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.
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.
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 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.