Category Archives: Spiritual leadership
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.
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.
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
Focus on who you are as a leader.
We generally presume that leadership is what you do, I am interested in who you are. Leadership makes things happen and works to achieve common goals. There are multiple approaches and no singular formula for success. There are many incarnations of leadership, and we can learn so much from them. However, many who have the skills of leadership have turned out to be total failures as leaders. Even now there are so many “leaders” who are burdens to society, and there are not many honorable resignations from the failed leaders of contemporary organizations. Their addiction to greed in money, power, position, prestige, condemns followers to a limbo, and such people are blocks the emergence of true leaders.
Leadership is not determined by what you do but by who you are. What you then do is a result of the inner values that have transformed your life. Authentic leadership touches every aspect of one’s personality. What a leader does results from the fact that he or she is a reflective and contemplative person, hears a call and responds to it, lives with integrity, works for a shared vision, and makes choices based on spiritual values. The leadership journey is a way of transmitting one’s deepest and most cherished values. Such a leader is competent, motivates followers to values such as justice, service, community, and love. We can all gain so much from contemporary insights into leadership; they are great but inadequate. Today’s leader must go deep within himself or herself to find the authentic self, a purpose in life, and personal destiny, for leadership is who you are and not just what you do.
We need men and women to wish to integrate their leadership with the values they hold dear in the depths of their hearts. It is an invitation to think about oneself and the kind of leader one wishes to become. For such people leadership is a way of living one’s humanity; it is not an add-on, or something one does for a while, in a job; it is the one and only way a man or woman lives. By always living inspired by values of vision and hope he or she will impact those around. Thus, one gives oneself to the service of others as the only way to be authentically present to this world. Leadership is a response to a call felt deep within one’s inner spirit and it requires that a person embody this call in a personal vision of life.
Leaders should appreciate the challenge to greatness.
I want to propose to all who serve in leadership that they discover a renewed appreciation for the personal challenge to greatness. The last couple of decades have given us a lot of insights into leadership: knowledge, skills, and attitudes. However, much of this has clouded the reality that leadership is a vocation. You can have all the skills in the world, but they will not make you into a great leader if you lack the inner spiritual transformation that produces a vision of hope within the plan of God. Moreover, the conviction that everyone is called to participate in leadership has been a great motivator within organizations. However, while everyone is called to participate in leadership not everyone is called to be a great leader. If everyone is a leader, then of course, no one is, and the call to great leadership loses its attraction and fades away. The notion of distributed leadership has blocked the appreciation of the need of exceptional, great leaders. I appreciate that most change percolates up from the grassroots and does not filter down from high up in a structure. Nevertheless, only a great leader perceives this, acts upon it, and guides the process.
We cannot get out of the mess we are in without leaders who appreciate their call to greatness. Like prophets of old, they will be criticized, lonely in their vocation, viewed as outsiders, and rejected for being different. However, all forms of social institutions today are in crisis. No one looks to the majority of today’s “leaders” with hope, since the “leadership” of most of these people depresses us. Even organizations that claim to know about the future hopes of humankind are more frequently attached to the past and need to be dragged screaming into change that can lead society to renewal.
I hope some readers of this blog will be willing to prepare themselves to be leaders. Call is something we cannot control, but those willing can prepare themselves so that when call comes they will be ready. Of course, no one prepares himself or herself to be great, but rather to respond to the need to serve others. Greatness is never pursued for itself; it is always a byproduct of service. There is something noble and satisfying about giving oneself to the betterment of others, to the pursuit of goals that enrich humankind. This is a calling that leads to greatness; leadership is the medium through which one expresses one’s deepest values.
When we look at the responses of people throughout the world to their current leaders, and when we see just how much people are longing for men and women who will lead them out of the mess we are in, then we see that there is a deep yearning for new leaders who will give themselves to public service. We need leaders who will focus on others and not on themselves, on selfless service and not on accumulation of power or wealth, on what is best for each one and not on promoting the latest trivia of their agendas. We must find a way forward for those willing to take it and daily work on how one can nurture the call to leadership.
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.
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.
I would like to continue some reflections on integrity. It is so much needed today. We need leaders who are willing to become men and women of integrity and show others what good spiritual leadership can be like. So, leaders of integrity are self-directed, pro-active, always accountable, passionately committed to others, they take care of themselves, accept their own gifts, celebrate their own values and priorities, are candid with coworkers, and know what vision drives them. For such people, leadership is personal development—a journey from acknowledgment of our false selves to the acceptance of our own personal authenticity. It is also the context for individual and organizational development in which the integrity of the latter depends on the integrity of the former.
But, they also internalize social responsibility, and open to genuine dialogue with all around them, aware that their own experiences are always partial and fragmentary. They accept responsibility, blame no one, and prove every day that their moral centers influence all they do. Personal integrity and social responsibility must also conclude in institutional integrity. At a time when there are so many critics and pseudo experts, a genuine leader stands up courageously for the institution he or she serves, constantly aware of the purpose of institutions and their normal tendency to self corrupt. Endowed with courage of conviction, such leaders can move us beyond the comfort that institutions insist on providing, to the alternative ways of living as a community.
Personal, relational, institutional, and vocational integrity reinforce quality of life and lasting leadership. Leadership lives at the intersection of the authentic and inauthentic, tilting the world toward the authentic. Leadership is always mindful that, as we call forth authenticity we can never forget that the conflicts and ambiguities of action reside not just in the world but also within ourselves. Leadership is a spiritual journey to the depths of one’s inner convictions, where, alone, one hears a call that no one else hears. Inner integrity calls leaders to be real, humane, open to the signs of the times, and confident in themselves and their values. On a more practical level it will require short response time, follow-up to problems, justification for decisions made, creativity, and willingness to be open to hidden opportunities.
Integrity is not a technique to improve one’s leadership. It is integral to one’s humanity and destiny. Everyone needs integrity, but for leaders it is crucial for the success of their leadership.