Leadership lessons from Mother Teresa

Leadership lessons from Mother Teresa are different than one might expect from someone with a global brand for compassion.

As an aging woman, Mother Teresa attracted youth from all backgrounds, those with Christian faith and those without, who did pilgrimages to her mission in India.

I met and interviewed a few of these pilgrims, achievers who posted their travels to Mother Teresa on their resume, a journey which had been a spring board for developing deeper works of compassion in their own lives.

They may have discovered something that no tweet or Instagram post can communicate; leadership comes out of a deep connection to the soul.

Now a revered Catholic Saint, when Mother Teresa died at age 87, she left the world with a team of nearly 4,000 nuns and 600 orphanages, soup kitchens, clinics, homeless shelters, and these favored leadership lessons.

Process your thoughts

A trunk load of letters, containing Mother Teresa’s thoughts on her relationship with God, contain a depth of soul searching that has been mined by Winnipeg priest, Brian Kolodiejchuk.

His conclusions are written in the wonderful book, Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light, and in his analysis of Agnes Goinsha’s letters, we find a woman too busy in task to answer her mail on time, but somehow able to sit in reflection. “Search me and know me oh God ..” the Psalm 139 plea to present one’s inner self to God, was certainly a regular part of how Mother Teresa operated.

Have a trusted mentor

I was as surprised as any to find the Mother Teresa battled decades of doubt, ‘spiritual dryness”, and weariness. Mother Teresa was not on a hop, skip and jump plan into sainthood.

To cope with her complex spirituality, Mother Teresa had a bevy of spiritual directors whom she told intimate struggles to. “Since (19)49 or 50 this terrible sense of loss – this untold darkness – this loneliness this continual longing for God – which give me that pain deep down in my heart…” is what her angst in one letter to a mentor detailed. It would appear her honesty with trusted advisors kept her anchored to service and to a Christian faith that has centuries of practice.

Ask someone to be committed to pray for you.

If you are attempting leadership with a view that incorporates belief in God, then belief in the Devil is part of reality. To help spread the weight of the task and improve a sense of the supernatural in the work, Mother Teresa asked that each of the sisters on her team would have a “second self”; “a sister who prays, suffers, thinks, writes to her and so on …you see, my dear sister, our work is a most difficult one.”

The pragmatist could see there was not only mental health care in the voluntary “second self” approach, but staff retention, increased networking, problem solving, and morale building at work in the discipline of prayer support.

For all the struggle we hear on Mother Teresa’s path to sainthood, wellness for her personal leadership and her team was a keen focus for her.

“It is better to eat well and have plenty of energy to smile well at the poor and work for them,” she wrote in one of her many letters of reflection. An admirable approach for a work that is ongoing.

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Lorna Dueck has explored the intersection of journalism and Christianity for over 30 years. That curiosity led to the creation of Media Voice Generation (MVG), a community-held Canadian charity that exists to create boundary-breaking media that reveals Christ. Context with Lorna Dueck contextwithlornadueck.com is the flagship TV show and online production of MVG. Lorna is a regular commentary writer on faith and public life in Canada's leading national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, and a frequent media commentator.

About the author