Learning and Leading with Humility Part 1: MHS Association’s DEI Journey

By Clare Krabill June 21, 2024

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” – Aristotle.

Humility, as defined by historian John Dickson in his book, Humilitus, is: “The noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or influence for the good of others before yourself.” This definition of humility offers a vision for the spirit and mind of board members seeking to promote justice and belonging within and through the strategies and mission of the organizations they serve.

It is the role of a board of directors as the ultimate authority for the nonprofit organization to understand the importance of their representation on behalf of the community or communities they serve.  As humble stewards of the organization, board members are called to embrace and celebrate our common humanity, and the inherent worth of all people.  Boards who value bringing and learning diverse perspectives, identities, and life experiences can more effectively fulfill the organization’s mission, demonstrate their values, and make a positive impact.

Yet, knowing one’s calling is one thing; actualizing it is another. In the gap between them, there are a plethora of opportunities to practice humility. The journey of MHS Association Board of Directors to become a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive board is a long one and we have a long way to go. What follows are some milestones in this journey offered as an example of one organization’s pathway to date. While these are presented in a sequential order, they have been and continue to be interwoven.

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” – Aristotle.

About ten years ago, MHS Association began working with consultants to administer the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) and follow-up coaching as one part of board and staff onboarding.  The IDI is a widely used and effective cross-culturally valid assessment for building awareness and cultural competence. Through learning deficits and getting a clearer snapshot of self the goal is to be motivated and empowered to grow and change. Like any tool, it is only as effective as one’s follow-through. One area we can continue to grow is in developing systems for continued encouragement and accountability on individual action plans developed through the IDI process.

“To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.” – Confucious.

Like many organizations, during the turbulent times of COVID isolation and increased awareness of racism and violence against people of color, we had a collective reconning with our ignorance and white fragility. Developing a strategy for becoming a more just, inclusive, diverse, and equitable board, staff and NPO became a regular part of generative discussions at board meetings. The board engaged in book group discussions, reading articles, and as is so often the case, found that the more they learned the more they learned how much they didn’t know. This is the birthplace of cultural humility.

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” – Jimi Hendrix.

A truism of cultural humility is that none of us will ever arrive. The cycle of learning more and then better understanding how much you do not know continues without end. It also is an effective pathway to genuine curiosity.  The Board engaged in listening through member surveys, learning about other health and human service association journeys, hearing from sister Mennonite and Anabaptist organizations, and engaging a consultant for a racial equity audit and accountability partners for their counsel. So long as there is a lack of diversity in the Board, staff, and members, we will need to place extra attention on continuing to seek out, listen, and learn from outside voices.

“Without knowledge, action is useless and knowledge without action is futile.” – Abu Bakr.

For the Board and staff of MHS Association, the racial equity audit provided the additional knowledge needed to generate an action plan and wrap DEI into the strategic plan in a meaningful way. However, the marriage of cultural humility and developing strategies, goals, and action plans is a breeding ground for uncertainty and fear of getting it wrong and causing harm. It is at these times that we need to remind ourselves of our faith, place ourselves prayerfully into God’s hands, and engage humility as a spiritual practice.

“If I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.” – the Apostle Paul.

We remind ourselves that the love of God is foundational to the sense of safety we need to engage in the spiritual practice of humility. Likewise, the love of God drives us to be curious about understanding our neighbor and ourselves. The love of God encourages our refinement and our growth and encourages us to seek wholeness, justice, and peace for the created world. Love heals. It is through love and because of love that we persevere.

The Board and staff of MHS Association are dedicated to continuing to grow and become more effective in bringing about greater justice, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging within our organization and in our interactions with members and partners. The work before us is daunting. Working for the greater good of others in a spirit of humility is the pathway we pray to journey forward on.


Written by Karen Lehman, CEO, MHS Association & Clare Krabill, COO, MHS Association