The term servant-leader may appear to be a contradictory term. You might find yourself wondering how an individual can both lead and serve at the same time. It's possible, and matter of fact, it's what leadership is all about.
Take the Red Cross, for example. It would be hard not to look at an organization like this incredible nonprofit and not admit that it is a leader in the emergency assistance, disaster relief, and disaster preparedness education space. However, the very mission of the Red Cross is to serve those in dire need. It is at the forefront of doing so, and therefore, its ability to elicit followers is seamless and impeccable.
Another great commander of our time who has mastered the artform of leadership and servanthood is Maimah Karmo, founder and CEO of the Tigerlily Foundation. She envisioned and built this national breast cancer nonprofit from the ground up. Going through her own breast cancer challenge at 32 years old, Maimah uncovered gaps in her journey that she wanted to ensure were closed for other young women with the same diagnosis.
Maimah learned at an early age how to fight through adversity. Born in Liberia at a time of turmoil and war, Maimah found herself an American refugee fleeing from her war-torn home. Her family had the opportunity to start over, but it wasn't easy. With about nine relatives in a small apartment, Maimah worked hard and contributed to help support the family. Her education placed on hold, yet, she achieved her degree.
While working for a government contractor writing proposals, Maimah learned of her breast cancer. After discovering a lump in her breast, her fighter reemerged. You see, Maimah was told she was too young to have breast cancer, and there was no need for a mammogram. When she wouldn't take no for an answer, after the imaging, she rivaled for a biopsy. Maimah's age was a barrier to obtaining a timely diagnosis, and she vowed that she would transform the system.
"To love people and make a difference in the world," is what little Maimah always dreamed of doing with her life. While helping her family and studying in college, she wasn't sure how to make this dream a reality. Maimah's diagnosis, personal experience, and faith all made for a recipe that led to her destiny.
Today, she leads through love and serves to give hope to other young ladies battling breast cancer. She is closing the awareness and education gap with her foundation. She's not backing down from policy oppositions as a participant in constructing bills passed in Congress. And, in the same breath, she toils endlessly reminding women who may be losing their hair, breast, ovaries - all the things that try to define womanhood - that they are still beautiful. Like a lily, they still blossom and will bloom again!
Maimah's story defines leadership. To lead well is to serve well. If you serve well, then there is room for you to lead. It's not a chicken or egg thing, nor is it a catch 22. It's leadership.
Thank you, Maimah, for being a woman in nonprofit who has changed history for us all. Also, we thank you for showing us an accurate picture of leadership!