Nollau To You Participants Discover Servant Leadership, the Sacred Hidden in the Ordinary

MIchael J. Readinger, CHHSM president and CEO, leads a Nollau To You session at United Church Homes.

“You really mean this vision, mission and values stuff. We really walk the talk!”

These words summarize reactions the Rev. Kenneth Daniel heard from United Church Homes staff as they finished CHHSM’s Nollau To You training seminars. The sessions were held in January and June for middle managers in UCH’s residential, healthcare, and affordable housing communities across the country.

Nollau To You training “dovetails with our ongoing emphasis and training in servant leadership principles,” says Daniel, UCH’s president and CEO. “The employees learned to connect the dots between UCH’s history with the United Church of Christ, our values of caring and advocacy, and our servant leadership culture.”

A key is helping UCH staff understand the UCC connection. “Being affiliated with a church makes a difference in how we understand our way of doing our work,” Daniel says. “Nollau emphasizes that in a faith-based organization like UCH, faith is a resource, a source of motivation, and a guide to ethical practice. It all fits together. You don’t have to check your beliefs at the door to work within UCH. Care and compassion are the foundation.”

Why Nollau To You?

CHHSM created Nollau To You in 2017 as a way to bring an introduction of the servant leadership principals from its more extended Nollau Institute to larger groups of employees at UCC health and human service ministries. Held at the CHHSM ministry location, the day-long seminar teaches the basics of servant leadership and incorporates the specific organization’s core values into the presentation. It helps participants learn how to incorporate those values into their everyday work life.

Nollau To You Instructors Mullan and Readinger.

“I teach Nollau To You and the Nollau Institute because I believe that all work is sacred, though in the hubbub of business, it’s hard to remember that,” says Peggy Mullan, former president and CEO of Beatitudes Campus, a CHHSM ministry in Phoenix. “I want attendees to leave with a stronger understanding of how their daily work is an extension of the UCC today, and of its great tradition of social justice; and with a sense that they are connected to the healing and service ministries of Christ.”

Former CHHSM staffer the Rev. Danielle Bartz, who also has taught the seminars, says she finds the amount participants internalize in one day most surprising. “I love listening to the conversations people have during the class, and seeing them begin to think of their work as vocation, not just a job,” says Bartz, who currently serves as pastor of First Congregational UCC in Winona, Minn. “They are not just doing a job. They are doing a ministry.”

In 2018, the UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries set a goal of holding four Nollau To You Sessions during the course of the year. As of the end of August, CHHSM already had completed six sessions at four different CHHSM ministries — three for United Church Homes; and one each for Brewster Place, EHM Senior Solutions, and Emmaus Homes — with more than 200 people in attendance.

“It is our hope to do more seminars this year, and then to build on that for 2019,” says Michael J. Readinger, president and CEO of CHHSM. “Nollau To You helps awaken a sense of call and servant leadership in participants. It is an outstanding way to help employees understand how their organization’s core values and ministry apply to their daily work.”

Applying N2Y to Daily Life

Participants from EHM Senior Solutions discuss concepts during a break-out session.

For the 25 employees of Brewster Place who participated in Nollau To You in May, the session helped them understand the larger picture.

Participants developed “an awareness of CHHSM that many had not had before,” says David Beck, president and CEO. The staff also realized “the commonality among us of the servant leadership philosophy as a motivating factor in why we do the work we do, and the setting in which we choose to do it.”

“It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day challenges that we forget the reason for our ministry,” Beck adds. “The Nollau To You session focused on applying our guiding principles to day-to-day situations.”

The session also created interest in Brewster staff to further their knowledge and skills in servant leadership. “I was blown away by the rave reviews participants gave,” Beck says, “and by how many were interested in participating in [CHHSM’s year-long] Nollau Leadership Institute.”

Thom Hosinski, COO of EHM Solutions, found the biggest take away for participants was a deeper understanding and appreciation of EHM’s connection to both the UCC and CHHSM. He says that EHM staff also developed a sense of carrying ministry into their daily work.

“I’m happy to report that the learnings in Nollau To You have stuck with the team,” Hosinski says. “It was meaningful time spent together.

Creating Gracious Space

A small group from EHM Senior Solutions reports out.

Gracious Space, a process that values inclusion and diversity, is one of the basic tenets of Nollau To You, and was cited by many attendees as one of the largest takeaways of the seminar. The concept, developed by the Center for Ethical Leadership, is defined as “a spirit and a setting where we invite the stranger and learn in public.” In this definition, “stranger” can mean an idea, person or perspective not typically involved in a conversation.

“Nollau To You gave us some useful tools with Gracious Space learnings,” says EHM’s Hosinski.  says. “It was a memorable experience that the team will carry with them for a long time.”

Cheryl Wickersham, United Church Homes’ vice president of housing services, also received positive feedback about the Gracious Space concept. “Housing managers often need to work with difficult residents or family members,” she says. “During the Nollau To You class, they related well to Gracious Space and welcoming the stranger. Many stated they would use Gracious Space and other lessons from Nollau To You when difficult situations arise.”

A Sense of Call and Ministry

United Church Homes participants listen to a presentation.

“The biggest takeaway I got is that this is not just a job, but it’s really a calling to the service of others,” says Teresa Mathies, manager at Tahoma Vista Village, UCH’s managed community in Tacoma, Wash. “The biggest challenges are always shifting priorities: no two days are ever the same. The biggest thing that I always try and remember is that this is not just a job, but it’s people’s home, and they want us to reflect that caring and attitude in whatever we do.”

Mathies’ comment was repeated often by other UCH employees, says Wickersham. “I am really impressed with how well our staff members were able to relate the training to their work and everyday lives,” she says. “I’m also impressed with their interest and thirst for leadership training.”

For Tammy Powell, Manager of Jackson Run in Jackson, Miss., leadership is more than just giving orders.

“In order to be an effective leader, you have to have great communication skills,” Powell says. “Learn to listen to what the other person is saying, comprehend what they are saying and formulate a plan together, so that you won’t come off as a dictator, just spouting off orders for someone to obey.”

“I don’t want to ‘just do my job,’” adds Kathy Tooley, manager of Concord Estates in Fredonia, N.Y. “I want to remember to make a difference in each of my residents’ lives.”

Daniel says the emphasis on call in faith-based communities and the connection to the UCC are among the most valuable parts of Nollau To You. The seminars help teach that “there is an integrity to what we say, believe, and do as an organization,” he says. “Nollau helps us see that we are not alone in this kind of work. There is a family of organizations around the country united by similar histories and cultures through the UCC and CHHSM.

For Mullan, one of the best parts of guiding participants is helping them discover the gifts and knowledge they already have.

“Nollau To You strives to help participants articulate truths that they already know; that they are part of something large, historical, and alive today,” she says. “They leave with an awareness that the sacred is hidden in the ordinary. It doesn’t matter if you edit newsletters, serve meals, hold a crying child, laugh with an elder, or plunge toilets.

“When it’s done in service and love, it’s holy.”

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