Educator and author Dr. Ruth Anderson shared her own morality tale with members of the Catawba College community when she spoke on campus at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 22. Anderson was the keynote speaker for the eighth annual Lilly Colloquium and her visit to campus was sponsored by Catawba's Lilly Center for Vocation and Values and Catawba's Goodman School of Education.
Anderson, who serves as executive director of The Servant Leadership School of Greensboro, told how she followed the "golden thread" of her life to realize her true purpose as a servant leader. Her tale began with a word picture of her as an undergraduate at Geneva College who thought she knew what she wanted to major in. Thanks to the assistance and insight of her undergraduate advisor, a Dr. Farra, she found joy in service to others.
When the window of her first job with a non-profit closed, a door opened for her to attend graduate school at Kent State University.
"The task always is to hold what is true for me," Anderson said. "Beware of all of the outside voices giving you bad advice" and "lean into whatever it is that energizes you. The true self within you is the big self that God had in mind."
After earning a master's degree from Kent State University, Anderson earned her doctorate in communication from the University of Oregon and joined the faculty at North Carolina State University where she served as a tenured faculty member for 15 years. While on the faculty, she taught and wrote in the field of interpersonal and organizational communication and started the internship program there. She departed NCSU to apply her understanding of organizational communication theory to Kindermusik International. That move caused her some consternation.
"When you are in the middle of change, it is scary and there is fear," she said, while explaining that she trusted her mind, heart and body in making the choice.
While serving as a vice president at Kindermusik, Anderson changed because she learned some valuable lessons about interpersonal and organizational communication while attending the Servant Leadership School. Her concept of leadership changed and she herself changed as a leader. "It was a paradigm shift from power over, control over to leadership that is interdependent and relational," she recalled. "Leadership became a circle where all the voices were heard and the leader's job shifted from precariously perched to us all being led together."
Problems at Kindermusik, along with the lessons she learned at the Servant Leadership School, made Anderson and her CEO there "willing to try something else." "We started a journey at Kindermusik and it was about understanding the giftedness of each other and engaging each other." The 100 employees at Kindermusik were asked for their opinions on "the five things you think we need to work on." That query led to suggestions that improved productivity and profitability at the company and led to awareness on Anderson's part about just how much individuals have to offer. One Kindermusik employee even came up with a new tag line for the company: "A good beginning never ends."
"Always, servant leadership is about awakening the slumbering giant in us and the slumbering giftedness in others," she explained.
Anderson concluded her remarks with this admonition: "Don't ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive; what the world needs are people who come alive."
As director of The Servant Leadership School, Anderson writes grants, teaches, manages and markets a program of classes, trainings and workshops. She also works to build collaborative partnerships between the school and other area organizations. She has also authored several books, including "Hairpin Turn: Trusting Your Heart's Direction in Leadership and Life," "Ruthie Stories: Recapturing the Girl Left Behind" and "Connecting with Your Aging Parents through Story: 7 Steps toward a Last Chance at Love." She and husband, Phil Pratt, a videographer and massage therapist, have a college-age daughter and make their home in Greensboro, N.C.
Catawba's Lilly Center for Vocation and Values is directed by Dr. Kenneth W. Clapp, senior vice president and chaplain. The Center was established in 2003 and funded with a $2 million grant the College received from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. Previous notable speakers who have participated in annual Lilly Colloquia include Leonard Pitts, Martin Marty, David Bornstein, Sharon Parks, Mackey Austin, Joe Ehrmann and Sarah Susanka.
The Lilly Center seeks to help students and members of the larger community determine values for their lives and allow those values to guide decisions relative to the vocations they choose and the priorities they set. Critical to this process is the recognition that as the children of God all are called to use the talents and gifts that have been provided not only for the realization of their own capabilities, but in service to others and in making the world a better place.
PHOTOS: Ruth Anderson Speaks at Catawba