Mother Teresa’s Room The Essence of Servant Leadership
My brother and I asked the taxi driver taking us to Mother Teresa’s headquarters, “What do you think of Mother Teresa?” He replied, “Mother was a very nice lady.” Anyone we talked to in Kolkata about Mother Teresa, referred to her simply as Mother.
That was our first introduction to Mother Teresa in the city that is almost synonymous with her great work, Kolkata.
At first, I was confused as to why they referred to her as Mother. I thought there was something lost in communication. But there wasn’t; it was the legacy she left. She was everyone’s mother in their eyes, taking care of all, regardless of class, ethnicity, or religion.
A common word—mother—took on a brand new meaning for me that day: humanity.
As we arrived to Mother’s headquarters, a simple building where more than 700 missions around the world are led, we stepped out on the busy, disheveled street. There, we found a small, inconspicuous sign on the side of an indistinct building that read “Mother House” (pictured above). We wondered, Could this really be it?
As we entered Mother House, the signs were clear that we were not to take photos, but I want to tell you what impressed me most: the room Mother lived in for nearly fifty years, the same room she died in, that bore witness to a truly great human being. I spent a while just staring silently into the confines of what must have been a 10 x 15 foot space containing a small bed, table, and very few personal belongings. It struck me that she lived in a space not much larger than a single exam room in a typical United States health clinic.
What went on in this room? A wonderful leader was shaped; and a wonderful leader shaped the world. Her room, now empty, still speaks volumes to the visitors who come to view it. It is very clear Mother did not seek riches. Even though I already knew this, standing in the baron space which sheltered a true world leader really brought it into sharp focus.
We wandered through the tight building where a few nuns where washing, some praying, and others walking around and free to speak with us. We met nuns at Mother House who knew Mother personally. They loved her. We saw where Mother is buried and the humble museum that holds many artifacts which tell the story of her life. We spent hours soaking in the essence of this remarkable lady as best as we could. When we left, we visited one of her other mission houses in the city where orphans are cared for and medical services rendered.
Like others who love leadership, I have read and studied about Mother Teresa for years. Many leadership books refer to her. But there is nothing like standing in the places where she lived and walked. The experience brought her to life more than ever to me, and it reminded me what the heart of great leadership is made of: humility, personal sacrifice, grand visions, and living a life to serve others—not to be served by others.
Now that I am home where we have so much, I think back on Mother Teresa’s room, and I am a little ashamed. Having nice possessions is not a bad thing, but I wonder if having so much may be a hurdle to doing great work—God’s work.
If you ever have a chance to go to India, make sure to visit Kolkata. Ask for Mother House and go see Mother Teresa’s room.
PS: Kolkata is the city where Mother Teresa began her work with the poor in 1953. The city was the capital of British controlled India until 1911, and that’s why parts of it boast impressive Victorian architecture, particularly a few buildings where the local government seat is. Kolkata is in the Indian state of East Bengal, and the heart of Bengali culture. Forty kilometers from Kolkata is Bangladesh, also Bengali land. Bengal is one of the many ethno-linguistic distinct areas of India and South Asia.
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