A Lesson on Inspired Leadership: LSSM CEO Mark Stutrud Departs

Outgoing LSSM CEO Mark Stutrud (second from right) with LSSM Board Chair Kathy Lieder (far left) and LIRS President/CEO Linda Hartke (far right)

Today I had lunch under a tent in the parking lot outside Lutheran Social Services of Michigan. The occasion: a fond farewell to LSSM CEO Mark Stutrud, who leaves to become CEO of LSS Illinois after this month.

Hundreds of people converged from places near and far, all with fond memories of this man who has not only been a fearless leader of an amazing organization that provides care and nurturing for every individual in its path, but he has been a friend, mentor and inspiration as well.

In my two and a half years working with this wonderful organization, I have loved my interactions with Mark. His brilliance and intellect made for conversations where I learned, pondered and expanded my perspective. I’ve written speeches and articles for him, based on lofty ideals that he has made into reality.

And he leaves after a decade-long tenure during which he expanded the non-profit immeasurably – under his leadership, LSSM has grown its foundation from $3.5 million to $13.5 million, its organizational budget from $73 million to $109 million, all attributed to expansion in senior living services, the addition of continuing care units and affordable housing units and the acquisitions of home care, home health and therapies companies.

But that’s not why I’m writing about him here.

Today, I saw the true connection that happens under good leadership. There were tears among people close to Mark, who have been inspired by him and grown under his guidance.

And I listened to speech after speech by people of faith about how Mark truly does “God’s work,” and lives his faith each and every day.

We are truly living in a new age. Today, it is acceptable and even admirable to say in public, loud and clear, for all to hear, that the work you do is guided by God, inspired by above. Bishop John Schleicher, bishop emeritus of the Northwest Synod in Michigan’s Lutheran community, described Mark as akin to a “porous pot” like a shard he brought from Honduras. These clay pots, with their careful construction and lining, filter the toxic waters of that nation so that people can drink it safely.

He said Mark “filters out the toxic words from the world” and produces “pure water that gives life for so many people.”

You understand the metaphor.

I sat beside interim CEO, Vickie Thompson-Sandy, my friend and colleague, who is equally inspiring and inspired. We talked about our children and the travails of parenting and then we talked about the web of individuals seated around and among us, who are so driven to make the world a better place.

I have to say, I love my work.

I help wonderful people put their incredible thoughts and visions into messages that speak to the masses. Through the work that I do, I get to meet incredible people who are truly changing the world. And a part of me believes that the work that I do helps them get there, even a little bit.

We should all do work that inspires us and that brings inspiration to others. We should all engage in work that makes the world a better place.

It was Kahlil Gibran who said, “Work is love made visible. And if you can’t work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of the people who work with joy.”

Mark Stutrud, receiving a farewell gift from Pewabic pottery

To do work with joy, to put your whole heart into the task at hand, to know that the world is better for your efforts and your presence, that is the lesson.

Thank you, Mark, for your inspiration. And thank you, God, for allowing me, gifting me, work that continues to inspire me and helps the world become a place of peace.

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