking canes greeted me with enthusiastic warmth and welcome.  Everyone I passed invited me to return.

Sitting at breakfast, I saw an older sister in her wheelchair entering the cafeteria.  Using her right foot, she dragged herself towards my chair.  She was mumbling at first, but as our eyes made contact her voice grew louder and more coherent.  “I’m 102 years old,” she exclaimed.  “I don’t know, but I think I’m number 1.”  (Later I realized she was referring to her seniority as the sister with the most number of years in the convent.)  She proceeded to tell us of her years of service in Korea, China, and Hawaii.  She also regaled me with a story about her missing teeth.

She glanced downwards and shook her head as she lamented, “My family is all gone now.  No one cares about me.”  Next, she pointed a gnarled finger at me and stated, “It could happen to you.”  On the back of her wheelchair was an affectionate note stating that she knew who she was and where she lived and asking us not to let her wander outside the convent.  She laughed, taught me some Korean, and accepted my kiss goodbye before my sister and I left for our long trip home.

My aunt, who is 83 years old, told me the Sister was the first Maryknoll missionary sent to Korea. While serving in Korea, she survived over a year of house arrest.  Up until four years ago, she was still assigned to a mission home.  She was 98 when she finally retired, although it was not her idea to retire.  The convent was full of slightly stooping women who announced their years of service and location of mission like a calling card.  Their aging bodies were the only limit to their boundless desire to show God’s love to others.

Churches everywhere refer to this as servant leadership.  At Five Degrees, we call it Service-marked Leadership.  Companies that have at their very core the desire to deliver outstanding service to their customers, their communities, and their employees are marked by their service.  Their leaders model a life of service.

I’ve been thinking about her finger pointing at me and haunted by her words, “It could happen to you.”  When I become consumed with my desire to win, to be profitable, or to close a deal, I wander far away from my desire to be a service-marked leader.  It could happen to any of us – the moving away from our center, our core values.  We all have to be vigilant about making sure our actions are aligned with our core values.

I’ve been reading a book about leadership, True North.  The author, Bill George, believes that the most important quality of an effective leader is to know his/her passion, his/her “true north”.  My aunt, and the women who grace the halls with her at Maryknoll, embody the spirit of living their “true north”.

Every year my aunt takes a retreat to make sure her work and her spirit are aligned with her passion and her desire to serve.  I know of many businesses that have week long retreats to pour over their budgets and make sure their business is aligned with their profits.  Very few businesses devote an equal amount of time aligning their actions with their “true north”.  I wonder, if we did more of the latter, how many companies would have employees devoting their careers to service, working tirelessly until their bodies prohibit the life of service they’ve come to love.  Nothing is as insatiable as an appetite for doing the work we love.  My aunt and the Maryknoll missionaries taught me that.

Authored by Clare Coonan, LCSW

Clare is a Senior Consultant and one of the founding partners at Five Degrees Consulting. You can connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
This is a blog we share  between several of the Consultants at Five Degrees, guest authors and colleagues.  We work with companies large and small on People and Organization strategies.  Our work specializes in organizational development, leadership effectiveness and executive development. With a focus on working with leaders at all levels to create an intentional corporate culture, we help organizations increase employee engagement, energize working teams, develop critical leadership competencies and enhance strategic communications for more information about our services, please connect with us.
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