Blog: Mark Stutrud

Mark A. Stutrud has been president of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan since 2004. Prior to that, he served as vice president of children and family services for Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota and was the administrator for behavior health services for Allina Health System.

Stutrud is the chair of the board of directors of Aging Services of Michigan, a member of the board of National Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, and a member of Leading Age Public Policy Congress/Washington DC.

He has a B.A. and an M.A. in child and human development from North Dakota State University. An avid hunter and fisherman, Stutrud lives in Northville with his wife; they are the parents of two grown children.
Mark Stutrud - Most Recent Posts:

A Messy, Loving Business

What's the difference between sharing in life and serving someone? Simply put, sharing in life is more intimate. It requires an invitation from the other person to enter into their life. It comes with a perspective of I'm going to help that isn't condescending. It's about meeting someone where they are, getting to know them and together, and figuring out a path.
Sharing in life is a mutual exchange. It's not just about getting needs met, but rather about developing a relationship and being involved in another person's life.

It's knowing what they hope for and asking how you can participate. It's caring about another person's hopes and dreams and asking their permission to help them work out the intricacies of whatever mess they might find themselves in.

At Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, everything we do is driven by a mission of sharing in life with the people we interact with. Our staff are wonderful at getting in there and doing it compassionately, caringly, expertly.

Everything we do comes down to the individual person. In any business it should be this way – and especially in ours. All of our services are designed to share in life with someone else – you truly can't do it any other way. I characterize the work we do as being a messy, loving business. It's always messy, and it's always loving.

We try to be compassionate in everything we do, excellent in everything we do, and do our best to be stewards in the most efficient way. Although our organization is large and spans the entire lower peninsula of Michigan, it is essential that we view ourselves as a local business. If you're not local, you can't achieve those goals.

Sharing in life means being present, being aware, being with another person. You can't do it remotely.

We help others by first understanding the context in which they live, their community and their dreams. What is important to the person I'm sitting with? You have to ask again and again.

Throughout my organization, you'll find examples of sharing in life. Take our group homes – it's a home like any other, no sign out front, just several individuals living in the same space. That's their community, and all of their activities of daily life take place within the same walls. Their family is nearby, the staff lives locally, everything they eat and do and say comes from a shared culture, a shared slate of values.

Our home care and senior services are all about helping people maintain their lifestyle and stay in their most comfortable settings. Our refugee services – how can that not be personalized? It's about helping individuals and families build a new life in a new land. It's understanding their fears, the barriers they face, and their wish to live safe, free and thrive.

Our Heartline program is another über-personal model. We help women leaving incarceration merge back into society at large. Eighty percent of them have kids, so they're coming home to family, making the transition from prison to neighborhood and community. We help with that.

And our foster care and adoption services, that's also sharing in life. We search far and wide for relatives who can take in children whose parents aren't up to the task. We stay in the picture, guiding auntie-uncle-grandma-grandpa to help their children, all the emotions swirling around and the practical questions too. It's incredibly intimate. It's quite a gift.

In everything we do, every step we take, our staff seeks to help families repair whatever rifts have appeared in the fabric of their framework and rebuild. We help parents get a handle on raising their children, and we become surrogate parents for children who've aged out of foster care with no one to guide them. We are everywhere another individual will let us be in their darkest hours.

When you're driven by a higher mission like this, the work you do becomes so much bigger. Written in invisible ink on every wall throughout our organization is this purpose of sharing in life with the people we seek to help. It's really the only way.

Training Our Entrepreneurial Gaze Higher

Not every CEO admits to being driven by a higher power. The truth is, most of us are.
For me, it's easy. I sit at the helm of a faith-based organization, Lutheran Social Services of Michigan. Although we serve any and all who need our services, we are very much Christ-centered and that is core to our mission.
I know many CEOs in the secular world who profess to the same convictions. That's because you can't operate for personal gain alone. It doesn't work. Everything falls apart. True service leads to work satisfaction and every person who realizes this lives a life of sustained gain, happiness, and contentment.

Answering to a higher power changes your business model entirely. It becomes about people connecting with other people; caring comes into the equation, service is a word that pops up again and again.

For me, love of Christ is so important that it permeates my executive thinking, my beliefs of excellence, my stewardship and my passion. I'd be the same at the helm of any organization and my higher power would lead me to do good before doing well, always.

In an organization like this, though, there is an inherent expectation on me as leader of a faith-based mission. It's part of the language, part of the job description. It's ok to be faith-based in an organization like this.

The question is, why isn't it ok in any capacity?

Americans are so careful not to mix church and state that I fear we sometimes abandon belief for a view of a plain brick wall. We should be awe-inspired every step of our journey – in the workplace as much as on our personal paths. I'm not talking about preaching or proselytizing. I'm saying instead that being guided by a higher power changes the landscape entirely and makes the whole world better.

It elevates our conversations. It makes our work more than punching a clock to pay our bills. Answering to a higher power, being driven by a mission to serve others, illuminates the work we do – any kind of work – and makes us kinder, more compassionate, more effective.
Let's train our entrepreneurial gaze higher. It takes all of us to a better place.
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