Sooner or later, a man or woman who gives himself or herself to leadership through service sets a new direction for life, one that is different from what we have seen in the failed or inadequate leaders we know. This is a first step in the transformation of leadership and you must want it. To succeed as a leader you need a totally different way of thinking about leadership and about yourself as a leader. You must long to be different. Leadership becomes your way of revealing your own form of exploration.
A great leader is set apart for the service of others. This does not mean that a specific person is any better than others, and one should always avoid unhealthy comparisons. However, if you wish to prepare yourself for leadership, you must long to be different than other people who do not feel this yearning. As a leader in the making you have a vision of yourself in relation to community. This is part of a process of discovering your deepest personal needs, hopes, and dreams. It means moving away from failure and mediocrity, and striving to be the best you can be; a longing emerges to be a different kind of leader than we have so frequently had.
This longing to be different demands focusing on others and not yourself, on others’ achievements and not on your own, on service and not climbing the promotional ladder, on others’ gifts and not your own, on others’ competence and not your authority, on taking care of others and not self-aggrandizement, on seeking the best for others and not what is in it for you. In leadership all this leads to a different set of priorities: not self but others, not power but service, not authority but collaboration, not control but facilitation, not personal vision but shared vision, not telling others but listening to them.
Changing your attitudes and behaviors is a long process, but it begins quietly in your heart, when you feel moved to choose a different direction in your way of leading. This will not just happen by chance but will require self-scrutiny and ongoing discernment. Strangely enough, this process is not one of acquiring new ideas, skills, or practices, but more one of getting to the heart of your leadership. It is more a project of sandblasting rather than adding another coat of paint! peeling away false values and letting the best of oneself shine through. Longing to be different comes to mean longing to be your true self. In the center of each one’s heart there is a zone of natural goodness, and that is where you find the values of authentic leadership. Clearly, you need skills of implementation and management, but leadership is always a matter of heart, spirit, and soul.
A person like you who wants to be a spiritual leader needs to make this longing practical in daily decisions that show how you seek and are determined to be different. If you prepare well, then what is ordinary to some people will never be ordinary to you. The only thing each one can do is live one’s own truth. But this needs lots of careful and deliberate preparation.
When you dedicate yourself to become a spiritual leader, you are at the same time purifying life, and this not only makes you a better leader but a better spouse, parent, friend, and a member of the human community. Such a person rejects the deadliest sins that corrupt one’s life. Pride is the sin of those who arrogantly show disrespect for others’ needs and rights to justice, who always expect to be given special treatment, who do not like to be challenged, who expect a big payoff when terminated for incompetence, who feel only they are responsible for success. Avarice is the sin of those who are never content with what they have but who always want more of everything that makes their own lives materially better. They deprive others of what they need simply to have more themselves. Lust is the sin of those who use their place in an organization for sexual satisfaction, or who lust for power, position, status, and benefits. They create luxurious offices and lust for ever bigger clumsier firms, too big to fail. Anger is the sin that appears when some people are challenged, asked to change, asked to do what is just, asked to bring balance into their organizations. Such people get angry at others’ negative evaluations and reviews, and turn their anger against subordinates who do not achieve unrealistic goals. Gluttony is the commonest sin among many in leadership today as they want more and more salaries that are out of control, golden parachutes for achieving very little. They are gluttonous for respect, status, fringe benefits, the adulation of others, and offices and personal treatment beyond reality. Today’s greedy always want more, never want to share even a little of what they have. They are also greedy to have everything their own way. Envy is the sin of those who become sad and angry at others’ successes, at others who get contracts they wanted, at others’ payment packages that they think they deserve. Sloth is the sin of those who do nothing about perennial problems, make no effort to resolve situations that cause suffering to millions, take easy solutions, or do nothing to protect workers’ dignity. While always active for their own benefit, they are lazy in taking care of others. Spiritual leaders who see these failings in others must have the courage to say to them “get away from me; I don’t want to be like you.”
I would like to draw your attention to this new printing of my book, The One Thing Necessary: The Transforming Power of Christian Love, published by ACTA Publications (www.actapublications.com). Many writers today speak about the importance of love in leadership development, and I hope you might find this helpful. This book is available from ACTA or from amazon.com.
This radical new interpretation of love as the touchstone of the Christian message, explores the human longing for meaning; the Scriptures; the relational model of the Trinity: the ideas of human vocation, destiny and community; the mystical spiritual traditions; and his own experiences to explain what love is, how we find it, and how it can change the world. Each of the seven chapters contains several quotes and focus points at the beginning and provocative questions at the end for reflection or discussion by adult religious education and bible study groups.
“This book is all about love—and love as the one thing necessary. It is most certainly not about easy love or cheap grace. It is about the transforming power of Christian love. It is not only challenging but disturbing, a book written with conviction and passion.”
“[Doohan’s] artful gathering and arranging of ideas reminds one of the impact of a gigantic bouquet of mixed flowers chosen individually and with great care.”
“Would that we heard more about this in our churches and religious discussions because, “this transforming power of Christian love will save the world” (p. 93).
Every generation presents us with outstanding leaders, and our own is no exception. However, we have also faced overwhelming failures of leadership, so much so that leadership today is a dark place where at times we are afraid to go. So much harm has been done by our leaders’ cold hands of malice, selfishness, arrogance, and greed that we are filled with anger and even more with anguish at what has happened. Any analysis of political, business, or religious leadership easily leads us to despair. We often feel immersed in a numbness and helplessness as we wonder where all the good leaders have gone.
Men and women who are willing to offer themselves to the service of leadership must mourn the failures of contemporary leadership, savor that failure, face, identify, express disgust at the greed, loss of values, selfishness, and incompetence we see in abundance. All this is part of a process of purification of the destructive models of leadership. But creating the alternative seems too much for us to achieve; it is a dark night in which we are helpless without the transformative interventions of God. Acknowledging our helplessness in face of overwhelming negativity is also a valuable experience of preparation.
Christianity has traditionally identified seven serious failings that go against everything that Christianity stands for, and we generally refer to these failings as the seven deadly sins, or the seven capital sins. They are a summary of the wasteland of failed leadership that men and women of good will must strive to overcome if they wish to be great leaders. These seven deadly sins are pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. It is appropriate to apply these failings to an analysis of one’s own life but, more importantly, to interpret them in relation to social and specifically leadership failures that we must prepare ourselves to avoid.
In my last blog post I spoke about leadership and self control. This is so often lacking today and it is a key component of healthy spiritual leadership. As you aspire to great leadership and concentrate on remote preparations of self-control, you will also need to assess your attitudes to others. When you see in yourself a desire for power over others, then you must root this out immediately. Many tendencies we notice in ourselves are perhaps only small at first, but they are never stationary or static; they are always growing. Those “leaders” who disturb us today were not always the way they turned out; they just allowed small negative attitudes to grow, unchecked. If you put down others, expect others to serve you, use others for your benefit, or worse still abuse others—you must counteract these negative tendencies by systematically doing the opposite—not power over others but service, not abuse of others but daily signs of respect, not manipulation of others but mutuality, not exaggerated competitiveness but collaboration, not using others but celebrating their gifts.
Great leadership requires the priority of people over organizations. Those who work within organizations cannot make decisions exclusively on money matters, or thoughtlessly terminate people and bring suffering to their families just to give balance to the fourth quarter earnings. People who want to be spiritual leaders stem the negative and at times abusive elements in a working environment. In times of preparation men and women with potential for leadership reassess their attitudes to organizational life and institutional development, so that they foster just approaches to people within organizations. If you yearn to embody spiritual leadership you must appreciate organizational defects and pledge to remove them from your own life. Self-control practiced in preparation for leadership helps us become our best selves, to develop just relationships to others, to establish a sense of mutuality, community, and shared vision and values.
There are many ways we can remotely prepare ourselves to become good spiritual leaders, and one of these is to concentrate on self-control.
In the last couple of decades, we have witnessed a lot of reckless, wanton uncontrolled greed—whether for money, power, ideological purity, and so on—from many managers who have destroyed financial institutions, healthcare organizations, service industries, religious priorities, and even nations. Some have even pleaded for government regulations or international interventions because they recognize that they cannot regulate themselves. They know they are out of control. As a leader you need to live ethically, with integrity, and this means first of all being able to control your own negative tendencies. This first step implies breaking away from self-centeredness through a regime similar to an exercise program; this self-control is a form of spiritual conditioning for one’s mind, spirit, and heart. Mature leaders generally know their own weaknesses, are aware of their own sinfulness, are sadly conscious of the basic evil in our world, and they know they need to develop self-control.
Self-control is really a re-education of one’s values, focusing on one’s central goodness and moving away from self-centeredness to other-centeredness. This requires reflection, charity towards others, identification of potential addictions, and moderation of one’s passions. All this requires a spirit of sacrifice, a commitment to avoid exaggerations, a monitoring of one’s time, and a willingness to reject comparisons with others for the satisfaction of one’s own presumed betterness. Spiritual leadership does not just happen. It demands a specific preparation that prudent people take to guarantee they will never become like the sick or inadequate leaders we have seen in recent years.
If you wish to become a spiritual leader you must limit negative concepts, attitudes, and behaviors in yourself. This gradual removal of the negative components of one’s life is a preparation to become a leader who serves others without ever evidencing these failures. These preliminary efforts include self-control in the use of food, drink, drugs, sex, or an exaggerated emphasis on one’s own comfort. It will also include the elimination of an acquisitive tendency, a possessive accumulation of things whether one needs them or not. This emphasis on possessiveness in money, goods, and services leads to a false exaggerated notion of one’s own importance. If you do not remove all these forms of self-gratification and self-centeredness, then your leadership is destined to failure.
Emphasize the Christian dimensions of your leadership.
I want to emphasize the specifically Christian contribution to leadership. Jesus Christ is a model of what leadership can be. His action of washing the disciples’ feet epitomized his approach to servant leadership. He described himself as a good shepherd who was always willing to lay down his life for his followers. He insisted that all his followers must, like him, be ready to serve others and never seek to be served by others. Jesus’ life and ministry offer us the major components of a model of leadership that is still valid today. Jesus’ leadership was based on a spiritual experience and before each period in Jesus’ ministry we find him immersed in a close relationship with God, a specific experience that prepared for the period ahead. Jesus led by calling people together in loving solidarity; he never focused just on those with whom he worked, but influenced everyone with whom he came in contact. The vision Jesus pursued implied change at all levels of society, in fact he offered a new comprehensive way of looking at life, as he sought not only personal transformation but societal transformation too. One of the characteristics of Jesus’ leadership was that he rarely dealt with the powerful people of his day—except to denounce their corruption, rather he empowered others, especially the fainthearted, poor, and uneducated. He gave no priority to status, power, wealth, or privilege, but gave voice to everyone. He broke stereotypes, rejected social boundaries, and accepted diversity. In fact, his leadership went well beyond religious renewal to include a comprehensive reform of political, economic, and social systems.
In a Christian vision of leadership, people are first, not products or processes. This means trust, vision, hope, and spirit are a leader’s primary qualities. It requires that leaders need energy, enthusiasm, creativity, combined with humility if they are to serve the common good. These leaders will be trusted and trusting, inspired and inspiring, transformed and transforming, healed and healing, influenced by a vision and influencing others to be visionaries, and motivated by hope while bringing hope to others.
In a Christian vision of leadership the intangibles of leadership are more important than the tangibles. The former are constitutive components of leadership, the latter are means, techniques, skills, and strategies. Leadership training has generally focused on the latter, seeing those components as the real, hard issues of leadership development. This has been an incorrect emphasis and has led us down the wrong path. The intangibles, often considered the vague, soft issues of leadership, are very important. They create a new environment, a new sense of purpose, a new spirit of community, a new commitment to shared vision and values, and all these components are important in contemporary leadership. They are not secondary but integral to leadership success and moreover they significantly affect the bottom line in any company.
Insights of the Christian tradition must permeate all we do, as we immerse ourselves in developmental stages in spiritual leadership. This approach ca be enlightening, challenging, and irresistible for those who sense a vocation to leadership. When all is said and done, leaders are disciples, followers of the Servant Leader
- Take courage in your pursuit of spiritual leadership.
I want to encourage the fainthearted in their pursuit of spiritual leadership. I am convinced that the road to leadership greatness passes through spiritual renewal. I urge each of you readers to become the leader you are called to be. Only a small percentage will be interested because of the addictions to power, status, and money that attract and hinder so many in their pursuit of leadership greatness. But there are others, and I would like to tap the potential of these leaders to be great. What we need to acknowledge from the outset is great leaders always pass through the challenging experience of conversion. My hope is to help you develop a process that leads to personal transformation and thus enables you to become a great leader. Great leaders are not born, they gradually grow and mature into who they are capable of being for the benefit of others. Ordinary people can become great leaders; we must let the best rise to the top of leadership.
Leadership is a work of the heart, a courageous heart. In this book’s approach, a leader is motivated by a vision of hope. Since leadership is a vocation, the leader is not struggling to move forward, but he or she is being drawn forward by something or someone greater than himself of herself. So, even the fainthearted can take courage and move with confidence, for leadership is not what you do but what God is doing in and through you. The best leaders are not always the most knowledgeable or talented, but those who are open-hearted, open-minded, and receptive to the call and challenge of God; those who let themselves be guided and directed for the good of others. These leaders can influence others as far as is needed, can motivate others to leadership, are happy to disappear from the scene and give credit to others, and can then reappear in a new venture to lead in a new way.
So often today, leaders are unknown and unsung heroes, simple people with big hearts. They begin their work locally and gradually have an impact on large sections of society. Many are fainthearted and prefer the hidden life. Sometimes they stay there and effect local change, sometimes they are recognized and brought into public view and appreciation. Even television channels celebrate these gifts to community service. So to each of you, reading this book, even if at times you feel lost, I say you can become a better leader, you can become the leader you long to be. May this book challenge you to evaluate all aspects of your leadership and courageously move in the direction of growth and maturity.
REDISCOVER GREAT LEADERSHIP: Reflection 7–Let your leadership give the world something to think about
I offer an approach to leadership that will give the world something to think about. I just cannot take failed leadership anymore! I am fed up and disgusted with our “leaders” in all walks of life; angry at the disastrous situations in politics, at the disgusting aspects of business greed, at the pathetic loss of direction from religion. I know leadership development is always within constraints, but we have to stop this roller coaster, initiate a shake-up of leadership that for too long has been immersed in incompetence, corruption, and secrecy, and has done so much harm to all organizations including religion. We must insist that people in charge be leaders; but this might be too much to expect given the culture of arrogance, corruption, greed, and selfishness that we see all around us and the desperate need of pseudo leaders to preserve the status quo. The steady and relentless erosion of values, of service to the common good, of generous dedication, of a vocational response to God’s call, must be replaced by a renewed dedication to spiritual leadership and to these values. This will happen slowly at first, one step and one leader at a time, but it will be contagious, and eventually will reach a critical mass, and then lots of people will think of leadership in a different way.
Our contemporary world evidences both the “kingdom of darkness” and the “kingdom of light,” but the former seems much more powerful than the latter. Good leadership is rare. Current forms of leadership are not working; even small problems become intractable, and we lack people who can break through the barriers that prevent resolution of important issues in politics, social life, and religion. Key people in the world need to think about new visions, priorities, relationships, goals, means, and strategies. We must find leaders who can create interruptions in the way we have been thinking, force us to stop and reflect, and open us to something different. We need leaders who will not prolong the best of the present, but lead us to the future from a vision of hope. We need leaders who will not embody the worst of humanity, but lead with an awareness that there exist two horizons to life—this one and the one beyond. We need leaders who will not pursue their own selfish goals, but lead from love, justice, and mutual appreciation. We need leaders who will not be fixated with getting to the top, but lead through an extensive commitment to service of others.
There is always tension in leadership between the here and now and the there and then, between the already and the not yet. We need leaders with a new understanding of commitment, who work out of simplicity, who seek direction in contemplation, and who can unlock the potentials of the heart; leaders who act deliberately, always making decisions in light of what is the most loving thing to do. Their action is enlightened, they humbly revise all they do, and they are always involved in ongoing self-formation. The “kingdom of darkness” will not like this approach, but it is needed, and it is the focus of this book. Leaders today need always to review what constitutes good leadership and bad leadership.
I propose there are no great leaders without a commitment to spirituality. If size, balance sheets, status, personnel numbers, salary, profits, power, and so on, determined great leaders then some Wall Street executives, healthcare industry CEOs, politicians, even religious administrators would be great leaders, and obviously many are not. The problem with many of these people is that they make enormous sacrifices of their integrity to remain in power. Rather, inner values, convictions, spirit, and openness to transcendence are the qualities that determine great leadership. We must give serious consideration to the intangibles of spiritual leadership, if we are going to change the kind of approach to leadership from what we see now to what we must attain.
Spirituality refers to a person’s efforts to become the best he or she is capable of being, to become his or her authentic self. Spirituality is the ordering of our lives so that everything we do reflects the values we hold deep within our hearts—honesty, justice, integrity, service, community, hope, and love. In some ways, spirituality is all about relationships; our relationship with ourselves—always striving to be the best we can be; our relationships with others—treating them with respect, seeking what is good for them, serving them, pursuing the common good; relationships with community organizations and structures—utilizing them for the betterment of people and not as ends in themselves; and relationships with God before whom we must judge ourselves and the kind of leadership we espouse.
So, I seek the integration of human knowledge and leadership development with an integral spiritual calling, for spirituality is part of who we are, and we can never be our true selves without it. Leadership without spirituality would be a body without soul. Spirituality gives life to our leadership. A great leader must point to values beyond this world and work within the framework of leadership in light of convictions regarding values beyond the immediate horizon of life. Thus, spiritual leaders climb the heights of leadership by living and sharing values of the Spirit, by leading with spiritual conviction, by being constantly motivated by the vision of the future in hope. I say all this because I believe in a vision of life within the plan of God. All this contrasts with the betrayal of values we have witnessed in so many failed leaders of recent decades.