On Laddership: Service Without Marks

Posted by Bhumika Patel on Mar 7, 2017
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[Below is a transcript of Audrey's talk on Laddership, on Day 3 of the Gandhi 3.0 retreat. I know I speak on behalf of so many when I say that we're grateful that Audrey not only speaks eloquently about this topic, but also embodies this style of leadership from moment to moment, across so many projects. Thank you, Audrey!]



When I read the quote, “Be a ladder, not a leader”, I’m reminded of a reflection I read few months back. It was offered by a monk, from the days when he was a young man volunteering at a monastery during the time of a big event.

The day before, everyone was fully preparing for the event. Morning to evening. At the monastery, the days start at 4AM and end around 10PM. After such a long day, this young man was very tired and looking forward to sleeping. Just then, as they were walking out of the hall, someone said “Oh! Who is going to watch the sound speakers at night?” Apparently, someone had stolen the speakers the last year during one such night. “Well, I’m exhausted! That’s not my responsibility,” said the young man before racing off to bed.

The next morning, as he heads to the morning meditation at 4AM, he sees his friends guarding the speakers. “What are you doing?” he asks them. “We were just wandering around late night and we saw the abbot of the monastery meditating by the speakers. And we thought that he must be exhausted from all the preparation during the day, so we asked him if we could guard the speakers so he can go to sleep and be well rested for tomorrow.”

The young man ended his reflection with this phrase: “Service without marks.”

In a way, Laddership is that kind of invisible service. Although I’m still learning what Laddership is, I want to offer some reflections from my journey with it.

Traditionally, we have a notion of a “White Knight” leadership model, where the leaders are at the front or at the center leading the path for everybody. On a mission for some sort of change in the world, sometimes managing lots of financial resources and power.

Laddership, on the other hand, is all about holding a space, holding emptiness. While leadership is from the front, Laddership is from the back or the sides of a circle. It’s about being the change as a way to change the world. Cultivating context is more important than context. Financial capital broadens to many diverse forms of wealth.

There’s something about Laddership which is about bowing down to something greater than yourself.

Thinking about that, I remember my father. A little while back, I was working on my computer and it crashed on me, I took it to the computer shop and I learned that my hard drive had died. Within an hour, they returned my computer with a brand new hard drive. And my bill read $0! Given that I was a traditional computer store (and not Seva Cafe!), I was very confused for a minute. Then I realised that I had a warranty with my computer, that covered me.

It brought me back to a couple of years prior, when I had gone to get the computer with my Dad. Since I was moving out of town, he wanted to buy it for me as a gift. When we went to the check out, the woman at the counter said, “Would you like a 3-year warranty?” I immediately replied, “No, I don’t really need that.” But my dad stepped in and said, “Yes, yes. She’s gonna spill so many things on this computer, she really really needs that warranty!” So that’s how I had a three year warranty to this computer.

So I’m standing here at the computer store looking at my $0 receipt. I started shivering with goose bumps. [Tears] Because my dad had passed away a year and a half before and I was receiving this gift from someone who’s no longer on this earth, someone I won’t be able to thank directly.

At that very moment, I realized how much we receive from so many places that we can’t even fathom. This cycle of generosity extends so invisibly and so far beyond anything that we can track or have a logical framework for.

So when I think about the way we lead, I strive to anchor myself in that space of invisible “laddership” that honors a timeline that is so vast and that honors connections that are so deep.  

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Comments (1)

  • Khushmita Sanghvi wrote ...

    Service without marks is such a powerful line :) Thanks for being so extra- Audrary Audrey :)