By Frank Marangos, D.Min., Ed.D., FCEP
“The pathway to the enormously promising side of today’s reality is the voice of the human spirit, full of hope and intelligence, resilient by nature, boundless in its potential to serve the common good.” ~ Stephen R. Covey
On March 9, 2015, three policemen and two firefighters from Spanish Fork, Utah, heard a mysterious voice that permanently changed the course of their lives. While responding to a report of an overturned car in the Spanish Fork River, the officers all heard an adult voice crying, “Help me!” When the five responders flipped the vehicle over, they were astonished to discover an 18-month-old toddler named Lily Groesbeck, still strapped to her car seat – alive! Unfortunately, her young mother Lynn had not survived the accident. Authorities said that Lilly’s mother died when her car hit a cement barrier at the end of the bridge before it rolled over into the icy water. Unfortunately, the crash went unnoticed until a fisherman saw the wrecked car and notified police. Miraculously, the child was still alive after spending 14 hours semi-submerged in the freezing river, dangling upside-down in the submerged car. Conversely, seven of the rescue workers on the scene had to be treated for hypothermia. When asked, the officers had no explanation for the mysterious male voice that appeared to come from inside the car. “I don’t know what I thought I heard,” said Officer Beddoes. “I’m not typically a religious guy.” He said. “But it’s hard to explain . . . it was definitely something. Where, and why, it came from, I’m not sure.” The dramatic rescue was summarized in a 1996 bestselling book that Officer Beddoes co-authored, entitled
Proof of Angels, that describes the events that took place that day. According to Beddoes – the rescue turned out to be a pivotal event that transformed his view on life, death, and faith, and was what fueled a spiritual process that continued long after the four officers had pulled the child from the submerged Dodge in the river that chilly winter day.
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Humanity hungers to hear an authentic voice, especially those that rise from trustworthy nonprofit leaders. Unfortunately, the message of competing shepherds – political, economic, educational, and religious – have often steered society in hazardous directions. Therefore, I decided to focus this edition of
Frankly Speaking to the subject of “Voice” and, more specifically, to the responsibility that nonprofit organizations have in providing abused, orphaned, and endangered children like Lilly, a voice of advocacy on their behalf. A sympathetic voice to rescue them from the icy river waters of life’s misfortune. What does it mean to “find your voice”? Voice is the articulation of strongly held beliefs. It is the manifestation of character. It is the ultimate definition of the purpose of an individual’s life. Voice, like the word vocation, comes from the Latin root
vocare. While work is one of the many ways that voice can be expressed, “finding” one’s authentic voice entails developing clarity of life direction. It is ultimately the full expression of a leader’s true self. Having a voice in family matters is considered a protective factor to promoting children’s wellbeing. However, since the adoption of the
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and specifically
Article 12 pertaining to children’s participation, research reveals that children’s voices often remain invisible, for the most part muted, in child protection and family welfare services. The importance of voice in child welfare systems has been further reinforced by international and national reports by the Department for Education and UNICEF. According to national statistics, a total of 450,000 children are in foster care in the US. Of these, approximately 1600 youth reside in Palm Beach County. These children face tremendous challenges. As they enter adulthood, they often face additional barriers to success and struggle to secure basic needs. While most youths have caring, supportive parents to help them navigate life’s barriers to independence, many lack that support and are at significantly greater risk of dropping out of school, being unemployed, experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, becoming homeless or victims of human trafficking. Did you know:
- 1 out of 5 will become homeless,
- 1 out of 3 will live at or below the poverty level,
- 1 out of 4 will be incarcerated in the first two years,
- 3 out of 4 young women will be pregnant before age 21?
On average, for every young person who ages out of the foster care system, taxpayers and community members pay $300,000 over that person’s lifetime in social costs such as public assistance, incarceration, and other community costs. Research concludes that not providing children with the opportunity to be heard, risks future harm. When children are silenced in such a way, they cannot challenge violence and report abuse perpetrated against them. So, what can be done?
In his article, Leading in the Knowledge Worker Age, published in The Leader of the Future II (2006), author, and business professor Stephen R. Covey discusses the importance of leaders “finding their own voice” and, thereby, leading in a way that both models and inspires authenticity. In other words, leaders must first find their own Voice before helping others find their own. According to Covey, “tapping into the higher reaches of human genius and motivation,” what he calls voice, “requires a new mind-set, a new skill set, a new tool set—a new habit.”
“The pathway to the enormously promising side of today’s reality,” insists Covey, “is the voice of the human spirit, full of hope and intelligence, resilient by nature, boundless in its potential to serve the common good.” Voice, for Covey, also encompasses the soul of organizations that will survive, thrive, and have a profound impact on the future of the world. “Voice,” insists the author, “is of unique personal significance, significance that is revealed as we face our greatest challenges and that makes us equal to them.”
Covey suggests that voice is a combination of mind, heart, body, and spirit. According to Covey, “voice is the pathway to greatness,” and is the overlapping of the four parts of humanity’s nature: body, mind, heart, and spirit. When these components overlap, insists Covey, leaders discover their Life’s True Calling. Voice, consequently, lies at the nexus of talent, passion, need, and conscience – and for purposes of this edition of Frankly Speaking – philanthropic service. Authentic nonprofit leaders engage in work that taps their talent (mind), fuels passion (heart) that rises from a great need in the world (body), that they feel is drawn by their conscience to do something about (spirit). Therein, according to Covey, lies a “leader’s voice and their soul’s code.”
According to Covey, the development of such a voice entail answering four important questions within an evolving 4-step process. While the first question seeks to categorize what a leader is good at (mind-focused inquiry), Covey insists that the leaders should also recognize their passion, what they love doing (heart). The subsequent two questions in the process respectively focus on the identification of personal and/or societal needs (body) and life meaning/purpose. In short, instead of promoting self-serving aspirations, authentic nonprofit leaders should advance need-based agendas that their conscience directs them to pursue. These visions, according to Covey, verified, guided, and reinforced by the inner tone of spirit, define a leader’s authentic voice.
Like Covey, management expert Peter Drucker emphasizes the need for leaders to discover and use their authentic voice. “Today’s leaders,” Drucker warns, “must stop trying to be like others, but rather adopt their own style.” In his Harvard Business Review article Managing Oneself (2005), he outlines a process for cultivating such a personalized voice. To do so, like Covey, he recommends that leaders come to a better understanding of themselves by answering the following foundational questions:
- What are my most valuable strengths and most dangerous weaknesses?
- How do I learn and work with others?
- What are my most deeply held values?
- In what type of work environment can I make the greatest contribution?
Finding voice is the same for an organization as it is for an individual. Consequently, faith-based charities should nurture the vitality of its authentic voice. In addition, when nonprofit leaders rise to address the culture, they should make certain that their message coincides with a correct interpretation of God’s Word and Will. Like the men of Issachar who, the Old Testament Book of 1st Chronicles describe as “understanding the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32), philanthropic organizations must similarly be an effective voice that recognizes societal conditions and uses their respective Spirit-empowered voice to help its staff transform the world in the most effective philanthropic of ways.
History is replete with ordinary individuals who became the voice of God to their generation. At the appointed hour and time, each faithfully responded to God and, thereby, became His voice to the people they were called to guide. Through this evolving process, God’s Voice merged with their voice. “They spoke,” insists Jesus, “as one having authority and not as the Scribes and Pharisees” (Matt 7:29).
King David, an example of one of Israel’s most distinguished Old Testament Kings, was just such a leader whose voice lamented his nation’s auditory spiritual dysfunction. In his 81st Psalm, he uses his “poetic voice” to express God’s displeasure with Israel’s spiritual deafness. “My people would not heed My voice.” Conveying the sentiments of the Almighty, he writes, “Israel would have none of Me” (Psalms 81:11). “If you would but listen to me,” pleads God using David’s Voice, “if you would trust me enough to open your mouths so I could fill them, nothing would be too difficult to overcome. Just open your mouths, trust, and obey Me.”
To faithfully provide an authentic voice of advocacy to abused, neglected, and endangered children, faith-based leaders may choose to accept God’s invitation and humbly open their mental, emotional, and spiritual mouths to His spirit-satisfying guidance. Unfortunately, due to social pressures, political correctness, and postmodern secularism many are reluctant to do so, fearing the consequences of publicly acknowledging that their leadership style is influenced by their Faith. Such voices need to be heard, more than ever today, in the Nation’s community, encouraging the weary, listening to the troubled and, especially, ever ready to serve voiceless children.
If they are to discover such an authentic voice, however, leaders must first discern, then faithfully consent to the Voice of God – His Word and Will. Like the Spanish Fork River responders, authentic leaders will faithfully heed God’s invitation to serve humanity’s needs through the effective stewardship of their minds, bodies, hearts, and souls. Such leaders will enjoin their collective voices to manifest the power of philanthropy and rescue children crying for help from the icy streams of indifference.
A humorous, yet insightful, true news story, describes an Australian man who was arrested and charged with stealing a sheep. At his arraignment, the accused emphatically claimed that the animal was one of his own that had been missing for many days. Not knowing how to decide the matter, the judge instructed the bailiff to bring the sheep into the courtroom. The magistrate then ordered the plaintiff to “go outside and call the animal.” Although the voice of the alleged owner could be clearly heard inside the court, the sheep made no response except to raise its head in puzzlement. The magistrate then instructed the defendant to go into the courtyard and call the sheep. When the accused began to make his distinctive call, the lamb bounded toward the door. It was obvious that the animal recognized the familiar voice of its genuine master. “The sheep knows him,” said the judge. “Case dismissed!”
As indicated at the onset, there are nearly 2,000 abused, abandoned, and neglected children in Palm Beach County. They are little sheep all in need of hearing powerful sympathetic voices. Fortunately, states like Florida have a guardian ad litem program that instructs courts to appoint a representative who is tasked with acting as the “next friend of the child.” While the primary duty of a guardian ad litem is to help protect the child’s best interests, a guardian ad litem is NOT a child’s “lawyer” or “advocate.” Instead, it is better to think of a guardian ad litem as an investigator, evaluator – a voice. They meet with the child, the family, school, and therapists to discern what would be best for that child and subsequently advocate for those needs in court.
Many voices compete for humanity’s attention. Fortunately, the voice of the authentic nonprofit leader has a distinct quality that the afflicted can distinguish. In fact, according to William Booth, the Founder of The Salvation Army in 1865, the “Good Shepherd” (John 10:11) has the only voice that can successfully summon the vulnerable, abducted, and forlorn. In the end, however, when compared to the genuine resonance of the Lord’s call, the thud of all other invitations sound counterfeit, worrisome, and hollow.