The Servant Leader Approach to Empowerment

Communicare serves six counties in North Central Mississippi, offering a broad range of services to individuals with mental illness, substance use disorders or intellectual and development disabilities and their families.

While not limited to serving women only—they care for men, women and children—Communicare does operate a sober living house for women, a group home for women who have serious mental illness and, in 2019, won a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) grant to establish the Family Achievement in Recovery (FAIR) program. FAIR serves women with co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders who have involvement with Child Protective Services (CPS); in short, its aim is to provide these women with the treatment and services they need to keep or get their children back.

We sat down with three of their leaders—Executive Director Sandy Rogers, PhD; Assistant Director Melody Madaris, MRC, CRC, CMHT, EMDRII, LCPC and Director of Community Support Services Rachel Alcorn, LCSW—to discuss empowerment among their clients and staff.

Though interviewed separately, they were remarkably united and consistent on three themes: servant leadership, supporting the staff to make decisions, and the power of small, sincere gestures.

Dr. Rogers shared with us her emphasis on listening as a tool of empowerment: “I have an open door policy for staff, patients, anyone,” she explained. “I empower them to be seen, to be heard. We had a patient admitted as a suicide risk. He kept saying, ‘No one will listen to me!’ A therapist thought he was on the spectrum rather than suicidal. I asked, ‘what do you think about the possibility of your being on the spectrum?’ He said, ‘I think I could be. I’m a very smart man. I can do the work, but when the pressure gets too much….’ We’ve gotten him a doctor and he’s due to be tested; he’s working again. He’s already much happier.” From crisis to coping—after being heard.

Speaking more specifically of women’s empowerment: “The women’s issues we encounter include parenting, financial stress, domestic violence—we treat the whole person, so it’s all there,” Alcorn explains. “For some of these women, getting access to this holistic treatment changes their entire trajectory.”

And on the subject of empowerment in the workplace, which in their case is 90 percent female, Madaris shares the top-down approach to empowering team members to make decisions: “My goal as a supervisor is to build up my employees to have the confidence they need to do their job to the best of their ability, without self-doubt. The hope is the confidence carries over to their personal lives, as well, allowing them to feel empowered in all aspects of life.”

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