Servant Leadership – Fresh Beginnings
For many people New Years is a time to start over, fresh beginnings, a blank calendar, and optimism of what the upcoming year may bring. And although a graduation, by definition, is actually a completion of something, it is in this ending that we find fresh beginnings. For us, the 2013 Catholic Charities of Atlanta Leadership Class, I hope this year we see the possibilities of the New Year through the education and realizations of our experiences from the past 4 months.
A dear friend of mine recently returned from a trip to Rome and described to me huge beautiful paintings she was admiring. Upon closer look she discovered that they weren’t paintings at all but mosaics made up of thousands of tiles seamlessly put together to create these works of art. I thought about these mosaics and how we are like them. We are amazing works of art God has created, made up of thousands of “tiles” in the people we meet, things we read, what we listen to, and events in our lives. This class has given us so many tiles to contribute to the mosaic of who we are- from getting to know each other, to meeting the steering committee members and Catholic Charities staff and being inspired by their vision for this program, to hearing the many speakers imparting words of wisdom, and then meeting our mentors who are going to walk with us through the next eight months. Reflecting on the most impactful tiles for me has been such a challenge because they are numerous. But being forced to narrow it down, I find my personal journey through this program has given me an illustration ofthe power of prayer, a revitalized spirit of generosity, and an understanding of the purpose of my role as a business professional.
First, just being given the chance to participate in this class was the answer to many prayers. I don’t work in an environment where my schedule is flexible. When I decided this class was important enough to me, I started praying and approached my boss a couple weeks later. I was nervous, but it was the most simple of conversations I have ever had with him. I fully contribute it to God’s hand and prayer in action.
Fundraising was next on my prayer agenda. As I submitted my application for the program, before I even got an acceptance, I started praying about this aspect of the class; $1500 seemed like such a huge goal. Again, my prayer was answered and in a bigger way that I could have ever imagined. The day Brigid sent out the email with the website instructions I stayed up past midnight setting up my site and sending out emails. But it was through the generosity of a co-worker that my fundraising took off. He pulled the donation link off my facebook page, emailed my office with words of support for me as well as Catholic Charities, and I was overwhelmed with the response. Not only were contributions numerous but I had so many doors open to discuss the programs of Catholic Charities and to discuss faith in general. When Terry Trout spoke to us she shared some wonderful quotes, my favorite being from St Augustine, “pray as though everything depended on God, work as though everything depended on you.” Without the power of prayer my fundraising efforts would have been much less effective; again God’s guiding hand.
Another huge “wow” power of prayer moment for me was in the presentation by Paul Voss. He spoke of engagement in the workplace, of utilizing strengths and talents, and managing weakness. These are topics I have been highlighting in my own place of business and many times felt I’ve beating my head up against the wall in making suggestions about how to address these concerns. I had been discussing this with God – asking him to show me that I was heading in the right direction by continually pushing these themes. And he answered me. Through Dr. Voss’s power point presentation, he answered! How can anyone say religion is out dated when God is using power point?!
Next, learning about the Catholic Charities programs and having the chance to serve the community has been quite influential. I’m inspired by the profound impact the men and women of Catholic Charities consistently make to raise people out of difficult circumstances. On more than one occasion I was moved to tears when hearing specific stories about refugee resettlement and immigration services. If you have FaceBook you may have noticed in December a very random post showing up in your news feed titled something like “your highlight moments from 2013” with 4 pictures no doubt randomly selected by some behind the scenes algorithm. My 4 were as follows: a picture from family trip to Disney World (yes, a highlight for sure), picture from a date with my grandpa (absolutely), a picture of me and a friend I haven’t seen in 14 years (for sure a highlight), and a picture of me, really of my back side, standing on a ladder making a twin bed. Seriously, making a bed? Highlight of 2013? But this random facebook picture display had it right. My saint group chose to furnish and set up an apartment for a refugee family as our group service project. It was rewarding, it was humbling. The word “need” is so frequently used that you don’t even think about it when you say it. I use the phrase “I need a cup of coffee” 10 times a day. People say “I need a pair of shoes for that outfit; I need an upgraded phone; I need; I need .” But I remember vividly receiving the list of items that were required for the refugee resettlement apartment set up: one bath towel per person, basic pots and pans, a rice cooker, one pillow per person; these are true needs. When it was time to move all of the items and the furniture into the apt that this family would be living in – there were to be 3 children in one bedroom, the parents in another. I went home that day, walked into my large, nicely furnished apartment that I share with my monster 17lb dachshund and I reclassified the word “need” in my vocabulary. I don’t consider myself a materialistic person. I work hard for the things I have and I am grateful for my many blessings but something about serving this Bhutanese family really activated my desire to be more of a generous spirit. So the picture that was posted on Facebook of me making the bed? Absolutely, one of my years best highlights.
The last take away for me that I want to take a few moments to speak about is finding a true purpose in a business profession. License plate frames and serving God. Do you see a connection? No, me either. Hence, my struggle. How do you find real purpose in going to work when your business is selling promotional supplies to automotive dealerships? When you are a Dr. or a social worker for example I think it’s more obvious how your role impacts those you serve, but in the business world, not always. One thing I really wanted to get from this leadership class is finding more of a purpose in my day to day world – how do I serve when my business isn’t healing or helping or directly bettering someone’s life? But the reality that I have come to understand is many of us are not in positions where we directly serve, yet we still have the chance to make a difference. During the panel discussion we had the opportunity to hear three successful and faith filled business people discuss their experience with servant leadership and faith at work. Bringing your faith to work might not mean leading a lunch time bible study, but caring about the people around you and being committed to them is a part of faith. Leading with morals and ethics, that is a way of serving others. Walking into work every day with the purpose of helping someone with a smile and sincere heart, that is a way of serving others. And utilizing the talents you have to the utmost of your ability, that is serving God. In 2013 I was able to undertake some large projects and make substantial contributions to my organization but in the top of my accomplishments were the three individuals who approached me at different times and asked for my prayers. This was such a blessing because it showed me even though I wasn’t shouting bible verses from the rafters of our warehouse; I was finding a way to live my faith with openness at work.
In closing, one final story about my hopes for the New Year. Each December for the past 3 years I have begun the process of drafting my New Year’s Resolutions. Author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar has a “wheel of life” that I have used in creating these goals for myself. His wheel is simply a circle divided into 7 equal parts – career, financial, social, spiritual, intellectual, physical, and family. The idea is to keep your life balanced in all these areas so as to not have your wheel go flat. However, here is what I realized when I sat down to review my wheel this past December: for my life, Mr. Ziglar’s version of the wheel is no longer applicable. I see the value and importance of balance. But my experiences through the Catholic Charities Leadership Class helped me truly shine a light on understanding that the spiritual element cannot just be a component of my wheel, it is the axel of my wheel. I can’t think of a better was to encompass all I have absorbed since the kick off in September. In 2014 I hope we all find ways to make spirituality the support of all parts of our lives because in that we find more meaning in everything. Words cannot express the gratitude I have for the Catholic Charities staff, Steering Committee members, speakers, mentors, and all those that have made this leadership class possible. Thank you and God Bless.
This blog written by Melissa Tribble, 2013 Catholic Charities Atlanta Leadership Class Graduate.