The work of great humanitarian leaders inspires us. However, it can seem difficult to draw lessons from their lives. We might wonder how, amidst all the challenges we face as busy professionals, we can ever aspire to follow in their footsteps.
We can all be agents of change. National Women’s History Month is an opportunity to look at the contributions of extraordinary women and reflect on how we can work to make the world a better place. This year’s theme is “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace and Nonviolence.”
Later this month, the National Women’s History Alliance will honor 11 women whose lives embody that theme. When I first read about it, the woman who immediately came to mind was Mother Theresa. At first glance, her life of voluntary poverty and selfless service may appear an impossible example to emulate. The teachings she left behind are quite humble, and offer insight into the small ways we can make a difference in our own worlds.
“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”
This is wise advice in business, and in life in general. It is a reminder to enjoy and take pride in the incremental steps necessary to do anything worthwhile. When we are trying to build something, we do so brick by brick. Each brick may seem humble, but each one contributes to the whole.
“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.”
When we take pride in small things, we are committing fully to the process. Research indicates that those who adopt a process mindset are more successful, and happier as well. When the process becomes its own reward, we are better able to find flow and satisfaction in our professional lives and our other pursuits.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.”
I am a big believer in the power of ripple effects. When we make an effort to mentor a young colleague or take extra time to understand a client’s problem, we have no idea how far our influence might reach. Every life we change is connected to other beings, and to a community.
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Mother Theresa had a strong sense of how profoundly interconnected we all are. This interrelatedness is nowhere more true than in the workplace, where most of us spend so much of our lives. We may talk about our company as a family, but do we really create a sense of belonging?
The Center for Talent Innovation reports that more than 40% of those surveyed feel isolated in the workplace. The good news is how simple it can be to counter those feelings of isolation. They find that simple check-ins with an open-ended question (How are you doing? How can I support you?) go a long way toward making people feel they belong.
“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”
In my work as an executive coach, I start with a client’s strengths and use those strengths as a foundation to help them become the best version of themselves. This is also why leaders who consciously cultivate their emotional intelligence can build successful companies. Such leaders are adept at helping others identify existing strengths and discover new ones. They are generous with encouragement, praise, and recognition.
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
Emotionally intelligent leaders work diligently to overcome unconscious bias and to check judgment at the door. Only when we let go of pre-conceived notions can we truly listen to others. Deep listening is one of the most powerful leadership skills. I work with clients to develop their ability to adopt multiple lenses for viewing whatever challenges they are facing at work. When we transcend judgment, we are able to see people and situations on their terms—creating clarity of thought and action.
“Live simply so others may simply live.”
When Mother Theresa spoke these words, she was talking about voluntarily living a less materialistic life. Business leaders can live more simply and more humbly in another way as well. Just as we can focus less on accumulating material possessions, we can also move away from accumulating credit and prestige for ourselves. Today’s evolved business leaders see themselves as servants or stewards whose mission is to create success and opportunity for others.
Mother Theresa is a tough act to follow, but her example continues to inspire others. In a Facebook post commemorating Women’s History Month, Melinda Gates acknowledged her as an influence in the work she and her husband do through their foundation.
“Mother Teresa refused to turn her back on the poorest of the poor. Her compassion, selfless dedication to others, and willingness to tackle the tough challenges that no one else wanted to take on have been an inspiration to me when I think about our work at the foundation.”
Our day-to-day work may not involve curing cancer or solving world peace. We may not feel like we can change the world. However, if we remember how interconnected we all are, we can create powerful ripple effects. We can develop workplaces defined by a sense of belonging. We can give employees the opportunity to do meaningful work and to honor them for their contributions. Inspired by the women we celebrate this month, we can all find ways to become agents of change.
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Published on Forbes on Mar. 4, 2019.