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An Interview with Author Caitlin Lyga Wilson

Cultivating a Servant Heart (available October 24th) is the second installment in Fulcrum's new Servant Leadership Series. This book draws on wisdom from a group of esteemed community leaders and influential businesspeople as they share their own inward journeys of self-discovery and servant leadership. The stories are expertly woven together with the unifying threads of past, present, and future, inviting readers to explore the transformative power of servant leadership.

What was the catalyst for Cultivating a Servant Heart: Insights from Servant Leaders? And what was your approach to writing it?

My catalyst was the desire to serve. I was completing my Master’s in Servant Leadership at Viterbo University and reached out to my professor, Rick Kyte, to ask if he needed any research help. He explained a project in the early phases of ideation between the D.B. Reinhart Ethics Institute and Fulcrum Publishing: a book of interviews with servant leaders, organized by concept and question (rather than by interviewee). I agreed to move the project forward by crafting some structure and possible interview questions.

A theme ran through the course, and really all courses in the servant leadership program: the connecting force between past, present and future. Remembering our roots, our foundations – living with open-hearted intention in the present – and making an impact for those who come after us. I had been pondering this force, this time continuum, for several months and felt it would make a compelling, intimate arc of deep conversation. Additionally, the first assignment I ever completed in the program was to interview a servant leader in our life. I chose my grandmother, and it was a sacred experience that I will forever treasure. We explored her entire life, and she gave me the gifts of insights into her heart, mind and experiences I had never known. With the parameters of past, present and future solidly in place, from there I built out questions under each component. For the most part, common questions my classmates and I explored in the servant leadership program – and from what I had learned, servant leaders hold with throughout life.

Rick Kyte suggested I conduct some test interviews to try out the questions. Dave Skogen and Sue Rieple Graf were my first two gracious participants – both in November of 2021. From the beginning, the questions – and the arc of past, present and future – worked. After the test interviews, Tom Thibodeau brought me a list of people he knew with stories of service that, in his words, “needed to be told.”

Early on in the interview process it occurred to me that I was receiving, conversation after conversation, the great honor of a look into the inward journeys of these good humans. The inward journey was a concept I chose to explore for my colloquium: the graduate presentation required to complete the servant leadership program. As this additional connection became clear, I found my framing and writing of the book returning to this key theme.

How would you describe servant leadership to someone who may be unfamiliar with the topic? Sacrificing your own interests to help someone or something else, in the service of a greater good.

One of the main themes of the book is the inward journey, where are you on your own inward journey? It evolves every day, even “every minute,” as a colleague of mine once remarked of her own journey. In general, when I began the servant leadership program at Viterbo, I joined it to fix a workplace culture I perceived to be broken. I thought servant leadership might be a tool, or – a more honest representation of my orientation to the world at the time – even a weapon. I was critical of everyone and everything around me, except myself. Although, deep down, the broken one was me.

Service is love made visible. Service above self. The teachings began to chip away at walls around my heart – and what was at the core wasn’t anything close to servant leadership. It was a heart unsure whether it had ever really loved or served at all. I had lived in the throes of my egoic pursuits for so long; the neural programming was deep. Hours upon hours of readings, teachings, community with heart-centered classmates, hospitality and love... revealed to me the true reason I had landed in the servant leadership program. To begin an inward journey.

Today, I’m still in many ways finding myself fighting through the egoic fog. But the inner lives of the thirteen servant leaders I interviewed (eleven appear in the book, one interviewee opted out of final publication and one was my grandmother) illuminated my path ahead and taught me the hard work required to go further. I now know what gifts lie beyond the self – and that they are greater than any we take for ourselves.

What do you see as the importance of the inward journey for leaders? The importance of the inward journey for leaders is understanding there is one, where you are on it and – most importantly – where you want to be.

Were there any stories that the interviewees shared that you found particularly moving? Jervie Windom’s story about the tree that saved his life. I won’t reveal the circumstances or details of that story here to honor Jervie; you’ll have to read the book or hear him speak. It was moving to me because I had experienced not one but two traumatic events involving trees and my children in the year prior. Through Jervie’s story, I came to see the trees in my life as life-saving and life-giving forces, which helped to heal my pain. What do you hope readers take from this book? I hope readers can reflect on their own journeys and connect with a story or two in the way I did, helping to make a perspective shift or step along their path.

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