Transnational Research Associates
A Concise Leadership Profile of Mother Theresa,
Art Madsen, M.Ed.
It is rare in contemporary times to have had the opportunity to enjoy the presence of a charismatic leader of the stature of Mother Theresa. To speak of the many leadership qualities that she exhibited prior to her death at an advanced age would be literally impossible in a brief synopsis; however, much can be said that illuminates the features of Mother Theresa's life making her a prominent figure of the 20th Century, as well as a "household word."
John Work (1996) states that one of the primary characteristics of leadership is accelerative thrust. This would be easy to apply to dynamos such as General Tito of Yugoslavia or Charles de Gaulle of France, but the average observer would not identify the modest and self-effacing Mother Theresa, late head of the Sisters of Charity, as thrusting or accelerating in any way. And yet, she was precisely that. Within her Congregation, she exerted spiritual and temporal authority that was respected and obeyed by her followers and colleagues. Beyond the walls of her Order's headquarters office in Calcutta, she projected the image of a saintly woman responsible for tens of thousands of street people, orphans and beggars. Her ability to raise funds for their support was legendary; and, as her fame grew so did her privileges and reputation.
Mother Theresa's accelerating fame made her an iconic figure, symbolic of all that is holy and good. By maintaining this posture over a period of several decades Mother Theresa adhered to another principle of leadership, namely consistency of character (Work, 1996). If an individual can be seen as representing a certain position over time, then he or she often surges ahead in the polls of public opinion, particularly if appearance and demeanor match character and actions.
The life of Mother Theresa, because of her world renown and
leadership qualities, was rich and varied even if she projected the image of a
meek and humble woman seeking funds for the destitute worldwide. She
often approached multi-millionaire businessmen and solicited support for her
various projects. They usually donated large sums of money because they
perceived her as a leader in her "divine and spiritual" field.
Gradually, the Sisters of Charity were represented everywhere in the world. Even in the fabulous, glittering city of Miami (Florida) there is a Sisters of Charity Soup Kitchen and a Lunch Program for the indigent. As the world's impoverished masses expand and as nations fail to respond to this phenomenon, organizations such as the Sisters of Charity will continue to proliferate. This presents a platform for leaders such as Mother Theresa who are propelled into the forefront of public consciousness.
If we examine her humble beginnings in Yugoslavia and her fervent desire to serve God and humanity, as she rose to prominence, it is possible to discern the factors that allowed this humble nun to assume world stature.
Obviously, as her Calcutta operation became more prominent and well known as a location where human beings on the verge of death, without funds, family, or friends, could die with some dignity in a simple bed, Mother Theresa was granted prominent press coverage, first in India and later throughout the world. The tragic plight of her clientele added to her charisma and thrust her into a social position as a great builder and activist.
I personally selected Mother Theresa as a leadership figure for the 20th Century because the impact of her selfless devotion to the poor was tremendous. Even after her death in 1997, her organization continues to feed countless thousands of needy men, women and children, even in America. Her consistent, dynamic, and tireless efforts, all major criterion-factors in leadership, are aspects of Mother Theresa's character that affected me most and determined her obvious leadership status in my mind.
…………. “Mother Theresa: Her Life”, Vrije Handels School, Brussels, Belgium, 2002. http://www.tisv.be/mt/life.htm
Work, John W. "Leading a Diverse Work Force" in Frances Hesselbein, The Leader of the Future, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1996, pp. 71-80.