Category Archives: Leadership
I want to help those of good will who want to become great leaders. We seem at times to be in an irreversible stall when it comes to leadership development. Many people are given authority and power way beyond their competence, and followers must often protect themselves from the irredeemable incompetence of their bosses. We have to acknowledge, with great sadness, that we are surrounded with failures in leadership. However, there are many men and women of good will who could become great leaders to the benefit of society, but at times they just do not make it. Sometimes they cannot bring themselves to make the first demanding steps that could lead to quality leadership, possibly they feel unworthy, or sometimes they have initial fear of the demands that lie ahead. Although endowed with lots of good will, some have been misguided, trained with wrong priorities, led to believe they do not have what it takes to become a great leader, or have been encouraged to model themselves on other leaders who lack the genuine focus of authentic leadership. Clearly, we do not want more of what we have had to tolerate. Some programs and courses on leadership are a hindrance to the kind of leadership that is needed today; thus, some become very competent in skills that harm rather than help organizations and their members. It is sad to see many continue in their immature approaches to leadership because they do not know how to break away from the inappropriate methods and training that have been suggested in the past, or because they lack the guidance they need, or because they lack the strength of will to accept the sacrifices that contemporary leadership implies. Some even resist the call they hear in the depths of their hearts to serve others in a transformed leadership.
I am not undertaking this particular project because I think I see things no one else does. We have benefitted so much from the insights on leadership presented by many scholars and practitioners. I have detailed references to the great contemporary experts in leadership in my previous two books on leadership. However, I have worked all over the world with wonderful people, many great leaders from all walks of life, and have learned so much from them, both in appreciating what led to their successes and in identifying the unfulfilled yearnings of others. At the same time I have seen so many men and women who long to give themselves to the service of others, but just cannot get things moving. They work tirelessly, read and study all the latest insights into leadership development, and attend conferences and workshops that they believe will help. There comes a moment when one needs to pause and ask “Is what I am doing helping me become a great leader?” Often the answer is no; neither the system, nor the leadership model, nor the means suggested are working. Then it is time to stop and acknowledge that we must move in a different direction if we want to foster great leadership, and I offer the reflections in this book to challenge you to do that. If you are a person of good will and long to serve others by your leadership, there is every chance you can become a great leader, provided you focus on the appropriate preparation and consciously participate in the stages of growth indicated in the chapters ahead. This is a menu of floating ideas that can enrich your commitment.
When we look at so-called leaders around the world and in our local experience, there seem to be so many mediocre ones and only a few that seem positively exceptional. So many now have a reduced ideal of what it means to be called to serve the community in leadership positions. So, I would like to use the next several blog posts to share with readers the challenge and the hope that we can rediscover what great leadership can be. In the first of these posts I wish to ask you to think about leaders and leadership in a new way.
1. Think about leaders and leadership in a new way.
I would like to urge you to think about leadership and leaders in a new way and especially about the need for integration between leadership and spirituality. Nowadays, I have less interest in what leadership is and does and more interest in who has the potential to be a great leader and how he or she can attain it. Thus, I want to leave aside the discipline of leadership and focus on the inner transformed life that helps one become a great leader. I find that nowadays, we use the word “leadership” too loosely. We use it for many business people who are the antithesis of leadership, who have no desire to lead people anywhere, and in fact prey on others rather than guide them. We use it for many religious administrators who have contributed next to nothing to the spiritual development and renewal of their people. We use it for many healthcare executives, pledged to heal, who withhold their money from those most in need of healing. Titles such as executives, CEOs, presidents, bishops, generals, commanders, trustees, senators, all seem to suggest leadership, but recent history and experience confirm that there is no such automatic connection. Many are good people but others are not prepared to be leaders in today’s complicated world.
I want to share with you the importance of authentic spirituality for leaders. We all know what leaders need to do, the skills and behaviors they need, and their ongoing refocusing as a result of experiences. From my many contacts with people struggling to be good leaders, I am convinced that who the leader is and the life direction he or she chooses are determinative of success more than anything else. Response to destiny is critical for quality leaders. That is why for the next few blog posts I will focus on the person of the leader and the steps he or she must take in order to facilitate the transformation necessary to be a contemporary spiritual and effective leader. My hope is that readers will participate in this process of transformation. However, the first step is to think about leaders and leadership in a new way.
Integrity is directly linked to the pursuit of excellence. Persons who are really in touch with themselves make the best leaders. They evidence dignity in their service of others and appear to others as having healthy self esteem, socially satisfied, and fulfilled. They are known for their abiding sense of excellence, inner directedness, integrity, and commitment. These moral leaders are creators and stewards of core values; while always sensitive to the needs of followers, they above all stand tall for the values of the organization. They affirm, regenerate and renew institutions. They freely choose their own identity, and it includes to be known for integrity. They constantly foster trust, maintain open communication, and can let go of their own control to others. They are aware that their leadership has lasting value on their own lives, the quality of their work, the development of their community, and society in general. Such leaders gain stature among their peers, respect from superiors, even when they do not agree, admiration from people who do not share their views, and personal vocational fulfillment. Leaders who have integrity can handle conflict well for they are always willing to learn and always ready to treat others with understanding and compassion. They can relieve anger in a group by allowing discussion of the “undiscussible,” in fact, they can do the same with their opposition. Having worked hard for something and even been committed to it, they can also conclude with inner freedom and a non-defensive approach “this reality is no longer acceptable.”
Motivated by authenticity, ethical sensibility, and genuine spirituality, leaders of integrity are people of inner serenity and peace, resist being controlled, learn to skillfully neglect the petty or inauthentic values of their own organizations, find common ground with all kinds of groups, and can give comfort or create disturbance as appropriate. They love the institutions they lead and at the same time maintain a healthy skepticism toward them. Their authenticity and integrity lift the spirits of everyone and give hope to followers and community around them.
Followers give power and authority to people of integrity (referent power), they are proud of their organization, feel a genuine sense of ownership of it, and experience team spirit with the leader. Perhaps the greatest result in the lives of leaders of integrity is that they transform their institutions through ongoing conversion. Facilitating institutional conversion is a leader’s primary task and is impossible without individual integrity. It needs to be clear to followers what the leader stands for and that he or she will be firmly dedicated to the mission and vision.
How to Become a Great Spiritual Leader: Ten Steps and a Hundred Suggestions
This is a book for daily reflection. It has a single focus—how to become a great spiritual leader. It is a book on the spirituality of a leader’s personal life. It presumes that leadership is a vocation, and that it results from an inner transformation. The book proposes ten steps that individuals can take to enable this process of transformation, and a hundred suggestions to make this transformation real and lasting. It is a unique book in the literature on leadership. This book is a challenge to think about leadership in a new way. People who follow these steps will give the world something to think about regarding what leadership ought to be and can be.
1. Rediscover great leadership.
2. Emphasize remote preparation
3. Set a new direction for your leadership
4. Accept your vocation of leadership
5. Implement your call in a vision
6. Live your vision with courage and perseverance
7. Establish supports for your spiritual leadership
8. Evaluate your leadership: an artist’s challenge
9. Work with your followers-disciples.
10. Accept ten personal reflections
This book is the third in a series on leadership. The first, Spiritual Leadership: The Quest for Integrity gave the foundations of leadership today. The second, Courageous Hope: The Call of Leadership, gave the contemporary characteristics and qualities of leadership. This third book focuses on the spirituality of the leader.
Leonard Doohan’s books on leadership have been described as “highly readable,” “profound and caring,” “clear and challenging,” “a profound guidebook for leaders of the future,” “beyond or better beneath many current volumes,” “elegant, powerful, forthright.” Commentators have said “I highly recommend,” “He strengthens our resolve,” “Read every word,” “He restores our hope,” “Learn how to this kind of leader.”
This book is available from amazon.com
I’d like to continue some reflections on this theme of coaching followers, a topic I dealt with before the summer vacations. Coaching followers is an important quality of spiritual leaders. Coaching others requires that leaders be reflective, have political savvy, and maintain spiritual depth. Reflection is needed to receive creativity, political savvy is needed to deal with and direct the resulting changes, and spiritual depth is needed to preserve balance and perspective amidst the change. Coaching others presumes intensity of conviction in the leader who is striving to manage, then empower, and finally liberate the performance of others. Intensity of conviction is very subjective, self-confident, and can be influential, and it must be managed by a genuine respect for others and their views, an attitude of benevolence toward others and their as-yet-unknown responses, and an openness to be changed by others’ input.
Coaching others means helping followers see the excitement that comes with change and crisis and training them to invest in innovative skills that gives the ability to provide alternative solutions that others do not. Coaching others means challenging others to exceed their potential and in doing so exceed one’s own. All this is part of serving others in new circumstances, even relishing change because it gives opportunities to serve perennially in different situations. Approaching change in this way requires humility, passion, boldness, and courage. Coaching for times of change means helping followers retain high levels of self esteem, intensity of conviction, and self-confidence linked to humility. It also insists that simple aspects of life should not be neglected—appearance, verbal skills, body language, patience, politeness and civility.
Managers quickly become obsolete, whereas leaders know their tasks are ongoing. They continue to form, support, and coach the new leaders to whom they delegate responsibility. The goals of leadership outlive the leader in his or her followers. However the leader does not withdraw after delegation but continues to be supportive by fostering personal growth and deeper understanding, offering feedback, and building new skills in followers. Leadership means giving of your best and getting others to give their best too.
Dedicated leaders live in a state of continued dissatisfaction with things as they are and are always striving for something more from themselves and their followers. To be satisfied would mean losing the vision. Thus, leaders continue to model the vision, to proclaim the ideals of the organization by building-up its image, to transmit a shared vision with persuasiveness and inspiration, to demand high expectations of followers, to support followers with high levels of confidence, and to motivate others to the best of which they are capable. A leader helps followers grow in their own leadership style, stressing the ongoing quality of their work, their organizational and societal contributions, and their quality life. A leader will always need to show flexibility, seeking each follower’s way of leading. The only part of vision in which the leader shows no flexibility is the continuing need for commitment to values.
One of the key qualities of spiritual leaders is the ability to coach their followers. Change-leaders encourage their followers to look at things in a different way. This means understanding followers, the way they think, and the way they do things. It implies training them to go away from present views at least long enough to be influenced by something different. But coaching must be done skillfully, and it generally implies giving people important work to do, discretion and autonomy over this work, visibility and recognition for what they do, and the know-how to establish connections with people of power and position. Coaching followers requires strategic skills–modeling a form of leadership based on vision and values, establishing trust among a group of followers, training in team performance, collaborative learning and partnership building. A leader needs to allow followers to improvise and then to learn from their success and failures. There is no risk-taking without error, but no newly created future without risk-taking. Above all, a leader who wishes to coach others to be visionaries must let others have control over their own lives, for it is this sense of freedom that capitalizes on an individual=s energy, creativity, and enthusiasm. When a leader can encourage a sense of risk and improvisation in others and link these approaches to humility, then provided there is a solid foundation of competence and genuine perseverance in dedication to values, a leader can unleash profound power, passion, boldness, and courage in the organization. McLean and Weitzel (Leadership: Magic, Myth, or Method, 186) suggest six steps to unleash leadership potential in oneself or others: 1. Practice influencing others, 2. See similarities between self and others, 3. Recognize and meet others= expectations, 4. Accept and let go of leadership roles, 5. Provide support for each other, 6. Always know your own worth and accept your own stature.
In a recent blog I shared with you some ideas concerning a spiritual leader’s responsibility to train others to a shared vision. Here I continue those ideas.
Leaders serve as facilitators and animators of a common vision. They know that no individual owns the vision to share with followers, but that the vision is built around that shared identity of the group. Shared values in a healthy corporate culture are the most important unifying force of the group. A good leader will achieve this through a process of vision development. The group participates in predetermining the vision either by their involvement or apathy. Sometimes a group will need a leader to identify their distinctive contributions, selecting, synthesizing, articulating, and revising the group’s values. Groups often cannot express their own mission, but they can recognize it when a leader they trust articulates their enduring values for them. Thus a leader can focus others’ attention and create in them a pervading passionate commitment for a vision that is unknowingly within them. A leader attains consensus by making conscious what lies unconscious in the followers, calling them to articulate what is important to them in the core of their being.
Identifying a shared vision will require collaborative styles of learning, new group techniques for sharing ideas, and new skills of consultation, dialogue, group goal-setting, and strategic planning. The group together seeks solutions, finds the common ground of unity and community, and searches for the synergy that common problem solving and planning can produce. These creative forms of collaboration expand the group’s thinking, and can generate new meaning to the group’s decisions. These early efforts to identify a shared vision is an experience of interdependency.
The leader will push down as far as possible not only consultation and decision making but also planning, strategizing, and goal setting. The team or group takes over the role of the hierarchy in an organization. However, to assure that the vision is shared within the organization, the leader will train groups to keep others in the next group above or below them informed about the essential components of the vision.
To identify a shared vision, a leader appreciates that the vision must turn inward to the group, but the focus must be on the people who are served by the vision. He or she will take the vision seriously enough to seek out needed resources to attain it. Identifying a shared vision cannot be restricted to one’s working life since a vision that enthuses people will do so because it touches their core values that will be the same in personal, community, and social life.
Groups do not pursue a vision that they do not own. Vision refers to what a group is convinced it should be doing in a given time and situation. Leaders must generate ownership of the vision they find in themselves and their followers; and this can take a long time, and much patience and fortitude. It is often said that leaders must leave followers a legacy, and surely it is the legacy that everyone has a part of the vision; everyone is individually important to the common enterprise.
5. TEACH A NEW UNDERSTANDING OF COMMITMENT
One key practice that spiritual leaders can emphasize is to teach others a new understanding of commitment. Spiritual leaders embody both professional commitment and discretionary commitment. Every good spiritual leader challenges self and followers to wholehearted commitment. The spiritual leader links professional commitment to the integral human, spiritual maturing of self and each follower. Professional commitment becomes part of one’s spirituality and thus draws out discretionary dedication from everyone. In this context outstanding performance is a matter of personal growth, integrity, character development, and simply being who one feels called to be. Leaders must fire followers’ hearts to see professional dedication and spirituality as two facets of the same life.
Such leaders enthuse followers to be dedicated to a shared vision that can fill everyone with hope. Commitment relates to the future and so includes imagination, contemplation, and hope. This implies networking to discover other people’s hopes and constantly urging and encouraging others to be open to the unexpected. Commitment is essentially making the vision of hope real in the present.
This commitment to hope implies transformative action as part of one’s dedication. Leaders of hope not only have a deep capacity for hope but a life-long dedication to realizing the future we long for. Doing well needs to be permeated by doing good; ethics matters in one’s commitment. This includes strengthening the conviction that work leads to transformation. The primary commitment of a leader is personal transformation; all else follows from this focus.
Commitment is relational. Others are included in our commitment as we are in theirs. It means sharing experiences, integrating individual and communal dedication to shared goals—professional and personal. This approach calls for mutual trust, benevolence towards each other, and shared hope. It implies mutual dedication to draw out the best in everyone and to capitalize on the unique contribution each one can make.
Commitment is to each other to work synergetically. Synergy means working together of unlike elements to create desirable results greater than the independent parts can do. No one can achieve significant transformation alone. Commitment of each one is everyone’s business. This “fusion leadership” makes productivity and professional development a part of personal and communal spirituality. This kind of leadership “is about joining, coming together, creating connections and partnerships. It is about reducing barriers by encouraging conversations, information sharing, and joint responsibility across boundaries”. (a good book to consult on this topic would be Richard L. Daft and Robert H. Lengel, Fusion Leadership: Unlocking the Subtle Forces that Change people and Organizations (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1998).
Commitment means encouraging each other to be leaders. No one can be passive, for we live in a time of great need for quality leadership. Everyone needs to be inspired but also inspire, to be motivated but also to motivate, to be healed but also to heal, to be taught but also to teach, and to be led but also to lead. This commitment to mutual leadership implies humility, listening, mutual appreciation, and a sense of group development.
Commitment not only implies excellence, hope, transformative action, sharing, fusion, and mutual leadership, but it calls for selfless, loving service at every level of the organization. Leaders can no longer hide from major trends in contemporary society or become faceless to the social needs for justice and equality. In practice this means one’s commitment includes daily striving to understand others, share with them, and receive emotional support, show care and mutual compassion. This loving service will also manifest quality commitment in collaboration in culturally and gender diverse situations. For a leader of hope commitment is not merely to a job well done, but to a vision of community.
1. Think about ways you can make an ideal future alive today.
2. Ask yourself why are you dedicated at work and what is the quality of your commitment.
3. Check how you contribute to the development of your colleagues.
4. If you contribute more on your own than with others, ask why.
5. Identify the links between your professional dedication and personal spirituality.
4. ASK QUESTIONS NO ONE ELSE DOES
Leadership deals with establishing the vision of hope in our contemporary human communities. This means going beyond what leaders have done in the past. It means struggling with more fundamental questions, living in a state of sustained dissatisfaction with what has been achieved, looking to the future in hope, and being willing to live with the tensions of human frailty in its search for the best human values. All this will mean new ways of looking at the world, new experiments in community interaction, and new percolating structures. Leadership questions today are philosophical and theological. How does what I do affect the human community? How do my decisions reflect the best plan for humanity? Am I maturing as a human being through my leadership? Am I aware of my covenant with the organization I serve and of the organization’s covenant with its customers, shareholders, and so on? Do I serve the common good? Do my colleagues and I reflect the best of humanity? Does my leadership image the past or explore the future? Stephen Harper in his book, The Forward-Focused Organization, p. 108, pointed out that “Some executives answer questions that arise. Others identify questions that need answers. Others come up with the answers before anyone knows the questions.”
When a spiritual leader makes decisions, he or she should ask why am I doing this, not only in the short term but in the long term too. In later life will I be proud of what I do today? Am I exploring enough? Who will be affected by what I do and how? Can I live with the impact my decisions will have on people? Is my decision not only good for the firm and its shareholders, but also for the workers, their families, and this community? As I make a decision would my spouse or closest friends be proud of what I am doing? Would a mentor or someone I have always looked up to take pride in knowing they contributed to what I do?
Spiritual leaders ask themselves if they are anticipating the future for which they strive? If there are hurdles can they jump over them? Can they find potentialities for good in the negativity they face? Sometimes it will simply mean reframing the issues, other times it will necessitate a questioning of stereotypical reactions. Then the questions must focus proactively on alternatives for the future beyond current trends and probable outcomes; questions that do not imply looking to the future from here but looking to the present from a believed-in and hoped-for future. What are the alternatives that we can use to achieve our goals equally well but which do more good?
Looking with foresight at the many opportunities ahead, leaders will need to be courageous and venturesome. When they recognize a window of they should ask for what is this truly an opportunity? Looking to the future never means abandoning the past. A great leader knows how to capitalize on ideas that are both new and old. These are wise leaders who plunge into unfamiliar depths, transform situations, turn the status quo into something special, and tie a familiar past with a new reality. Spiritual leaders constantly ask themselves whether what they are doing is in keeping with the best of who we are as human beings?
1. Question yourself on the reasons for your decisions.
2. Do not offer answers until you have exhausted the questions.
3. See yourself and encourage others to see you as a person who asks questions not as someone who gives answers.
4. Ask questions about the future not the past.
5. Ask beyond and beneath what others ask.
2. APPRECIATE WHAT LIES BEYOND NORMAL HORIZONS.
Some leaders are entrapped in the parameters they have established. They pace around inside their own cage, the stronger eating the weaker, and they call this success. Not only is there a world outside the narrow confines of current leaders, but genuine leadership is only found outside such confines. Other so-called leaders plod ahead like the Budweiser horses with blinders on, less they be distracted by realities around them. The vision pursued by the leader of hope lies beyond normal horizons in the plan of God. Such a leader must have a facility in rising from daily occurrences to make connections to transcendent values. This is one of the most practical things anyone can do, for thinking of the vision of promise gives clear understanding and directives for daily life and leadership.
When you see someone being treated unjustly, ask yourself why you made such a conclusion. Are the links between right and wrong, justice and injustice something you have a natural feel for? Why? From where did you get such judgment? What is the measure you are using? When you witness exploitation, abuse, oppression, profiting from underprivileged, making money from undocumented immigrants, why do you consider this abnormal? What should be normal? Why do you think you should treat others as you would wish to be treated? When you hear of bosses rotating from one job to another, barely coping with their responsibilities, but receiving obscene salaries until you can get rid of them so they will do no more damage, how do you think they ought to act and why do you think so? What is the purpose of all our efforts? We work, earn, live, retire; is this all there is? When you look at the emptiness and smallness of the world of organizational development, why are you appalled by some actions and impressed by others?
Some values seem to draw out the best in people. When you see you are loved by someone, for no particular reason, you find that you are loveable and wonder why. Other people are loveable too, for no particular reason, except the fact they exist. Why do we appreciate love so much and just find it is right for everyone, not merited, but just right? Likewise, when you look beyond normal horizons of daily life, you appreciate justice, equality, love, interdependence, and goodness. Why?
Seeing what lies beyond normal horizons leads us to see and experience a loving God, and that experience changes all understandings of leadership. A leader of hope becomes ever more aware of the importance of love. “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). The seeker encounters values beyond normal horizons, and this new focus produces inspirational leadership. The new approach to leadership is more expansive and is based on a worldview that includes transcendent values.
Some spiritual leaders and visionary mystics who have appreciated what lies beyond normal horizons of life speak of their vision as one of beauty. They refer to this self-immersion in values of love, justice, goodness and so on, as an experience of beauty. John of the Cross, a dynamic individual to whom I have previously referred, speaks of seeking the beauty of God, experiencing a certain spiritual feeling of God’s presence, and glimpsing God’s way of dealing with humanity as something of beauty. This beauty is not something visual but rather a glimpse into the harmony that exists in the vision of promise, a grasp of just how right everything is in the vision beyond the normal horizons of life—this is the vision for which the leader of hope strives every day.
1. When faced with decisions, not only ask how, but also why.
2. Spend a little time each day in quiet reflection, empty of concerns, and ready to receive.
3. Look at things that surprise you in life and ask why.
4. Think about why you are loved and loveable.
5. Ask yourself for answers to puzzling attitudes you meet in leaders you know.
For further developments see my book Courageous Hope: The Call of Leadership (Paulist Press, 2011).