Poverty. Disease. Persecution. Famine. Thirst.
Mike Mantel, Ph.D., the president and CEO of Living Water International, an organization dedicated to easing the global water crisis while addressing root causes such as injustice, oppression and poverty, has been working for nearly two decades to save and change lives by eradicating some of the evils that plague humanity.
But one question had always nagged him.
“If positive change is so desired, why is change so hard?”
The search for the answer to that question ultimately led Mantel to the Ph.D. in Organization Development program at Benedictine University. There, he met scholars, business leaders and professionals like himself who were searching for answers to their own questions.
When Mantel came to Benedictine University in 1998, he was working at World Vision, the world’s largest Christian humanitarian agency. A few years earlier, World Vision had been seeking to expand into several urban areas and solicited the assistance of David Cooperider, a world-renowned expert in organization.
Cooperider had a young graduate student from Case Western Reserve University working with him named Jim Ludema. Cooperider and Ludema introduced World Vision to an organization philosophy called “Appreciative Inquiry” and helped to lead the charitable group through an era of tremendous growth.
Fast forward a few years after Ludema had helped to establish a Ph.D. in Organization Development program at Benedictine University, a program founded on many of the principles of Appreciative Inquiry. Mantel needed answers and Benedictine’s Ph.D. program seemed to provide them.
“I had exhausted my knowledge to sustaining positive change,” Mantel said. “I had no new ideas and didn’t know where to turn for answers.”
Benedictine’s Ph.D. program, which helps today’s leaders create an environment where people work together toward better solutions, where change is not only accepted but encouraged, and where high performance is achieved by building trust, valuing teamwork and fostering employee development, revitalized Mantel.
“The program extended my learning and allowed me to improve my quality of work,” he said. “I learned from faculty and extended scholars who were top rate, other members of my cohort who ranged in age from 20 to 60 and brought their own experiences into the classroom, and from the research that we performed and published.
“The time I spent at Benedictine remains one of the highest points of my life,” Mantel said.
Mantel applied the knowledge he learned and developed at Benedictine University to his work at World Vision, into private consulting and eventually to his leadership role at Living Water. He continues to contribute to Benedictine University as a volunteer advisory board member for the Center for Values-Driven Leadership, a place where top executives and scholars innovate at the forefront of values-driven business practice.
“The most important thing I learned at Benedictine is that language is a creative force,” Mantel said. “How we engage others and the words we choose creates the reality in which we live. It’s very important to understand the discourse and the conversations that are around us. The conversations in which we choose to engage determine our future.”
Whether he is making an impact by guiding a new generation of leaders into the forefront of water solutions or by giving back to the University that encouraged his own growth as a leader, Mantel understands something about positive change and helping others.
“It makes you feel more fully alive,” he said. “Life is so much richer, filled with excitement and opportunities.”