The Dark Night of Leadership

THE TRANSITION AND CONVERSION TO SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP

Leaders today must be willing to go through a conversion and become different leaders than they have ever been before.  This is a crisis of confidence in what the leader has so far been doing; it is a sense of loss that former successes no longer mean anything; it is the death of past values and the willingness to let them die for they are based on a vision that is too small. The leader who goes through this spiritual experience of passage from a set of old values to a set of new values feels the ground beneath him or her is giving way. He or she grasps that there is more to life than meeting goals and objectives, increasing profits, satisfying shareholders, marketing a successful product or service. People, community, justice, others’ fulfillment, love, and changing the values of society are all more important. All good leaders achieve the former, spiritual leaders also achieve the latter. The transition is a painful conversion, but we desperately need people willing to endure it and participate in the transformation. Leadership must change! We cannot continue with the innumerable failures of recent years. The ashes of previous leadership styles are in the grate, and there is no phoenix to emerge.

The transition through which a good leader passes in becoming a spiritual leader is a dark night. This term, “dark night,” comes from the poetry and commentaries of the Spanish, Christian mystic, John of the Cross, who was also a dynamic and multi-talented organizational leader. The dark night is a stage in spiritual life when one begins to see things in a different way than one ever has before. Sometimes a person cannot see because everything around is dark, but on other occasions a person cannot see because of the brightness of illumination—like standing in the headlights of an on-coming car. “Dark night” for John is the latter experience, and so, for a leader this night can be an illumination of the direction of authentic leadership. The transition to a new level of leadership is an experience of darkness that enables the leader to stop seeing in one way and to start seeing things in a new way. We discover that leadership is not what we thought it was; that leaders do not act in the way we thought they should; that good followers do not react in the ways we thought they would.

These experiences at first shock us, leave us discouraged, and give us a sense of failure in having spent life dedicated to the wrong values. A leader must savor the pain of this loss for he or she must become convinced in the depths of soul that former values are inadequate. For a Christian believer it is God who draws us to a new way of life, fills us with the new values of the vision of promise, and sets us on a new direction in
leadership.

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About Leonard Doohan

Dr. Leonard Doohan is Professor Emeritus at Gonzaga University where he was a professor of religious studies for 27 years and Dean of the Graduate School for 13 years. He has written 17 books and 160 articles and has given over 350 workshops throughout the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the Far East. Leonard's recent books include Spiritual Leadership: the Quest for Integrity, in 2007, Enjoying Retirement: Living Life to the Fullest, in 2010, and Courageous Hope: The Call of Leadership, in 2011. Leonard's wife is Helen who was also a Professor Emerita at Gonzaga, specializing in the writings of Paul.

Posted on October 8, 2011, in Leadership and spirituality, Spirituality and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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