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Is servant leadership all that great?

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By Jim Funk

Servant Leadership for Blog

In my years of working with executive teams, I’ve noticed a common expectation that good leaders must be able to do four main things:

  • Empower people
  • Inspire people
  • Create a shared vision
  • Lead change

Although virtually all organizations agree on these baseline expectations, many have set an even higher bar: being a servant leader.

This term can be a bit confusing because people typically think leaders are served by their reports rather than the other way around.  So, who or what does a servant leader serve, and why?

When I ask this question in one of my workshops, a common response is that by being served, people have the support and resources they need from their leader to do the work of achieving results. They cite examples of the servant leader making sure that people and teams have the direction, supplies, time, and talent they need to get the job done. The servant leader ensures everything is in place to make the team successful.

While that is true, when I observe leaders who I would characterize as servant leaders, I see much more than making people and teams functional and successful. I see leaders who have a disposition of service to others, putting others first even at the risk of short-changing themselves. These service-oriented leaders not only make sure people have what they need, they take a personal interest in them and care about their well-being. They put others’ needs ahead of their own. They are willing to sacrifice, and to take less in order to give more.

So, what difference does servant leadership make? Isn’t it the responsibility of everyone to simply do their part, and to be accountable for their results without having to be served? Let me give a few examples of why servant leadership is not only good leadership, it makes a huge difference in what can be achieved.

  • John Mundell is the owner of Mundell and Associates, an environmental consulting firm and Economy of Communion business. John took time and resources from his business to help start and support a non-profit, Project Lia, that gives women who are coming out of prison an opportunity to learn job skills so they can re-enter the workforce. Who or what is John serving: Individuals who are coming from a vulnerable situation, and arguably serving the community itself. The difference it makes: In all likelihood, these women will not commit crimes that would return them to prison. (Another re-entry program in Indiana has been able to reduce the 3-year recidivism rate in the state from the usual 36.1% down to 12.5%.) Instead they will become contributing members of society.
  • Joe Pickard is the executive director of The PEERS Project, which trains and develops peer leaders in high school to share their experiences with middle school students about how to make good decisions and avoid risky behaviors. Although the program went through budget cuts that eliminated funding and positions, Joe took on extra work to keep the program going. Who or what is Joe serving: The peer leaders, the schools, the students, and the program itself. The difference it makes: Without Joe’s selfless commitment, the program would have folded long ago. Instead, the community will continue to benefit from a program that helps local youths.
  • Loraine Brown was the interim vice president and chief mission officer for a major hospital system. Although the role was temporary, she chose to backfill her previous position to ensure things continued running smoothly in her absence. She did this at the risk of not having a position to go back to when her temporary assignment was completed. Who or what is Loraine serving: The people and hospital departments that need the services of her former position, and the mission of the organization. The difference it makes: Important services are provided, and the jobs of her other staff are preserved for as long as possible.
  • Grant Marsh is the general manager of The Guild House, a creative American cuisine eatery in Columbus, Ohio. He gave one of his waitresses the week off so she could see her sister who was moving away, even though it was a busy time and all hands were needed on deck. Who or what is Grant serving: The personal needs of the individual and her family. The difference it makes: The waitress feels cared for as a person, and will likely be a loyal employee for years to come.

These may each seem like small things, but when the leader’s first thought is of others rather than of self, there is an impact that will be felt well beyond the immediate situation and people involved. In each of these examples, there is a positive ripple effect that extends to other people, to the broader organizations, and even to whole communities. Relationships are also built and strengthened through service to others, and loyalty is developed when people experience the care and concern of a leader who is in a position to make a difference in their lives and work.

Holistic Leader Competencies - ServantServant leadership is an important characteristic in the model of Holistic Leadership I have developed that places the person at the center. It is based on the principle that work not only provides income to people and profits for a company, but it gives meaning. People want to contribute to products and services that are good for consumers and communities.

How does a leader develop into a servant leader?  Regardless of whether a leader is new in his or her role, or seasoned with many years of experience, there is always an opportunity to further develop the mind, heart and spirit of a servant. I say mind, heart and spirit because service is not only about taking outward actions, it is about the disposition of the person’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions. Start with these fundamental questions:

  • Do I think of others’ needs before my own?
  • Am I willing to risk losing my own ideas in order to promote the ideas of others?
  • Am I careful not to take credit for work that is done by my team, even though I am their leader?
  • Do I have true care and compassion for the people I lead, and take an interest in matters that are meaningful to them?
  • Do I look for ways I can help the people I lead rather than thinking of what they can do to make me look good?

These are starting points for reflection, but on a longer-term basis developing servant leadership requires genuine humility, love for people, and a desire to give rather than receive. I don’t know if any single workshop or book can develop the mind, heart and spirit of a servant in a leader, but an openness to feedback from others, and seeking a mentor who demonstrates servant leadership will go a long way. Give it a try. If you have ever worked for a true servant leader, as I have, you know it’s not only a good thing—it’s great for people, and great for business.

Jim Funk is a consultant who helps leaders, teams and organizations discover and develop their full potential. He is passionate in believing that strong leadership competence combined with the leader’s personal characteristics, values and virtues are key to achieving goals and driving business results. In addition to his work at J L Funk & Associates, Jim has served on various boards and commissions, and is currently a member of the Economy of Communion in North America Commission. Learn more about Jim’s work at and or e-mail him at


How to keep blind spots from derailing your leadership

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By Jim Funk

mirror for traffic collisionAs a leader, what you don’t know CAN hurt you.  Especially when it comes to what you might be doing wrong, even unintentionally.

Take Stanley, who has been a member of the executive team for five years. He is reaching a high frustration level with the CEO, whom he reports to directly. Because the CEO is out of town a lot, he doesn’t make himself available for ongoing conversations once he has delegated a major assignment to his executives. When he returns to the office, however, he decides that projects are not usually done to his liking. He then blames his team for not asking enough questions ahead of time about what the end product should look like.

As another example, Jill is a member of the Human Resources leadership team in a large company. She is a star performer, takes her responsibility seriously, and is known as the “go-to person” for anything having to do with change management. But Jill is unhappy. She doesn’t feel appreciated, and her boss simply isn’t one to give much recognition to his direct reports. He believes that if you just do the job well, that is recognition enough. Jill doesn’t want to go asking for recognition, but her increasing dissatisfaction is getting to her.

Lastly, Kim is a highly productive member of a company’s sales team. After only three years of experience, peers think of Kim as a superstar. But in spite of the strong performance, Kim’s boss is highly critical of her and nitpicks every little thing. Lately, Kim has started to feel literally sick to her stomach when preparing for meetings with the boss. She wants to speak up about her feelings, but she’s seen her boss become irate when she feels offended.

What do these cases have in common? Well, several things that should be troubling to any leader. First, there is a reluctance to come to these bosses with feedback or concerns. Why? Because the employees don’t think their bosses will react well. If honest feedback has not been appreciated or welcomed in the past, employees may have felt cast aside or insecure in their jobs, and are now unwilling to bring up their concerns. Any leader who is not getting honest feedback because people are afraid to provide it is suffering not only from a lack of information, but also from a lack of trust. This can be hugely detrimental to both team and individual performance.

Second, these bosses are not aware of how they are impacting their employees, and have no idea that their leadership style is suppressing creativity and making even their best employees dissatisfied. They have not made an attempt to ask their direct reports specifically how they like to be rewarded, and how they, as their boss, can be more effective as a leader. Again, without the information about what they could do better, these bosses are in the dark, and their blind spots continue.

And finally, as a result of the lack of open communication, trust, and awareness of self and others, some of the best employees and leaders of these companies are nearly ready to walk away.  Replacing them would be a great loss of talent and a large expense. Many times, bosses aren’t aware of how people really feel about them because they don’t ask. And a number of companies either don’t do exit interviews, or don’t get much information because the exiting employees understandably don’t want to burn any bridges.

If you are working in an Economy of Communion business, or are a leader in any organization that wants to follow person-centered principles, you would certainly want to address these kinds of issues. But blind spots are indeed blind—we often don’t even know we have them, or at least we don’t know what they are. Awareness of self and others is critical because it is required for emotional intelligence, which in turn is a good predictor of leadership success. As described by Daniel Goleman in his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ, awareness is key to being able to manage one’s emotions and relationships. When leaders don’t genuinely and openly seek feedback, or don’t receive it well, they can be derailed by what they don’t know. It doesn’t mean that every bit of feedback leaders receive is accurate, but it is a perception—and perceptions are reality for people. They have real impact. And we can’t act on these perceptions unless we are aware of them.

What behaviors do we see in leaders who are more aware of themselves and others? My Holistic Leadership Competency Model (© 2016 by J L Funk & Associates) describes several key behaviors that are observable, and that can be further developed. Leaders who are more self-aware know how to:

  • Learn from their experiences and mistakes
  • Build and manage collaborative and positive relationships
  • Effectively facilitate and mediate conflict resolution
  • Communicate and listen effectively
  • Seek and act on feedback from others
  • Put others at ease through their presence and disposition
  • Regulate their own emotions and make adjustments in their behavior as appropriate
  • Respond appropriately to the emotions of others

Why are these skills important? If we think about what leaders need to be able to do to be effective, it boils down to creating a vision, getting others to follow and actualize the mission and vision, and produce results. People follow leaders they can trust, and who are able to inspire them to contribute to the mission and vision with their full engagement and passion—not just to do a job. But when self-awareness and the accompanying behaviors are missing, fear and negative stress are created in the workplace. Thinking back to our three examples, these leaders are not self-aware. Their inability to effectively communicate and ask for feedback has left them in the dark about their employees’ concerns. As a result, they aren’t getting the full engagement of their team members, who may quietly move on to other job opportunities.

What can leaders do to boost their awareness of themselves and others? Here are 10 ideas you can implement, whether you are in a leadership role or a member of a team:

  1. Ask for feedback regularly, and thank people for giving it (even if it isn’t what you wanted to hear)
  2. Engage in reflective practices, such as meditation and mindfulness to increase focus and concentration
  3. Make an explicit and public statement of your intention to be aware of your blind spots, your presence, and to place a high value on your relationships
  4. Practice stress management techniques and improve your work/life balance
  5. Acknowledge your emotions, learn your triggers for negative emotions, and develop ways to change your emotional reactions
  6. Walk around, be curious about what people are doing and notice their reactions to you
  7. Practice active listening and validate what you are hearing
  8. Practice humility, acknowledging mistakes and asking forgiveness
  9. Check your alignment by comparing what you say with what you do
  10. Take a formal assessment of your Emotional Intelligence with a validated test instrument. I recommend the EQ-i2.0 by MHS Assessments, which must be given by an authorized partner. (There is a cost. Contact me for more information.)

We also learn a lot through our experiences, and from the experiences and stories of others. I invite you to share stories about how you have uncovered your own blind spots, and how you have been able to increase your own awareness. Further, share how this awareness impacted your own effectiveness as a leader. You can reply to this post, or contact me directly by e-mailing me at

Jim Funk is a consultant who helps leaders, teams and organizations discover and develop their full potential. He is passionate in believing that strong leadership competence combined with the leader’s personal characteristics, values and virtues are key to achieving goals and driving business results. In addition to his work at J L Funk & Associates, Jim has served on various boards and commissions, and is currently a member of the Economy of Communion in North America Commission. Learn more about Jim’s work at and

EoC North America Meeting a Success

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Approximately 44 attended the annual meeting of the EoC held in Hyde Park, New York, coming from not only the U.S. and Canada, but also from Italy, Philippines, South America and Mexico. One of the drawing cards to attend this year’s meeting was a review of the audience with Pope Francis last February. The video of the Pope’s talk to the group was shown, and several panel discussions and other presentations highlighted the affirmation as well as the challenges which Pope Francis gave to the EoC.

Other presentations at the meeting included an examination of social entrepreneurship, a Holistic Leadership model for EoC companies, entrepreneurial and leadership skill-building workshops, presentations of local EoC activities, and a discussion of a video by Chiara Lubich on the EoC. Participants reported they felt the meeting provided a good blend of success stories, practical tools, and ways to embed EoC concepts. Workshop break-out topics included Discovering Your Gifts, Hiring for Fit, and Effective Communications.

The video of Chiara featured her 1992 talk that highlighted the EoC as a new way of evangelization, and an opportunity to “give” and to “be” in new ways. The group also discussed ways to overcome the barriers of communion through actions such as living the present moment, identifying with the other person, going the extra mile, and sharing stories.

The priorities identified for the year 2017-18 included the strengthening of local cells and and supporting of new initiatives. In 2018 EoC North America would like to contribute both to the organization of and participation in a Pan American Summer School.

EoC School a First for North America

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The Economy of Communion offered its first school in North America for students and young adults interested in learning about communion and social entrepreneurship. The school, held from June 20-23, 2017 at Mariapolis Luminosa in Hyde Park, NY, was organized and staffed by the EoC North America Commission. 25 were in attendance, including young men and women from across the U.S., a couple from Mexico, and a number of interns and students from south and central America.

Attendees spoke at the end about their key take-aways from the school, such as:

–Building community
–Gratitude for the opportunity to learn about the EoC
–Matching up needs with resources
–Spiritually rooted practical solutions
–Feeling energized and inspired

In describing some of the steps they  would like to take following the school experience, several ideas were mentioned including:

–Seeking to apply the EoC principles in their workplace, even in non-EoC companies
–Continuing their personal and professional development
–Creating a business plan for a possible EoC business idea
–Sharing what they learned with others
–Becoming an agent of contribution

The school featured several EoC business owners and business professors in higher education as the faculty, and included panel discussions, self-awareness tools, examining one’s personal mission, workshops on EoC principles, and practical steps for bringing ideas to the market.

Is Your Leadership Balanced?

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By Jim Funk

Tightrope Walker Balancing on the Rope
A lot of attention is given to work/life balance these days. But that term suggests there is some magical place where, if we can find it, we are spending just the right amount of time and energy on our career versus everything else.

Of course there is no magic formula for balance, and leaders often find that their work crosses over into many other aspects of their life—whether that means taking work home, staying late at the office, or even taking the laptop on vacation and getting online while sitting under an umbrella at the beach. Granted, the demands of leadership rarely fit neatly into a 9 to 5, Monday through Friday box. Leaders may spend time thinking about their goals, worrying about a struggling employee, or stressing over an upcoming difficult conversation even as they are drifting off to sleep. That is sometimes the work of leadership—to ruminate over problems and generate ideas when they have time to think.

So what do we mean by “balanced” when it comes to leadership, and how do leaders split their time between work and other aspects of life? I would propose that balance isn’t only a matter of how much time is spent on various activities, but it is also about how much mental energy and focus is given to those activities. For example, when you are sitting at the dinner table with friends or family, where are your thoughts? Are you rehashing a conversation you had at work or are you paying attention to what someone is saying to you in the moment? Maybe you’re jumping back and forth, missing parts of conversations while you mentally replay parts of your day. Research shows that the human brain cannot focus well on more than one thought at a time. That’s why the failure to be mentally present is one way leaders become out of balance. It takes discipline to turn work thoughts off when there is something else we need to focus on in the moment, and it also calls for trust in our own capability to address the issue later and not let it distract us in the meantime.

And what about working while on vacation? I must admit that I have exchanged work emails on my smart phone while watching our kids play tennis at our vacation spot. Sometimes leadership and other professional roles are so demanding that a quick response is called for, and we cannot let something wait until we return or have someone else handle it. And yet I would challenge myself and other leaders to make arrangements so that others know when we are not available, and so that we can trust others whom we have put in charge to use their judgment and abilities.

It’s not that I’m suggesting that leaders can or should completely separate work from the rest of their life, or minimize its importance. Work is an important part of one’s life, livelihood, and contribution of talent and skill. Rather, I am talking about balance and focus. It’s about being present with the people in front of us, rather than being a thousand miles away in our thoughts about work. It is also about regularly engaging in rejuvenating and restorative practices, and caring for ourselves so we have the energy and good health to be attentive to all the important aspects of life. That includes taking vacations and finding “down time” when we can put work aside and engage our minds and hearts—and time—in our other needs, and the needs of others.

A danger sign to watch for is negative “isms” that can creep into our lives. These tend to be extreme, and they can get that way before we are even aware of it. Examples are workaholism, dualism, egoism, and hedonism. But what is the difference between a healthy commitment to working hard in a job that sometimes demands many hours of our time, and workaholism? I think the difference is a question of who is in control. Are we really working because we have to, or because we are addicted to the “high” that amazing accomplishments can give us? Are we able to turn off our thoughts about work issues when we need to pay attention to other obligations and commitments, and turn our minds to other things and to the people we love? I suspect there are times when people put undue pressure on themselves at work because it’s become a habit or a compulsion. Achieving perfection can feel good in the beginning, but it can become addictive and pay diminishing returns, especially when other parts of your life suffer.

As I read back over what I have written so far, I must admit it sounds a bit “preachy,” and perhaps comes off as critical of people who work hard. But I am speaking from my own experience. There were years in my early career when I usually worked many hours a week over 40 because I was motivated to do a good job, and I was just doing what I felt was required. Now as I reflect on those years, I can see I was out of balance. I didn’t know how to reign it in.

What can we do to check our balance? Here are some steps, some of which may take courage and an open mind:

  1. Track your time for two weeks, in 15-minute intervals, both at work and outside of work. How are you actually spending your time? When you review the results at the end of two weeks, what surprises you? What would you like to change?
  2. When you are engaging in a project that will take a great deal of your time or cause you to put other important activities aside, ask yourself honestly what will happen if the project doesn’t get done. If it’s a must-do task, explore whether parts or all of it can be delegated. Also check whether the due date is reasonable or negotiable.
  3. Learn to say “no” to work or time consuming activities that are not as important as someone else thinks they are. Every time you agree to do something, you give up time that could be spent on something else. Time is more fixed than money. If you are crafty, you can figure out ways to earn more money, but you cannot create more than 24 hours in a day or 7 days in a week. You can only use it more wisely.
  4. Ask close friends and family what they observe about your work/life balance. Do they feel you are mentally present or preoccupied when you’re with them? Tell them you really want their honest feedback, and thank them when they provide it—even if it isn’t what you wanted to hear.
  5. Do some self-reflection on the aspects in your life that are in balance, and those that aren’t. You can divide them into what could be called the wheel of 8 Fs:

Fitness (health)
Firm (work)
Fun (recreation)
Faith (spirituality)
Faithful Companionship (spouse, significant other, etc.)

Which of these could use some improvement? A wheel that is not round is a pretty rough ride. What aspects would you like to get into better balance? You can’t work on everything at once, but pick the top category or two that need the most attention. Remember you may need to pull back on one of the Fs to dedicate more time to an area that’s been neglected. A coach or mentor could help identify some strategies.

Holistic Leader Competencies - BalancedBalance is one of the nine attributes of my holistic leadership model. Holistic leaders understand the importance of balance, and are willing to do what it takes to achieve it. These leaders also know the importance of modeling balance, because they know that others—particularly those who report to them—will often emulate their work habits because they think they will be judged in a more favorable light by their boss.

What habits of balance are you modeling? And if this is an area of difficulty for you, what are you willing to do to make some changes? I invite you to reply to this blog or write to me at and share your story of balance—perhaps a change you were able to make to become better balanced, and what difference it has made in your life.


Jim Funk is a consultant who helps leaders, teams and organizations discover and develop their full potential. He is passionate in believing that strong leadership competence combined with the leader’s personal characteristics, values and virtues are key to achieving goals and driving business results. In addition to his work at J L Funk & Associates, Jim has served on various boards and commissions, and is currently a member of the Economy of Communion in North America Commission. Learn more about Jim’s work at and or e-mail him at

2017 EoC Summer School & Annual Meeting – Last Chance to Register

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eoclogoalt3The registration deadline for the 2017 EoC Summer School & the Annual Meeting of the EoC Association has been extended to June 10, 2017.

This is your chance to secure a spot at the two events and be assured of onsite accommodation. There are a few spots left and they will be assigned on a first come first serve basis.

You can review the agenda of the two back-to-back events and register your spot now, at the following links:


EOC Featured at the 2017 World Bank Civil Society Policy Forum

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civil-society-logoOn Tuesday, April 18, 2017, we had the opportunity to present the Economy of Communion project (EoC) at the World Bank Civil Society Policy Forum in Washington DC.

This was the first time that the EoC was featured at an event from the World Bank, a financial institution that is part of the United Nations systems and whose mission is to help reduce poverty.

51 people attended the session representing various NGOs from all over the world, World Bank employees, The International Monetary Fund, and the Bretton Woods Project. The session had the title “Impact Investment as a Tool for Social Development”.  Nick Sanna represented the EoC. The other panelists included Marc Jourdan, the moderator, and Jenna Giandoni, a research fellow from an NGO named the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development that was founded by former president Fernandez of the Dominican Republic. Dr. Muthukumara Mani, a lead environmental economist at the World Bank, also spoke.

New Humanity of the Focolare Movement was a sponsor along with the Global Foundation, the International Federation of Business and Professional Women and the Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund (VGIF). Joe Klock, the coordinator of New Humanity, Inc. in the US, is quite active in promoting the EoC at the UN and deserves all the credit for assuring our participation in the event.

IMG_1282The audience responded well to all the presentations that were followed by a very active Q&A session. Some asked questions on impact development and Nick fielded several questions on the EoC. At the end of the meeting, several persons came forward and asked Nick for follow-on meetings in DC. One attendee asked to get involved and will try to attend the upcoming EoC Summer School. The next day, Joe Klock’s contacts from the UN in New York told him that they enjoyed the EoC presentation very much, especially noting the concrete examples that were given.

Joe also attended a session for faith-based organizations chaired by the leader of the World Bank’s Global Engagement faith initiative, Adam Taylor with about 25 attendees. Apparently, the World Bank is starting to engage civil society and faith-based organizations to look for insights into what delivers results in leading people out of extreme poverty. They see these organizations as a vehicle for communicating with people at the grassroots level. Joe plans to continue participate in those meetings and promote the EoC and other New Humanity projects as models of socio-economic development.

The Civil Society Policy Forum have become integral part of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Spring and Annual Meetings that bring together 10,000 from all over the world.

Learn more about the Economy of Communion by attending the EoC Summer School (June 20-23) and Annual Meeting (June 23-25). You can get more information and register here.