Category Archives: Spirituality

LEADERSHIP MEANS SETTING A NEW DIRECTION TO YOUR LIFE

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.

 

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GETTING BEYOND THE FAILURES OF LEADERSHIP

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.

REDISCOVER GREAT LEADRSHIP: Reflection 9

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

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.

REDISCOVER GREAT LEADERSHIP: Reflection 5

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.

 

Contemporary Spirituality for Christian Adults

While the concept of spiritual leadership is wider than Christianity, those Christians who wish to dedicate themselves to spiritual leadership need to be well-informed about the essential values of Christianity. Here are two books that help in that regard.

There is a great excitement and enthusiasm among so many people today to deepen their knowledge of their faith and strengthen their spiritual commitment by pursuing the priorities of Jesus. This yearning of so many was met by the teachings and renewal of the Second Vatican Council which attracted people of all walks of life to a more responsible and active dedication to their faith after decades of fostered passivity. After the Second Vatican Council many believers read books and studied their faith. They attended workshops, conferences, courses, and retreats. There was lots of enthusiasm and intense desire to know more about faith and spirituality. We had an informed laity. Unfortunately this is no longer the case today. Much of this enthusiasm has waned, as many Church officials have returned to a pre-Conciliar approach to theology and spirituality and focused more on social-sexual issues rather then evangelical challenges. A Church with these emphases has no future.

A new spirit is stirring in the Church. We must overcome the failures of the past and prepare ourselves for a future of growth and responsibility. Let us rekindle spiritual insight, accept our spiritual destiny, and refocus on the essential teaching of salvation. While many have left the institutional churches, and sadly may never return, perhaps the challenge to renewal of Pope Francis may re-attract them to the essentials of Christian commitment.

The Church  needs to refocus on informed believers, giving them opportunity to deepen their knowledge of the essential teachings of faith and nurture their spirituality. I have written two short books that I believe can help you nurture your faith and spirituality and enable you to be a serious Christian presence in the contemporary world.

These books are short and divided into even shorter sections, so that you can read one section a week to nurture your spiritual life. They include questions for personal reflection. Take an e-book with you on your daily travels and read a section now and again. It will make all the difference to you in your Christian commitment. Form a discussion group around the idea of each book.

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1. Ten Strategies to Nurture Our Spiritual Lives: Don’t stand still—nurture the life within you.

This book presents ten key steps or strategies to support and express the faith of those individuals who seek to deepen their spirituality through personal commitment and group growth. These ten key components of spirituality enable dedicated adults to bring out the meaning of their faith and to facilitate their spiritual growth. It offers a program of reflection, discussion, planning, journaling, strategizing, and sharing.

 

2. Rediscovering Jesus’ Priorities.

This book urges readers to look again at Jesus’ teachings and identify the major priorities. It is a call to rethink the essential components of a living and vital Christianity and a challenge to rediscover the basic values Jesus proclaimed. Use the book for a short meditation and personal examination, as a self-guided retreat to call yourself to renewed dedication to Jesus’ call, or for group discussion and renewed application of Jesus’ teachings.

 

Books are available from amazon.com/author/leonarddoohan

Spiritual leadership and inner self-mastery

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.

SOME PRACTICES THAT SPIRITUAL LEADERS CAN EMPHASIZE

3. THINK, MEDITATE, CONTEMPLATE

Leaders of hope are men and women of wisdom who make their judgments based on a combination of conceptual thinking, imaginative skills, an artistic sense, intuition, contemplative insight, and the system and community skills of love. These components of decision-making imply new ways of thinking, meditating, and contemplating. These leaders process information for judgment in more integrative ways and always in light of the vision of promise. Making practical judgments requires all the usual research and analysis, but it also becomes a work of art, of hope-filled critical analysis, and of love, thus integrating and reconciling efficiency with the vision of hope. We must imagine possibilities outside of conventional categories, envision actions that cross traditional boundaries, and anticipate repercussions and take advantage of interdependencies, to make new connections or invent new combinations.

Nowadays we no longer value leaders who can make snap judgments, but those who think things through and make correct judgments. We have no use for the so-called leader who makes “those tough decisions,” but one who thinks of every alternative and of everyone involved, and comes up with a decision that is hope-filled in difficult times. We value leaders who have intellectual curiosity.

The leader of hope is not satisfied only with thinking, but learns to discover and appreciate deeper levels of meaning through meditation. This latter is a discursive form of reflection; in quiet and peaceful recollection a person leaves aside prejudices and prior thought patterns and opens mind and heart to the pros and cons of each issue. This detached reflection process enables a leader to see the positive and negative aspects of decisions. No one has speedy answers to today’s complicated issues in leadership; often it is not clear what is ethical and what is not, what is for long term benefit and what is not, what is selfish and what is altruistic. One needs to ready one’s heart and soul to make good decisions today. Meditation is primarily an individual practice, but leaders can also achieve its basic purpose in group or team reflection on issues under discussion. As one practices meditation, it becomes less a method and more a simple way of calmly thinking things through. Moreover, the more one uses meditation with skill, it becomes less an exercise of thought and more one of love.

Meditation is discursive thought but gradually becomes a form of prayerful reflection on concrete matters to determine how things ought to be done according to the vision of promise. Gradually, this process becomes simpler until it is a form of centering mind and heart on the issues. Once learned and practiced well it takes less time and is similar to “centering prayer.” Less and less discursive, one’s heart detached from prejudices, one’s whole being desirous of doing good, the leader of hope become contemplative in his or her approach to life’s issues. Contemplation is non-discursive; a more intuitive experience in which a prayerful leader just sees what is the right thing to do. More than a process it is an experience. Too many individuals make decisions based on their accumulated experiences, others on the best of current knowledge and research. All that is fine, even desirable. However, leaders of hope base decisions on the vision of God’s plan for humanity, and they learn of that in reflection, mediation, and contemplation.

5. Suggestions:

1. Make judgments you can live with and die with.

2. Train yourself to leave aside prejudice in decision-making.

3. Learn a simple method of meditation; if necessary find a teacher.

4. Think of the consequences in others’ lives of what you do.

5. Besides preparing yourself with research and analysis for your work as   a leader, also ready your heart and soul.

LEADERSHIP AND LOVE

 

A NEW BOOK

I would like to recommend to readers a new book of mine that speaks of love. 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 our own experiences to explain what love is, how we find it, and how it can change the world. Love is critical component of good leadership.

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Spiritual leaders insist that people and relationships precede structures and tasks. This implies leaders need to think positively of others, try to understand them, forgive when necessary, and always show compassion. After all, the journey to spiritual leadership begins with an awareness of being loved, not with the leader’s love for others. The latter follows on the former and is a response to the call to leadership. It is a journey in which the leader daily makes decisions based on love. Thus, he or she changes attitudes to life, rejecting selfishness, greed, self-satisfaction, and thus moves away from self-centeredness to the service of others. Appreciating that one can transform leadership with love is a rigorous self-training. When a leader is motivated by a conviction of the transforming value of love, he or she treats others with a natural benevolence, wishes them well before any encounter, appreciates the good in others, and presumes that they will do good. This positive, optimistic approach to others has a healing effect on relationships and opens up the development of a different kind of leadership. Loving and encouraging approaches are more effective than adversarial ones and give the leader far more ability to influence others and draw the best out of them. In such an environment followers sense they are loved and grow as individuals and then contribute more to the common vision and mission.

When a leader focuses on the love of others in daily life, he or she emphasizes simple human qualities that are also a noble part of being human—attitudes that are humanizing, caring, trusting, and supportive. Focusing on others requires tolerance of their differences, dialogue, forgiveness, and reconciliation. It means mutual respect, appreciation of each other’s gifts and genuine solidarity. A leader can do so much good to others by allowing them to be themselves, living in interdependence and mutual esteem. For such a leader the welfare of others is as important as one’s own. This includes concern for others’ health and well-being, both material and spiritual. Engaging in the welfare of others calls the leader to delight in others’ growth and advancement, furthering their rights, protecting their justice, and celebrating their achievements and progress.

A spiritual leader who recognizes that he or she is called to love makes a positive difference to other people’s lives by respecting their dignity, empowering them in whatever ways possible, thus releasing their human energy, talent, and dedication. A spiritual leader can look into others’ hearts. Such a leader does not impose views, vision, or priorities, but influences others to be the best they are capable of being. Part of that response will be to help others appreciate their own basic values, enduring purpose, and mission in life. The leader can also train others to be visionaries; helping them to see what others do not, but also challenging them to look at things in a different way. This requires understanding, building connections, giving visibility and significant responsibilities to others, collaborating, challenging constructively, and working toward shared values and mission. Recognizing that one is called to love has serious consequences, for love is very practical and demanding on a leader at every moment of each day.

 

Leaders who give hope

“Leaders are people who offer new horizons to their followers and move people beyond mediocrity and indifference.  They give hope amidst the problems of contemporary working life. They are willing to take risks and transcend boundaries.  As leaders they share their experience of the mystery of God  and thus bring a sense of hope to followers, reestablishing the perspective of life under God, and providing the basis for value oriented leadership.”

Leonard Doohan, Spiritual Leadership: The Quest for Integrity (Paulist Press, 2007,  p.76).