Learning Leadership Martin Lehfeldt ’57 • B.A. Haverford College
If I were to generalize, I’d say that I spend most of my time building bridges – trying to connect good people with good causes.
• M.Div. Union Theological Seminary
What do you feel differentiates a truly ethical leader? Ethical leadership to me consists of being guided by empathy when • Former President, Southeastern Council of Foundations making a major decision: thinking through who’s going to be left • Author of Notes from a Non-Profitable Life, Thinking About out, who’s not going to benefit, and who’s going to be hurt by Things: Selected Columns, and The Sacred Call: A Tribute your decision. You try to look at the world through a lens that permits you to see opportunities that will benefit many people, to Donald L. Hollowell rather than just a few. What was your work like with the Southeastern Council of I’ve been struck by the fact that so many folks look around them Foundations? The Southeastern Council of Foundations is a 10-state, 330-member and see a world of scarcity. I think there’s great abundance that we need to tap into, particularly in assisting the most neglected people. association of grantmakers. I took over as President in 1998 and I think good leaders are willing to tap into that abundance, and ran the organization for 11 years. It involved providing technical they are willing to have the courage to promote change. assistance to foundations, organizing legal seminars, taking people to D.C. to lobby for their interests, and leading many meetings Can you give an example of a time you needed that kind of about the proper role of philanthropy. courage? Courage may be too strong a word, but I mentioned the seminary What advice would you give to someone pursuing a similar that I’m involved with: Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary. It leadership position? began in Charlotte, NC as part of a freedman’s school after the Civil A lot of people think they need to start high up on the ladder, but War. Then it was part of a theological consortium for the past 45 I think a willingness to do the grunt work of an organization has years here in Atlanta. Recently, my colleagues and I decided that the enormous benefits. You learn humility you’re going to need if you church needs a new model of theological education. We pulled out go into the nonprofit sector: how to make your own coffee, type of the consortium and are now re-inventing ourselves with a new your own letters, move your own furniture. And if you feel that’s community-oriented mission and a very non-traditional curriculum. beneath you, you’re never going to go very far. It was a pretty gutsy change that initially upset a lot of people, but I I also believe you should look for opportunities to go into unfamiliar think history will show that we made the right move. and uncharted territories. That’s going to mean something different Do you feel Quaker education impacted the way you make for everybody: working in a soup kitchen in Camden, or traveling leadership decisions? to the Middle East to learn about Israeli-Palestinian relations. I’ve Moorestown Friends validated a great deal of my own upbringing; learned the most when I have been the outsider and newcomer. my father was a Lutheran minister in Camden who was very That was certainly the case when I came south to work at a involved in social justice issues. He was an avowed pacifist. My historically African-American college, and here I am, 40 years later, Friends education, combined with the education I received at home, still passionate about encouraging diversity in education. worked to shape my character. Would you say your main priority as a leader has been giving Looking back, Chester Reagan and Cully Miller tapped me to do back to the people you lead? some things that in a way constituted real leadership training. Cully To say “yes” would sound arrogant, but I am a big proponent made it possible for me to go down to Washington, D.C. by myself of what has been called servant leadership. When I decided not – that was a big deal! That weekend exposed me to the world of to go into the ministry, I ended up coming south to promote policymaking and national affairs. It was an incredibly memorable African-American higher education, and I did that for many years. Eventually I formed my own consulting firm with a variety of clients, experience for me. Then I was the first exchange student from MFS to go to Nuremberg, thanks to Chester Reagan, and that had a but most of them tended to be struggling organizations that didn’t huge impact on my life. He was also the first person who exposed have much money but were on the side of the “good and true and me to a sense of environmental stewardship. I used to go on bird beautiful.” I was willing to charge a lot less than the going rate in walks with him at dawn through the backyards of Moorestown. order to help them. How do you stay involved with nonprofit work now that you’re retired? For many years now, I’ve been on the board of the only historically black Presbyterian seminary in the country. I chair a development committee that supports the homeless, I work on several church committees, and I am president of my college class. I’ve also been working with a colleague on writing a history of philanthropy in the South.
I remember Chester Reagan speaking in assemblies, and in my blurred memory it seems he always spoke from the same text: “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Every time I hear that – Micah 6:8 – I flash back to Chester Reagan expounding on it. It was a remarkable privilege to attend Moorestown Friends.