Category Archives: Servant leadership
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).
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.
We must confront the failures of leadership.
I would like to contribute to removing the great question-mark that hangs over leadership. Great institutions, whether in politics, business, social life, healthcare, or religion, are shadows of what they could be. It is heartbreaking to see contemporary “leaders” floundering around in their lack of competence, integrity, and ethics, often struggling for short term gain at other people’s cost, loss, and pain. Others are hung up on ideological points, often non-essentials, while losing sight of the original vision of their organization. Still others arrogantly think they know what is best for their followers, when everyone knows that managers are responsible for most of the mistakes in any organization. Many of our “leaders” are failures, and we spend more time and energy trying to get rid of bad leaders than we do trying to cultivate good ones. As a result, nowadays, so many followers simply ignore their so-called leaders or work hard to manage their leaders’ defects. Let us face it, most of the people we call leaders are at best good managers with a sprinkling of inspiration now and again. Rather than being served by leaders, we often identify our leaders as oppressive forces who put shackles on the powerless. In the middle ages the citizens were allowed one day a year when they made fun of their leaders; it was called “The Feast of Fools.” Nowadays, it would be a daily event, as our organizations are laid waste by fools who claim to lead us.
Not all problems are the result of incompetence, nor of greed and addictions. When you consider leaders in politics, business, and even religion, you may not know what they will do with their leadership once they attain it, but even before they start you know what they will be unable to do. Leaders today work within limitations imposed by lack of education and training, ideologies, psychological problems and agendas of followers, ideas of their backers and benefactors who cannot be offended, and strictures imposed by higher ups. Unhealthy organizations and systems have limiting effects on the good will of men and women who strive to be leaders, reminding us of the need of organizational conversion and of the need to prophetically denounce the arthritic institutions in which they operate.
I seek leaders who will get us beyond the cloud that overshadows today’s leaders and move us to a new reality in which men and women, gifted with management and leadership skills, have something more to offer. They will be dedicated to a vision of hope within the plan of God, will have all the needed skills, attitudes, and behaviors of leadership, will be willing, even eager, to serve followers and the common good, and will have the fortitude needed to endure the pain of being called to serve. We need a new kind of leader, a spiritual leader, motivated by a profound spiritual experience that has touched him or her and is now willing to live in light of this experience. This book gives the steps one can follow to do this, and I hope you will be willing to move in this new direction and answer the call to serve others.
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.
Leadership is given to people of integrity by their followers who can just as easily withdraw it. Some pseudo-leaders can try to achieve credibility by simply acting the part. Followers soon notice this. In fact, when a leader gives merely lip service to something, he or she gets lip service back from followers. Quality leadership is exercised within a trusting environment. Trust is the emotional glue that binds followers and leaders together. When a trusting environment exists followers confidently rely on the authenticity of their leaders. However, a trusting environment also becomes the foundation for mutual respect, confident risk taking, partnership, and collaboration. In a trusting environment both leaders and followers know that each respects the competence of the other, grants them freedom to act and even to make mistakes, indentifies the blind spots throughout the organization, and will always highlight the positive wherever it is to be found. Failed organizations that lack trust still exist all over the world, riddled with control, rigidity, guilt, fear, intimidation, political infighting, suppression of dissent, and so on. These organizations are spiritually impoverished. Creating an environment of trust means eliminating fear of others’ failures or competence, being able to live with ambiguity, always being ready to show flexibility, and appreciating the individuality of each one in the pursuit of a common goal. Creating a trusting environment requires a new set of virtues from leader and follower alike, as they will need to establish clear and practical institutional goals to maintain this working environment in which alone integrity can flourish.
When a leader witnesses to a firm sense of inner and outer reality, opens up all lines of communication, and integrates all into the pursuit of the organization’s goals, he or she binds the organization closer together. Followers recognize the leader’s integrity and feel more intimately part of the organization, are increasingly proud of their organization, and manifest a greater sense of ownership of the organization and its shared vision.
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.
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.
Leadership is part of who we are. There is no possibility of separating leadership from the values of our daily lives. When we see top managers in politics, business, or service industries living a style of leadership that seems closer to dictatorship than anything else, then we must conclude that these are the values of these people’s daily lives. The opposite is also true of course. Namely, that the values of spiritual leadership enable us to become better spouses, parents, and members of community. There is always something immature about autocratic leaders and something noble about genuine servant leaders.
” The evolution and development of a mature inner consciousness provide us with a resiliency, a joy and optimism of life. This inner mastery enables us to assume tasks of leadership by responsibly inspiring hope and confidence among others that the right path will emerge and we finally shall succeed.” (David Ramey, Empowering Leaders, p. 217).
Dedicating ourselves to the development of servant and spiritual leadership will improve our lives.