A leadership lesson from Mother Teresa


Was Mother Teresa of Calcutta a leader?

And if she was, are there any lessons that you would want to learn from her?

Certainly she chose a very different sphere of activity from most of us. Usually when we think of leadership we think of business or politics or the military. But Mother Teresa chose to work with the poor, starving, and disabled people of Calcutta — people who were shunned by everyone, “a burden on society”.

But look at what she achieved.

On September 10 1946, travelling by train to Darjeeling, Sister Teresa “received an inspiration”: a message that told her to leave the convent school that she was running and go to live among the poor and help them. She started out with no income and had to beg for food and supplies, for a mission nobody believed in. In the post-war poverty of 1946. By the time of her death in 1997 she had built an organisation that operated 610 missions in 123 countries.

To achieve that she had to be a pretty tough leader.

(And along the way she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize and the government of India issued a special coin to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of her birth.)

If you want to find out more about how she achieved so much with so little you can research it for yourself. But I want to focus on just one question: what was the core belief that kept her inner leader focused to achieve the goals that she had set herself?

One poem that she wrote seems to summarise her core belief pretty well.

The language may be different from the language you are used in your field of work, but the sentiment is the same as we discussed on Tuesday, and it is applicable in any field.

To achieve whatever goal you have set yourself, the leadership lesson we can all learn from Mother Teresa of Calcutta is that once we are clear on what is the priority for us to do, we should simply “do it anyway”:

Mother Teresa’s ‘Anyway’ Poem:

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centred;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

This forms part of the philosophy of Chapter 7 of inner leadership, “Prepare for the journey”.

(And finding the most important thing for you to do is the topic of Chapters 3 to 6.

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