The other side of Mother Teresa: Chief Executive Officer

Relic of Mother Teresa

I heard in the news that Pope Francis recognized the 2nd miracle of Mother Teresa and a Holy See spokesman said that Mother Teresa should be proclaimed a saint in September 2016.  Rightfully so because in our lifetime, we experienced and saw a small woman who started Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic religious order to help the poorest of the poor.  The organization with 13 nuns in 1950 grew to over 4,000 full time staff and was active in 134 countries. Since Mother Teresa death in 1997 the organization kept growing and continue to serve hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis; soup kitchens; dispensaries and mobile clinics; children's and family counseling programs; orphanages; and schools.

I asked myself, “There must be another side of Mother Teresa that we should learn other than being a saint. What is it?”

Mother Teresa was a Chief Executive Officer. 

I found out that Mother Teresa never received any business training but her organization, the Missionaries of Charity became a worldwide brand and had billions of dollars in funding.

The book "Mother Teresa, CEO Unexpected Principles for Practical Leadership" authored by Ruma Bose and Lou Faust in 2011 took a study of Mother Teresa’s work, her “drive, determination, faith and singular management style” that reveals the power of eight straightforward leadership principles:

1: Dream It Simple, Say It Strong.

Mother Teresa had strong personal vision.  So strong enough that it overflows to get other people worked together and became an international organization.  She obtained valuable insights about herself and God that set her priorities, her core values and her personal goals that became the vision of the organization. 

Keep your vision simple.  But “say it strong” by constantly and consistently demonstrating your passion and conviction in your everyday speech and actions. Stay aligned with your vision, even when no one is watching. Effective leadership means setting an example, modeling your vision, and letting it spread exponentially and freely through your organization.

2: To Get to the Angels, Deal with the Devil.

Mother Teresa accepted donations from Charles Keating, who went to prison for fleecing thousands of depositors during the $150 billion savings-and-loans crisis in ’80 and ’90.   She also received money from Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, a former dictator of Haiti who ruled his country with bloody brutality.  It was her Catholic faith that treats everyone as good person.

Despite heavy criticisms Mother Teresa remained resolute in her determination to raise the money needed to help the destitute – her “ANGELS”; knowing that the money could do good, she was willing to take charity “from the devils to get to the angels.”

The Missionaries of Charity never releases financial information which was protected by the Indian Law.

How about you? You know it’s stupid to take money from drug dealers or robbers, and federal and state law will implicate you as accessory to a crime.  

Examine your ethics. Sometimes you have to compromise. You need to have the courage to decide which compromises are acceptable and which are not.

3: Wait! Then Pick Your Moment.

Mother Teresa emphasized the importance of patience and persistence. To be prepared, you need three kinds of readiness:

  • Emotional readiness: Can you handle the relentless waves of emotional highs and lows that inevitably accompany any changes in the status quo?
  • Financial readiness:  Do you have the monetary resources (or know where and how to access them) to enable your organization to move forward with its action plans?
  • Operational readiness: Can your organization keep its promises to its customers, investors and other stakeholders?

Mother Teresa waited almost 20 years that the time was right to start the Missionaries of Charity. Her “aha moment” happened when she met a woman dying in the road. Mother Teresa brought the woman to a retreat and offered her a bed and a peaceful, dignified death. This “simple act of love” led her to open the Kalighat Home for the Dying.

She faced several years of hurdles and huge resistance from the Catholic Church in India and Rome to create a new religious order. Her clear vision, an unrelenting focus, unswerving commitment, and exceptional readiness carried her through gaining official approval.

No matter what endeavor you run, leadership demands that you understand the risks and rewards of decision making.   There are many times that you have to “Wait! Then Pick Your Moment.”

4: Embrace the Power of Doubt.

Mother Teresa who will soon to be proclaimed as a saint experienced “spiritual dryness.”   The letters to her spiritual mentor showed that she often questioned her faith; felt “tremendous doubt, distance from God, and spiritual isolation”; and “doubted her core beliefs.”  However, she never faltered in bringing help and comfort to the poorest of the poor.  She worked relentlessly to advance the growing success of the Missionaries of Charity.

Mother Teresa showed that doubt isn’t necessarily a crisis of faith. In fact, doubts actually can benefit your faith.

You must first believe that you’ve made the right decision.  Obstacles arise and worrying to attain your goal is normal.  Unprocessed doubt can lead to paralyzing fear, but using doubt to question yourself can strengthen your beliefs and free you from that fear.  Embrace the power of doubt, and it will strengthen your resolve.

5: Discover the Joy of Discipline.

Mother Teresa exemplified her leadership, as in life that discipline is about doing.  

Start at 4:40am with morning prayers, Mass, singing, and breakfast, and then by 8am is the regular start of the workday. 
Mother Teresa made regular rounds to visit each of the local mission centers to meet and manage the nuns and workers/volunteers. Mother Teresa traveled globe to stay in touch with 500-missions worldwide.

Where is getting all the energy? Did she ever get tired?

Joy is the fuel that keeps us running through the pain of effort and the loneliness of doubt.

Mother Teresa had tremendous joy in even the most mundane daily task.

She was known to recycle the pleasure she derived from completing her tasks, consciously allowing it to replenish her enthusiasm and energy.

She led by example, took care of business promptly and was joyful in her work.

Regular practice instills discipline, however find joy in the effort, because success requires joy.

6: Communicate in a Language People Understand.

Mother Teresa was an expert communicator, and eloquent especially when she smiled.
She made herself available to anyone, and had time to listen to what they say before she attempts to address their concerns.  She had a natural sense of her audience words, body language, eye contact, posture and behavior.  Then, her responses were tailored in a way she believed her listeners would best understand, and used her ears, eyes, voice and heart to express what she needed to communicate.

To improve your communication style, think before you speak, remember your vision, ground yourself and consider your intent. And like Mother Teresa, do not categorize people based on the limitations of language, culture or social status.

7: Pay Attention to the Janitor.

Mother Teresa offered the same respect to everyone regardless of social, political, or financial standing --- from the poor children of Calcutta to the President of the United States or corporate executives in the business sector.
She just had a genuine interest and concern for each and every person she met.

She deeply respected that all people have a basic need to feel valued by their families, friends and colleagues.

Mother Teresa’s leadership shows you how to lead others with your behavior and your respect for others.  

Do not treat people differently.  If talking to a janitor, do you give him/her the same unbiased, openly honest respect? Pay attention to people, learn their names, acknowledge who they are, ask them questions and get to know them. You’ll be rewarded with loyalty, trust and cooperation.

8: Use the Power of Silence.

Mother Teresa wrote:

  • In silence we will find new energy and true unity.
  • A new outlook on everything that in that silence, God will listen to us, and there we will hear His voice.

Catholic has a special contemplative prayer time called “Eucharistic Adoration.”  It’s a “Holy Hour” of personal renewal to listen to yourself and to God. 

Mother Teresa placed a high importance the “Holy Hour” of silent prayer and meditation. She believed that by quieting your mind, you can come to know serenity and gain clarity of thought and purpose.

The power of silence is the most critical lesson of leadership that Mother Teresa had to teach us.

In today’s and age, management and teams are overloaded with information that plagues many leaders to make decisions.   You must create an environment where you can hear the wisdom of your inner voice, and receive the guidance you need.  In a world of too much “noise”, it will take time to practice to calm your mind, and attain serenity. 

“If you take the time to silence your mind regularly, your mind will find the answers you need for every aspect of your life.”

Keep meditating and finding quiet time, eventually it will improve your life.

The image in this article was scanned from a prayer card with Mother Teresa's relic that a mission volunteer from Missionaries of Charity gave me several years back. I kept it in my wallet, and from to time to time I say a prayer to Mother Teresa.  Catholics believe that our saint (our hero) will intercede in our request for help from God.  

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