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For Connie Lindsey, no challenge is too big to tackle and no one is too powerless to make an impact. As one of her favorite proverbs goes, "If you think you're too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito!"
In her case, the change Lindsey is making in the world is anything but small. Spend just a minute with her in person, and it's impossible not to be uplifted by her positivity and grace.
Beyond spirit, Lindsey shows what's possible when you turn your passion into action.
Lindsey is the current national president of Girl Scouts of the USA and also an advocate of a diverse number of causes in her hometown of Chicago. Involvement is also a big part of her professional life. Earlier this year, she was appointed head of corporate social responsibility at Northern Trust – one of the world's leading asset management, asset servicing and banking firms – where she has been for the last 16 years.
For Lindsey, the two parts of her life – professional and personal – are reflections of a singular commitment to the ideal of servant-leadership.
A servant-leader is one who is a servant first – a person who wants to serve others and whose decision to subsequently lead is a conscious outgrowth of the desire to do more for the community.
"I was blessed as a young person to have adults who poured the gift of service in me by their service to me," recalls Lindsey. "As the saying goes, 'The good deeds we do for others is the rent we pay for occupying space on the earth.'"
Lindsey's passion to help others was born from her early relationships and growing up in public housing in inner-city Milwaukee. From her mother she learned how to stay strong against adversity. Her godmother taught her to find the best in everyone. Her pastor used his work to demonstrate what a lifelong commitment to service could look like.
Along the way she learned to be responsible at an early age and to adjust to the financial challenges her family faced.
"All of these people wrote on the tablet of my heart," she says. "What you come up from and not what you come up to is the true test of character," she says.
In addition to Girl Scouts, Lindsey is a past president of Bottomless Closet, an organization dedicated to workforce development for low-income women. She also currently serves on the boards of the Joffrey Ballet and the DePaul University School of Education's Advisory Council, and she is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago and the Executives' Club of Chicago.
But closest to her heart is Lindsey's work with the Girl Scouts. As national president, Lindsey is the organization's leading volunteer. More than just a promoter, Lindsey shares responsibility for helping the organization's efforts in fund development, membership growth, and other core operations.
More than 900,000 adults serve as volunteers for Girl Scouts, and – like many well-known nonprofits – Girl Scouts would be unable to operate without its volunteers.
Many of the organization's adult volunteers get involved in order to be part of the Girl Scouting experience for their daughters, granddaughters, or nieces. Still others get involved because of their own experience as younger Girl Scouts. Last year VolunteerMatch partnered with Girl Scouts to help the organization develop a broader, more inclusive base of volunteers.
Lindsey counts all of Girl Scouting's 2.4 million girl members as her "daughters," and her connection with the organization came naturally from her experience as a Girl Scout at Cross Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, beginning at age 11.
"Girl Scouts has always been a part of my life," she says. "The lessons I learned and confidence that I gained have sustained me in every season of my life."
Not surprisingly, she thinks being passionate about the cause you're involved with is one of the most important ingredients of servant-leadership – especially for professionals who are considering giving back with their skills.
"When considering a life in public service you must be willing to pursue a cause that resonates deep within the soul," she says. "Serve according to the mission and not your own ego. Would you do this work if no one said 'thank you?' What do you think will happen if you don't do the work?"
Where else does motivation for servant-leadership come from? In Lindsey's case, a big part radiates from her faith as a Christian who is guided by a strong moral compass. As she puts it, out of a sense of responsibility comes a commitment to involvement – in whatever it is that one is passionate about.
And the good news is there's a passion for everyone.
"There are so many needs in the world," she says. "Find where your passion, your gifts, and your talent connect. Maybe it's something that was born out of your youth or a business issue, but once you connect those things together, with your experience and financial wherewithal... you can have such a large impact."
(Photo: Caroline Schiff Photography)