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Here are a few issues I would ask readers to think about in the next several posts; issues that I think will help them improve their leadership. I will focus on each of these in more detail in the blogs ahead.
1. I would ask those who seek to be good leaders to value leisure in their leadership development, thus undermining the addiction to endless activity so frequently seen in failed leaders. If a leader’s life is not healthy, neither will his or her leadership.
2. I urge leaders-in-the-making to bring recollection and focus to their lives, thus blocking the thoughtlessness and scattered responses we so often witness today, unfocused, ad hoc involvement without long term vision for the betterment of society. If a leader cannot find his or her core values, his or her leadership will always lack focus.
3. I ask that individuals nourish their lives with silence and quiet times in which they can think things through, appreciate the impact of their decisions, and learn to listen to the challenges of others and even of transcendent values. The clearest voice a leader must listen to comes in silence.
4. I place before future leaders the challenge to appreciate the world and its people with a sense of mystery, awe, and wonder, so that they can constantly challenge themselves to discover the goodness all around them. For visionary leaders, the world is a teacher, a special guru.
5. I stress the importance for leaders to identify their motivating values, so as to purify the false values and build on the good ones. I call on leaders to tell themselves what they believe in, what for them is the meaning of life, and what is their own purpose in life, since out of this awareness will follow the justness or harmfulness of their decisions.
6. I urge leaders to face the struggles of life, those times of unexpected, breakthrough illumination or painful and purifying periods of darkness. It is important that leaders confront the pain and suffering of others and to view life from their perspective. Spiritual leaders must also accept the pain they will meet in their own leadership. Out of these experiences they must lead in a world of suffering.
7. I plead with those who wish to lead others to treasure people above all else and to treat everyone with graciousness. When so many of our world leaders use and abuse others, it is important that we value all persons in their dignity and potential future growth. Leaders today must treat everyone with respect and reverence.
8. Leaders today cannot lead merely from positions of strength and power since we have seen so often the failures of these approaches. Rather, people need to know that they are loved, and that is the primary task of a leader. Leaders today must have humility and must manage their world with the wisdom of love.
We need a new kind of leader, one who appreciates that leadership comes from within a leader’s heart where values and approaches to life are deeply rooted. Such a one will not be led astray by greed, arrogance, and lust for power that we find in so many contemporary leaders. Leaders today must be dedicated to justice, ethical treatment of others, equity, fairness, truthfulness, mutuality, caring, and community building. They must be selflessly committed to changing lives for the better—their own and others’. These are the values that create leaders who make a difference in the lives of people and societies and make up a vision of promise. So, we seek leaders who trust, support, and inspire others; who can freely make choices and decisions in light of a hope-filled future; who have courage and determination to be open to the future and to take risks; who are thrilled at opportunities to empower others, to delegate to them, and to celebrate their successes. This shift in a leader’s priorities from self to others comes when one is at peace with oneself and one’s own values and approaches to life. Such a leader’s calm dedication and determination come from a life built on the convictions and priorities mentioned above.
When you dedicate yourself to become a spiritual leader, you are at the same time purifying life, and this not only makes you a better leader but a better spouse, parent, friend, and a member of the human community. Such a person rejects the deadliest sins that corrupt one’s life. Pride is the sin of those who arrogantly show disrespect for others’ needs and rights to justice, who always expect to be given special treatment, who do not like to be challenged, who expect a big payoff when terminated for incompetence, who feel only they are responsible for success. Avarice is the sin of those who are never content with what they have but who always want more of everything that makes their own lives materially better. They deprive others of what they need simply to have more themselves. Lust is the sin of those who use their place in an organization for sexual satisfaction, or who lust for power, position, status, and benefits. They create luxurious offices and lust for ever bigger clumsier firms, too big to fail. Anger is the sin that appears when some people are challenged, asked to change, asked to do what is just, asked to bring balance into their organizations. Such people get angry at others’ negative evaluations and reviews, and turn their anger against subordinates who do not achieve unrealistic goals. Gluttony is the commonest sin among many in leadership today as they want more and more salaries that are out of control, golden parachutes for achieving very little. They are gluttonous for respect, status, fringe benefits, the adulation of others, and offices and personal treatment beyond reality. Today’s greedy always want more, never want to share even a little of what they have. They are also greedy to have everything their own way. Envy is the sin of those who become sad and angry at others’ successes, at others who get contracts they wanted, at others’ payment packages that they think they deserve. Sloth is the sin of those who do nothing about perennial problems, make no effort to resolve situations that cause suffering to millions, take easy solutions, or do nothing to protect workers’ dignity. While always active for their own benefit, they are lazy in taking care of others. Spiritual leaders who see these failings in others must have the courage to say to them “get away from me; I don’t want to be like you.”
- Take courage in your pursuit of spiritual leadership.
I want to encourage the fainthearted in their pursuit of spiritual leadership. I am convinced that the road to leadership greatness passes through spiritual renewal. I urge each of you readers to become the leader you are called to be. Only a small percentage will be interested because of the addictions to power, status, and money that attract and hinder so many in their pursuit of leadership greatness. But there are others, and I would like to tap the potential of these leaders to be great. What we need to acknowledge from the outset is great leaders always pass through the challenging experience of conversion. My hope is to help you develop a process that leads to personal transformation and thus enables you to become a great leader. Great leaders are not born, they gradually grow and mature into who they are capable of being for the benefit of others. Ordinary people can become great leaders; we must let the best rise to the top of leadership.
Leadership is a work of the heart, a courageous heart. In this book’s approach, a leader is motivated by a vision of hope. Since leadership is a vocation, the leader is not struggling to move forward, but he or she is being drawn forward by something or someone greater than himself of herself. So, even the fainthearted can take courage and move with confidence, for leadership is not what you do but what God is doing in and through you. The best leaders are not always the most knowledgeable or talented, but those who are open-hearted, open-minded, and receptive to the call and challenge of God; those who let themselves be guided and directed for the good of others. These leaders can influence others as far as is needed, can motivate others to leadership, are happy to disappear from the scene and give credit to others, and can then reappear in a new venture to lead in a new way.
So often today, leaders are unknown and unsung heroes, simple people with big hearts. They begin their work locally and gradually have an impact on large sections of society. Many are fainthearted and prefer the hidden life. Sometimes they stay there and effect local change, sometimes they are recognized and brought into public view and appreciation. Even television channels celebrate these gifts to community service. So to each of you, reading this book, even if at times you feel lost, I say you can become a better leader, you can become the leader you long to be. May this book challenge you to evaluate all aspects of your leadership and courageously move in the direction of growth and maturity.
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.
I propose there are no great leaders without a commitment to spirituality. If size, balance sheets, status, personnel numbers, salary, profits, power, and so on, determined great leaders then some Wall Street executives, healthcare industry CEOs, politicians, even religious administrators would be great leaders, and obviously many are not. The problem with many of these people is that they make enormous sacrifices of their integrity to remain in power. Rather, inner values, convictions, spirit, and openness to transcendence are the qualities that determine great leadership. We must give serious consideration to the intangibles of spiritual leadership, if we are going to change the kind of approach to leadership from what we see now to what we must attain.
Spirituality refers to a person’s efforts to become the best he or she is capable of being, to become his or her authentic self. Spirituality is the ordering of our lives so that everything we do reflects the values we hold deep within our hearts—honesty, justice, integrity, service, community, hope, and love. In some ways, spirituality is all about relationships; our relationship with ourselves—always striving to be the best we can be; our relationships with others—treating them with respect, seeking what is good for them, serving them, pursuing the common good; relationships with community organizations and structures—utilizing them for the betterment of people and not as ends in themselves; and relationships with God before whom we must judge ourselves and the kind of leadership we espouse.
So, I seek the integration of human knowledge and leadership development with an integral spiritual calling, for spirituality is part of who we are, and we can never be our true selves without it. Leadership without spirituality would be a body without soul. Spirituality gives life to our leadership. A great leader must point to values beyond this world and work within the framework of leadership in light of convictions regarding values beyond the immediate horizon of life. Thus, spiritual leaders climb the heights of leadership by living and sharing values of the Spirit, by leading with spiritual conviction, by being constantly motivated by the vision of the future in hope. I say all this because I believe in a vision of life within the plan of God. All this contrasts with the betrayal of values we have witnessed in so many failed leaders of recent decades.
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.
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.
Integrity is not a word we frequently use for today’s leaders. Many leaders today lack integrity and transparency, and we hear denunciations of corruption too often for comfort. integrity requires courage to speak the truth, to accept one’s own independence and autonomy, to honestly present the implications of a vision, and to faithfully persevere in the demands of a vision even when it means standing alone. Integrity includes accepting one’s own blind spots and failures. Integrity is primarily an inner self-knowledge but also refers to followers’ perception that leaders’ values and actions match their words. It is a form of holistic living. Leading holistically also means living one’s life motivated by a set of core values that place a high priority on integrity, service, and spirituality. Integrity includes being absolutely candid and evidencing intellectual honesty in the things one says, consistency in dealing with others, honesty in handling conflict. It implies accepting what we have been and imagining what we can be. It is the spiritual discipline of always speaking the truth, of making sure we do what we claim we will do, and of being ready to hold on to the course of action. When a person has integrity he or she gains trust. However, the integrity must involve every aspect of one’s life—personal, relational, organizational, and societal.
This basic leadership ingredient is an added value to competence. It is beyond expertise and motivation, it is the honesty that one’s core beliefs guide one’s decision-making in leadership. It requires self-acceptance, truthfulness, fortitude, and inner peace. It establishes congruence between one’s inner and outer reality. Individuals earn the right to be called leaders when people find authentic unity between their organizational and professional commitment and their spiritual lives. In fact, a person is not free to lead unless he or she understands humanity, its nature, feelings, processes, and inner yearnings for self-actualization.
Leaders of integrity bring quality presence to all they do. Aware of their own stature as leaders, sensitive to their obligations to others in society, they can peacefully face the falsity and dark side of themselves, of their communities, and of society. Because of their integrity they can attain the characteristics of a successful leader, namely one who can challenge the process, inspire a shared vision, enable others to act, model the way, and encourage the heart of the followers. Let us hope for more leaders of integrity.
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.