Threads of Sevant-Leadership

Inclusion, Listening, and the Environment

Inclusion Statement

At the International Servant-Leader Summit we believe that true learning depends on hearing from and listening to people with a variety of perspectives. We want all who are a part of our summit to include, encourage, and recognize people of all races, ethnicities, genders, ages, abilities, religions, sexual orientations, and military service.

To make our summit inclusive we ask organizers, speakers, volunteers, etc. to pay attention to the unique needs of each participant. This paper, although it does not address all audiences, intends to raise awareness on how to think, speak, and treat attendees with disabilities.

Shortly after my husband Phil was permanently paralyzed in a construction accident in 1990 George H Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was only 30 years ago. After Phil got out of the hospital it was very difficult for us go places. We would always call ahead to see if we could get in. Today things are much better. The laws have come a long way in creating a more accessible society. However, getting people to see past the wheelchair is a lifelong journey. Here are a few lessons we have learned.

Disability was defined more clearly by the ADA as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”

Dictionaries define disability as a physical or mental condition that makes you unable to function in some way. Deafness, blindness and being paralyzed are all examples of physical disabilities. Some have cognitive and emotional disabilities that can limit their ability to think, learn and function.

Under the ADA, persons with disabilities are protected and have a right to participate equally in our society. Many doors have opened as a result.

Beliefs matter.

You get what you expect! Our expectations for persons with disabilities are usually quite low. A big myth that is out there is that people with disabilities cannot do things. Well they can! We just have to get creative sometimes. Shortly after Phil’s accident we met a pro golfer who learned how to golf again after he was paralyzed in a golf cart accident. First he swung his legs out the side of the golf cart and remained sitting. Using a wide belt that kept him from falling

out of the cart he could reach past his legs to swing the club. He had figured out how to tee off on his own by putting the tee on string hooked to a fishing reel. Using a pool cue that was partially split in half to act as a long tweezers, he could put the ball on the tee. After he hit the ball he would reel in the tee and head down the fairway in his cart chasing the next shot. We learned early on that there are ways to do the things we want to do.

My husband cannot walk on his own power but with the use of a wheelchair he can do almost everything he did when he could walk. For example, he can drive a vehicle, climb on a lawn mower and cut grass. He can blow the leaves in the fall from his chair. He can plow snow using one hand to push the snow blower in the winter. He plays baseball, basketball, and hockey with the grandkids. He can get groceries, cook, clean, do laundry etc. He can change diapers and he has numerous races with the kids in his chair. We believe he can do most everything using adaptive equipment.

Every disability is different.

Another thing we learned early on is that all disabilities are not the same and that even people with paralyzing conditions have differing needs. Some can walk a bit, some like my husband are completely paralyzed. Some were injured from the waist down so they can use their hands while neck down injuries might not.

Don’t assume people need help. Don’t assume they don’t! After Phil’s accident we tried to be independent but that was just not possible. It was difficult to ask for help UNTIL IT WASN’T! Over time I came to realize that we are not a burden on others. We are a blessing. I began to notice how good it made people feel to help us out. When Phil got stuck in the mud outside or fell out of his chair our friends and neighbors were always there to help. And they still are. So if you are not sure, just ask!

Don’t feel sorry for us.

We can be inspiring to be around because of the tremendous barriers we are asked to overcome. My husband lives with constant chronic pain but never complains. And as I mentioned above, he does a lot around the house. He is a lot of fun as he never lost his sense of humor! A stroke a few years ago set him back a bit but he still plays baseball, basketball and golf with the grandkids and most recently taught the 7 and 5 year olds how to play cribbage.

Language matters.

We are people first. How you talk to us matters! My husband is a person with a disability. He is not a disabled person. By definition the word “handicap” can mean a person who has a physical

or mental impairment but most dictionaries point out that it is offensive, especially when used as an adjective – to define a person.

It’s a cultural thing.

Only those of us who live with a disability really know it. And we are most comfortable around others like us. Phil prefers to get treated for any illnesses at the Spinal Cord Injury Center at the Milwaukee Veterans Hospital because they know how to handle his type of injury. There are also benefits to hanging out with other veterans who have disabilities. We are used to adaptive equipment, medical complications, and the never ending need to advocate for our right to participate equally in our society! Empathy really helps. It’s OK to feel uncomfortable around us at first. That is normal. Our friends and family were really shocked the first few times they saw Phil in that wheelchair. But most of them got over it. If you are not sure what to say or do, just ask if you want to understand our way of living. It’s pretty cool! More importantly, just get to know us as people. The disability then becomes a moot point!

Remove the barriers!

We want to function equally in society. Have the same opportunities. What does that mean? We can get into restaurants, baseball stadiums and concert halls today. We don’t want to be treated different. We just want to be respected for who we are as people. Make your facilities and workplaces accessible. We need ramps to get into buildings. Sometimes we need modifications in the workplace – workstations that are lower, hearing loops for hearing impaired, brail signs for the vision impaired, etc. We need adaptive equipment – wheelchairs, canes, crutches, hearing aids, co-curricular implants, etc.


Regardless of predisposition, servant leaders should always be motivated to see those they serve grow. This begins with our leaders remaining inclusive and mindful in all decision-making. It is a leader’s responsibility to ensure that ALL persons while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, and more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servant leaders. Every person is a capable leader with the appropriate accommodations and support! Remember, it took someone believing in us all!

Listen to the needs of summit participants. Reflect on your own feelings and reach out to those who look and act different. Join us in making this summit inclusive to all races, ethnicities, genders, ages, abilities, religions, sexual orientations, and military service.

Listening Statement

Most of us prefer to be listened to as opposed to listening to others. But as adults we know that doesn’t really get us very far in either our work or personal relationships. Just think if everyone in a room is talking at the same time, how much gets accomplished?

If we are always talking, we come across as a know-it-all or condescending. We can be accused of not caring about other people because we never listen. The truth is we all need to listen more and, in particular, if we want to grow as Servant Leaders as Robert Greenleaf encouraged.

Greenleaf stated that listening first is the “proper response to solving any problem”. He further stated that “True listening builds strength in other people.” And, he poses this thoughtful question, if I say what’s on my mind, will I really improve the situation.”

In your personal life, honestly review the way you listen to your spouse, children, parents and neighbors to name a few. What are they really saying to you? Are you listening to them the way you would like to be listened to? No smirks, no sighs, no checking your watch, no laughter-remember they are baring their souls to you. Listen.

At work, do you listen attentively to people you encounter daily no matter their standing at the company. Whether the person is someone from janitorial or technical services-listen, Whether the person is an important client or the CEO, all deserve your attention.

Imagine a world where everyone listened to each other. Greenleaf says it will “build strength in other people”, and their respect and love for you will also grow. So much more can be accomplished if this were the case. Backstabbing and submarining will slowly disappear.

The Servant Leadership International Summit will be held in June 9-11 2021. The organizers wanted to set an example of listening’s effectiveness as they set about planning the program. A broad invitation was sent out to 16,000 interested parties who proposed subjects of interest, according to parameters set by the organizers. Responses came in; vetting was done according to criteria and duplications etc. Categories for all this knowledge were created; speakers were aligned. The conference will answer questions and concerns attendees have about Servant Leadership. The process works and more importantly-all was accomplished by volunteers.

The process was smooth and an all-star cast or speakers with very important topics will be available at the Summit.

What if your workplace were to put a premium on this kind of action? What if your family sorted out its differences this way? What if your child attended a school where academic policy was created in this manner? We would all choose to be part of any of those institutions.

If you care, you listen; if you listen you will care more. If people think they are being heard, they will buy into solving the problem before them.

Green Statement

The intent is to provide an example of running a Green Conference. With showing equal respect to the Earth, society and environmental responsibilities. The conference itself will not use anything non-recyclable or that isn’t biodegradable. The outside vendors used will provide and follow appropriate Green Policies for utilizing recyclable and biodegradable products. This will be validated through their Policies and Procedures documents. Our conference site and the practices of the institution will also be reviewed for environmental practices and their impact. All speakers are to filter comments to reflect for environmental responsibility and actions consistent with the Greenleaf Best Test:

Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?

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