Aligning our personal and professional lives

The following notes are a summary of a Servant-Leader roundtable held on Thursday, January 22 at the Mad Rooster Cafe in Milwaukee, WI. The roundtable gathers the fourth Thursday of each month and is open to all. The roundtable is free; breakfast is on your own. We will gather next month on Thursday, February 26 at 8:00 AM – 9:00 AM.

The topic for the day was: Aligning our personal and professional lives.


  • We are always pulled by the practice versus the ideal, the intentional versus the flow of day to day events.
  • People are not always open to the language of Servant Leadership. Sometimes talking from the heart does not translate well into our professional life. People do not always resonate with soft skills in a competitive work environment.
  • We are like the chaos in the atom. Everything touches everything. We are challenged to keep perspective on our responsibilities to others.


  • We are challenged by the balance between the short term and the long term.
  • There are times when a leader is aware of something happening that can’t be shared with the followers. It creates pressure to be secretive.
  • We can be a catalyst for putting things in a positive perspective.
  • The day-to-day activities of life create opportunities for us to either recognize the many gifts we enjoy or to imagine how much greener the grass is on the other side of the street.
  • Balance in life is hard there is always a wobble but perspective brings us back to balance.
  • The balance between our personal and professional lives can seem like a seesaw at times. We draw upon those around us for support and strength but we need to ensure we reciprocate.
  • Attitude and action go together.


  • Servant Leadership is a life style rather than a program.
  • We make choices each day on how we will view the day.
  • We lead through actions. Example is a key to growth.
  • We play a critical role in the cultural environment we generate through the demonstration of our beliefs and values.
  • We all want a great year but a year is 365 days long. We can only live one day at a time. It is easy to get lost in the minutia but we start each day anew.

Recognizing the gifts of others

The notes presented here are a summary of the conversation that took place on Thursday, December 18, 2014 at the Mad Rooster Café in Milwaukee, WI.  The topic for the day was “Recognizing the gifts of others.” 
The notes represent just a brief summary of the rich conversation that took place around the table.


  • Sometimes we are too preoccupied with ourselves to recognize others.
  • Andy Oren shared the quote:  “I pin my hopes to quiet processes and small circles, in which vital and transforming events take place.”  Rufus Jones
  • There is a certain leadership maturity in recognizing other people’s gifts.  This is especially powerful when we recognize the gifts others have that offset our weaknesses (which are many).
  • Slow down, recognize the wisdom of others, and be more intentional.
  • Let way open before you.  From book, “Let your life speak”.


  • Encouragement is a big enabler.
  • Give people permission to fail.
  • Meet people completely and intentionally. How do you stop and find that and stay human?
  • Empower people through supporting the gifts they have and help them grow in that. Don’t focus as much on weaknesses.
  • At the recent S-L Cities Tour event, Assistant chief of police, Edith Hudson said she doesn’t believe in ignoring weaknesses.  She spoke of the need to help people get past them while you focus on their gifts.
  • It can be difficult to have conversations with people who are passionate about doing something, but, it’s not a gift for them.  You can build on the passion.  Or, you can have the difficult conversation and find a way for them to do something else.
  • We can be a force for healing others (and ourselves) through any number of small activities that will allow people to recognize the many gifts they bring to the table.

Building community:

  • Living and leading is an art more than a science.
  • Sometimes a “thank you” is a powerful encouragement that people never forget.
  • Building on strengths makes more sense than focusing on weaknesses.
  • Nothing gets done unless the diversity of gifts is available to the team.  We can enrich the team by encouraging those who are not recognized for their gifts.
  • Sometimes the gifts of others present themselves as a boulder being held in place by a few small pebbles.  How can we help remove the pebbles and unleash their gifts?


  • So much of what we have and who we are is a gift.  We are but Stewarts of the gift.
  • Gifts are to be given. Nurture them and give them.
  • We all have the responsibility of being a good Stewart of our own gifts.
  • Sometimes opportunities to recognize the gifts of others are situational.  We can take advantage of these opportunities to build and cultivate strengths.

Book reference:
Palmer, Parker J.  (1999)  Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.  Jossey-Bass.  ISBN-10: 0787947350

The empathetic leader

The following notes are a summary of the Servant-Leader roundtable held on November 20, 2014.  These notes reflect a conversation among 14 Servant-Leaders from the Milwaukee area.  The group gathers once a month at the Mad Rooster CaféCafe.



A framing question on empathy:
Where, in the mix of accepting people as they are, coaching, and helping them reach their full potential, does empathy fit in?


Empathy is defined as:  the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also :  the capacity for this.  (Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Notes from around the table:

The exercise of empathy most often takes place through interactions among two people.  Thoughts shared around the table included:

  • Empathy is recognition of personhood.  Sometimes the best thing we can do is to just be with someone.
  • Showing empathy builds trust.  You can’t show sincere empathy without having trust.
  • There’s a strong tie between empathy and listening.  Listening creates a gateway to understanding.
  • When doing well with empathy we are not talking much.
  • There is real power in listening.  There are many examples from different cultures of the power of providing opportunities for people to speak without interruption.
  • It’s difficult to associate with someone who is being emotionally difficult.  Sometimes the best way to deal with these situations is to simply be nonjudgmental and seek to understand the speaker.

Building the empathetic environment:

  • In addition to building empathy through the relationships we cultivate within our organization, we have the opportunity to support and promote empathy through our organizational culture.
  • Building trusting relationships is key.  Simply asking, “How are you?” can help a person understand you are reaching out to them.
  • Don’t rush.  Recognize and take the time to respect people.  Sometimes the best way to diffuse a dysfunctional relationship or to bring out the best in people is to take the time to identify something you respect about them.  This can be especially powerful in a group setting.
  • A morning check in can allow for recognition and acknowledgement of people’s personal situation.  Allowing people to introduce themselves is one way to listen and let people express their voice.
  • At the same time, there is a balance between empathy and performance standards.  Constructive criticism is empathetic and constructive, whereas destructive criticism is just that, destructive.  We need to be able to help people move on in a sincere way.
  • In every organization you will see somebody who is highly respected because they take little credit and they are helping people.  They are the informal leaders.


Insights for leaders:

  • In order to be present to those we lead we need to have awareness of how much we reveal about ourselves.  Showing your heart and being a little vulnerable is powerful.
  • We can’t understand other people’s perceptions about things.  We know, however, empathy is related to understanding the emotional component associated with every experience.
  • Be yourself and be authentic…Don’t check to see who is winning in a relationship.
  • Empathy is or is not part of a corporate culture.  We need to be consistent in our message to the organization.

December activities:

Monday, December 15, 2014:  WI Servant-Leader Cities Tour

Thursday, December 18, 2014:  Servant-Leader roundtable at the Mad Rooster Café

  • We will be gathering for the monthly Servant-Leader roundtable at 8:00 AM. 
  • Our topic for the day is “Recognizing the passions in others.” 
  • The roundtable is free, breakfast is on your own.  You can register and add this event to your calendar by going to:

A conversation on building community

Notes on building community from the September 25, 2014 Servant-Leader roundtable.

The question:  What does it mean to build community?  How does building community differ from networking?  How do we know we are building community?

These notes are highlight of a conversation on building community involving 20 individuals from a variety of industries and experiences.  What follows is a compilation and interpretation of the notes Jim Kerlin took as the roundtable was being held.  These notes would not be possible without Jim’s note taking ability and the thoughtful reflections of the assembled participants.

Our next roundtable will take place on Thursday, October 23 at the Mad Rooster Café.

Roundtable Summary


Building community:

  • Communities have a purpose and often happen spontaneously around that purpose.
  • While a community may grow around friendships, caring, hardship, or for other purposes there is a distinct lack of personal agenda associated with healthy communities.
  • When we become peers outside rank, there is a different dynamic.   When there is diversity in a group that diversity allows for a richer perspective and also allows the group members to focus on commonalities rather than differences.
  • Even though a community may have a structure, that structure does not become a barrier to communication among all of the community members.  Vince Prantil used the analogy of a three story building to demonstrate a structure that appears hierarchical but is actually fully integrated.
  • We can intentionally set out to start a community but it can’t be sustained unless people want to be there.
  • Sustaining community requires effort.  It takes energy to continue to build and sustain a community.
  • This is a community.
  • The people protesting the death of Dontre Hamilton downtown at Red Arrow Park are building a community.  They don’t want their loved ones hurt.  Will they stay connected as a community?
  • Military members and their families have communities.  Nobody tells them to do this.  It just happens spontaneously. They just do it because they know it must be done.

Healing and community:

  • Building community involves talking about common ground and listening.  Listening is how you sustain it.
  • People relate on a personal level.  We put ourselves in a vulnerable position when we open ourselves up to others.
  • Actively engaging in community requires us to lose ego and keep it in check.


  • We were reminded by one of the new participants in the roundtable that in welcoming we need to be open to stepping back and reflecting on our shared understandings.  In this case we took a few minutes to summarize a few of the main themes of Servant Leadership.  The brief review was a welcomed reflection.
  • The diversity of experiences and approaches to any community is what makes it strong.  This same diversity makes it easier for some to engage than for others.  Being aware of those who are introverted, unfamiliar, or otherwise uncomfortable strengthens the entire community.
  • Note:  While it was not discussed during the roundtable, one measure of the strength of a community is how strangers are welcomed (McKnight, 1995).

Foresight and community:

  • There is a balance between spontaneity vs. intentionality
    We can encourage people to think outside the box of “The way it’s been done in the past.”
  • Continuous improvement programs require thinking out the process for efficiency and effectiveness.  The folks at Force America found their quality circles improved when they divided up the groups to be cross functional.  The result was a greater openness to change and recognition that failure is a part of quality improvement.
  • In Leading by serving, we can Empower people to be the best they can be, or even better than they think.
  • Humility is key.  It’s a journey. 


McKnight, John.  1995.  The Careless Society: Community and Its Counterfeits.  Basic Books.

A conversation on healing

The following notes are a result of a roundtable conversation on the power of healing.  The conversation took place at the monthly gathering of the Servant-Leader Milwaukee roundtable held on Thursday, August 28th.  The roundtable is free of charge and open to all.

For more information about Servant-Leader Milwaukee and the Servant-Leader roundtable, please go to

Roundtable summary notes



  • It is important to be mindful that everyone has things on their mind.  Usually you can tell when a person is feeling good or bad.
  • It is a natural tendency to project our own beliefs and expectations onto the actions of others.  Know each person’s disposition.  Recognize when people need help in order to heal.
  • Be kinder and gentler because everyone is fighting their own battle.
  • In order to lead we must be aware of how many dimensions we all have.  Self-awareness is key.



  • Lots of people have personal issues.  Being understanding of that as a leader is a big help to people in and of itself.
  • Let them know you are human too and your own improvements.
  • Make yourself available and vulnerable.
  • Be gentle.
  • Roy O shared that a friend had to retire because of Parkinson’s.  8-10 friends spend a couple hours a week with him.  His body won’t heal…but, his mind is being healed.
  • You can learn more about acceptance (and your faith) from someone who has suffered, than from any other source.
  • Listening and healing are both a two way street.
  • Healing has many forms.  You as a healer can be healed in the process.
  • We should consider EMPATHY as a separate topic.



  • Listening is part of helping people with healing.
  • Being listened to is a transformative experience.Listen to understand.
    Listening can be more impactful than trying to fix things.  Trying to fix people who just want to be heard creats barrier.
  • Some people want a magic pill.  There’s no such thing.  Just listen.
  • Usually people want you to keep your solutions to yourself, unless they ask for them.
  • I’m asking you because I want to know.  I’m not asking you to set you up.   There must be sincerity in your intent.



  • The formal or informal leader sets the tone in any group.
  • As leaders we need to model the way as a person of empathy.
  • Sometimes this requires us to fight the urge to fix others even though we are confident we know how we can help them.
  • Ask, “What if we did it this way?”, rather than saying, “Do it this way.”  This gentler approach is more powerful.
  • There needs to be a certain level of trust.


Building community:

  • There are always people in every group that need healing.
  • The country needs healing due to racial strife and political polarity.
    You need to have a relationship with people to help them heal.
  • There is our outside persona, to really know someone you need to get to know them and know what character is behind that outside persona.
  • If people have a bad experience on the job and are broken…as a leader you can (and should) pick them up.
  • Trust and empathy are key.
  • There are times in organizational life where the need for healing arises from within.  Ask the question…What happened here?  Let the other person come to the conclusion.
  • It’s the individuals who lack empathy who are a cause for concern.  As a leader may need to break them down…show them a mirror…and then heal them.
  • Teamwork theme: “I” will die…”We” must be.

How do we score/evaluate the Servant-Leader roundtable?

The following notes are a summary of the Servant-Leader roundtable held on July 24, 2014


Topic: How do we score/evaluate the Servant-Leader roundtable?

The notes below are a composite of notes provided by Karin Conway, Yvonne Dill, and Mike Kelliher. Additional comments were provided by Dick Peiper and David Flowers. My thanks go out to Karin, Yvonne, Mike, Dick and David for chronicling our time together and to all who participated in the conversation.

Like Servant Leadership itself defining a concise scorecard of measures for the Servant-Leader roundtable proved to be a greater challenge than we may have thought at the outset. In summarizing the notes for this gathering it has proven to be an easier, and hopefully, more informative exercise to present the summary in two parts; 1) measures of the roundtable activity, and 2) a description of how the experience of the roundtable reinforces the Servant Leadership work of the participants.



  • At its most surface level, the servant-Leader roundtable can be measured by how many people attend each month. Groups tend to have a life cycle and this group is not immune from the challenges of losing focus and direction.
  • One method for assessing Servant Leadership qualities is to break down the components of service and of leadership. This allows us to evaluate our focus and practice of each.
  • A part of the S-L roundtable experience is the opportunity to learn from and with a diverse set of people. The ability to tap into this diversity allows for the group to see Servant-Leadership in new ways.
  • Note: The current diversity of the group comes from the variety of experiences of the group. There is a lack of racial, ethnic, and generational diversity in the group. It is an
  • opportunity for growth that should not be overlooked.
  • “The best test is: do those served grow as persons: do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?” (Greenleaf, 1977/2002, p. 27)
  • For this group the final measure of our time together is how we take the lessons learned around the table and implement them in our daily lives. What we demonstrate is what we teach.



  • Participation in the Servant-Leader roundtable allows participants to reinforce their knowledge and understanding of Servant Leadership.
  • The roundtable provides a monthly recharge & focus on Servant Leadership.
  • The roundtable is a reminder that leadership comes down to relationship building.
  • The conversations serve as a reminder of the need to be intentional in our lives. This is a “want to do” not “must do” activity.
  • Spiritual values are reinforced here; sharing love, showing grace.


Questions we are left with:

  • How do I show up?
  • When are we listening? When are we not?
  • How clear can we be about how we invest our time?
  • How are the people in our lives doing?
  • How are we investing in people?
  • What are we creating?


Building community:

  • Work is easy. Relationship building is hard.
  • What we get from each other is more than the single topic we use to frame our roundtable conversation.
  • The roundtable demonstrates that people who are well served and deeply connected do not need much leadership.
  • Our time together raises the question of how might we communicate the various ways we participate in the community and how we might be of service to each other in our volunteer work.



Greenleaf, R. K. (1977/2002). Servant-leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.


  • There is a LinkedIn group called Servant Leader Milwaukee. It is a group that is a space to continue the conversation started at our monthly roundtables and to be a resource to each other.
  • The Servant-Leader Milwaukee web page can be found at It is intended to be a resource for all.
  • This group is open to all who are interested in Servant-Leadership. Join the reminder list by clicking the following link: Affinity/MoMS/Servant-Leader Master List

Persuasion as a tool of influence

A quote attributed to Robert K. Greenleaf:

“Persuasion involves arriving at a feeling of rightness about a belief or action through one’s own intuitive sense. One takes an intuitive step, from the closest approximation to certainty that can be reached by conscious logic (which is sometimes not very close) to the state in which one can say with conviction, “This is where I stand!” The act of persuasion, thus defined, would help order the logic and favor the intuitive step. But the person being persuaded must take that intuitive step alone, untrammeled by coercive or manipulative stratagems of any kind.” (Frick, 2004, p. 143)

Reflections on persuasion vs. positional power:

  • Persuasive negotiation provides buy in.  Positional power (and coercion) does not
  • A key to effective persuasion is empowering those around us.
  • In adopting the use of persuasion we acknowledge the relationship between the Servant-Leader and those being served.  Constructive feedback doesn’t naturally go up a vertically structured organizational pyramid.  Good leaders make it safe for others to give them feedback.
  • In developing these relationships we build up an emotional bank account.  We can occasionally make a small withdrawal without destroying our own personal credibility.
  • While at AT&T, Robert K. Greenleaf was able to navigate the organizational culture without being encumbered by positional authority.  This allowed him to provide insights to AT&T President’s that they might not be able to otherwise obtain.
  • One of the biggest challenges in leveraging the value of persuasion vs. positional power is the need to recognize the informal organization within any group and to have a lifelong commitment to learning.
  • When people do only what they were told, the people are being compliant but there is very likely a lack of commitment.
  • A leader who relies on a coercive Behavioral nature is working from the same place that bullies come from.  It is hard to come back from that place.
  • It is so hard to gain trust and so easy to lose it.  When you do something good few persons know about it. Do something bad and everyone knows about it.
  • Whether we realize it or not a reliance on coercive power within an organization can be recognized by customers and suppliers with potentially devastating results.

The persuasive power of example:

  • Actions speak louder than words.  Never ask anyone to do things you wouldn’t do
  • You need to walk a mile in people’s shoes to know how they feel.  Picking up a broom once in a while sends a powerful message.
  • By understanding those we lead we can sometimes get people to do things they didn’t realize they would enjoy doing.  A key is to set an expectation.
  • When people go above and beyond, you know you are leading well.  Commitment, loyalty, and trust are key.

Challenging situations:

  • It can be hard to know what will motivate any given individual.  Some people appear to not want to make decisions, or think.  In a perfect world the Servant-Leader will demonstrate endless patience as an empathetic listener and coach.  Self-awareness on the part of the leader will guide careful choices what to say in certain situations.  You need to manage your own emotions.
  • One of our members shared the experience of seeing her Board of Directors fail to acknowledge the extraordinary work done by her staff.  While the situation does not speak directly to persuasion vs. positional power it speaks volumes to the dynamics involved when a Servant-Leader is not supported by those with greater positional power, and of the challenges of leading up.
  •    A major problem in exerting positional power is the fact that can lead to a dangerous game of brinksmanship.  Eventually good people rise up against an overuse of coercive/positional power.  They leave or get him/her to leave.
  • Kids appear to be able to naturally sense coercive traits in others.

Insights from the group:

  • Program management is a good format to find leaders.  They are getting a group to achieve a project while holding very little positional power.
  • The server shared that he appreciated our conversation about not being bully managers.
  • Yvonne’s grandmother was the head housekeeper for the Governor General of Jamaica and had amazing positional power.
  • Surround yourself with people that know more than you.
  • Many leaders are do as I say not as I do.  Reality is People do as you do.  We always lead by example, regardless of our intent.
  • We lead from our mental state.  We need to be aware of our state of mind.
  • Do people talk about you over the dinner table?  What do they say about you?

Suggestion for next topic:  The burden of leadership.

Frick, Don M.   (2004). Robert k. Greenleaf: a life of servant leadership.  Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.  San Francisco.