The organization: CommunityAid, a faith-based nonprofit that employs more than 550 people across seven Central Pennsylvania thrift stores
The challenge: When CommunityAid’s CEO, Steve Sullivan, asked Senior Culture Manager Brenda Latta her vision for the organization, she shared her dream of advocating for employees, caring for them as individuals, and focusing on their wellbeing. Steve bought in. “Go make that your job; go love them,” he told her. But how remained unclear.
CommunityAid was too large for Brenda to accomplish that mission herself; she would need the support and buy-in of leaders throughout the organization. Steve and Brenda began to investigate how other organizations were implementing a servant leadership model, but they couldn’t find a single exemplar of what they hoped to achieve. CommunityAid had articulated core values and core behaviors—practical applications of those core values—but, as Chief of Staff Jan Ewing describes, “We needed to equip our leaders with how to use our core behaviors and lead as servant leaders. A servant leadership model best reflects CommunityAid’s values, and for some, this would require a shift in their thinking.”
The vision was clear, but the plan remained murky until Brenda came across The 10 Keys of Effective Supervision, cowritten by Jim Rowell, Rising Sun’s CEO. Brenda hadn’t even made it through the introduction before she texted a colleague to say, “This is what I have been talking about!” She devoured the book in a single evening, painting the pages fluorescent pink and yellow with her rampant highlights. “Jim was preaching what my instinct was telling me,” she recalls. “And I was screaming ‘Hallelujah!’”
The approach: When Brenda reached out, Jim assured her that CommunityAid’s desire to practice servant leadership wasn’t just a lofty ideal. It was actionable. He provided a servant leadership principal framework for CommunityAid to see their core behaviors in action among their leaders. As the leaders effectively modeled these behaviors, these attitudes and actions would begin to spread organically through the organizational culture.
Rising Sun engaged CommunityAid’s core leadership team in ten “how” sessions as well as six group coaching sessions. Following four months of vision-casting and coaching to ensure clarity and buy-in from the highest levels, Rising Sun moved to implementation with the next level of leaders and then the next. When the engagement is complete, Rising Sun will have trained one hundred CommunityAid team members as servant leaders.
The outcome: Jan, CommunityAid’s chief of staff, says they’re seeing the team begin to rally around common language, holding themselves and one another accountable to modeling the organization’s core values and behaviors. She anticipates continued positive momentum. “We have been able to set the standard for how to lead,” she says. “We expect the impact will help us become a ‘best places to work,’ increase retention, decrease corrective actions, improve productivity, and increase employee engagement.”
A healthy culture takes time, but it’s worth every bit of effort—simply because people matter.
Our reflections: At CommunityAid we found a group of executive leaders who walk the talk. They don’t just “get” servant leadership as a head concept. They’re putting it into practice. As CEO Steve Sullivan recently summarized, “Servant leadership is about serving people,” and that’s exactly what the leadership team at CommunityAid is committed to doing. We are excited to be partnering with this amazing nonprofit organization that’s dedicated to ensuring a great thrift experience, creating great jobs, and supporting our community.
We invite you, like CommunityAid, to bring us your most pressing servant leadership challenge. Schedule a consultation today by emailing email@example.com.
At Rising Sun, we have over 19 years’ experience helping leaders align their stated and practiced values, helping workplaces create thriving cultures, and helping organizations maintain and preserve their core through succession and transition. It would be our joy to partner with you!