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.
In my last blog post I spoke about leadership and self control. This is so often lacking today and it is a key component of healthy spiritual leadership. As you aspire to great leadership and concentrate on remote preparations of self-control, you will also need to assess your attitudes to others. When you see in yourself a desire for power over others, then you must root this out immediately. Many tendencies we notice in ourselves are perhaps only small at first, but they are never stationary or static; they are always growing. Those “leaders” who disturb us today were not always the way they turned out; they just allowed small negative attitudes to grow, unchecked. If you put down others, expect others to serve you, use others for your benefit, or worse still abuse others—you must counteract these negative tendencies by systematically doing the opposite—not power over others but service, not abuse of others but daily signs of respect, not manipulation of others but mutuality, not exaggerated competitiveness but collaboration, not using others but celebrating their gifts.
Great leadership requires the priority of people over organizations. Those who work within organizations cannot make decisions exclusively on money matters, or thoughtlessly terminate people and bring suffering to their families just to give balance to the fourth quarter earnings. People who want to be spiritual leaders stem the negative and at times abusive elements in a working environment. In times of preparation men and women with potential for leadership reassess their attitudes to organizational life and institutional development, so that they foster just approaches to people within organizations. If you yearn to embody spiritual leadership you must appreciate organizational defects and pledge to remove them from your own life. Self-control practiced in preparation for leadership helps us become our best selves, to develop just relationships to others, to establish a sense of mutuality, community, and shared vision and values.
There are many ways we can remotely prepare ourselves to become good spiritual leaders, and one of these is to concentrate on self-control.
In the last couple of decades, we have witnessed a lot of reckless, wanton uncontrolled greed—whether for money, power, ideological purity, and so on—from many managers who have destroyed financial institutions, healthcare organizations, service industries, religious priorities, and even nations. Some have even pleaded for government regulations or international interventions because they recognize that they cannot regulate themselves. They know they are out of control. As a leader you need to live ethically, with integrity, and this means first of all being able to control your own negative tendencies. This first step implies breaking away from self-centeredness through a regime similar to an exercise program; this self-control is a form of spiritual conditioning for one’s mind, spirit, and heart. Mature leaders generally know their own weaknesses, are aware of their own sinfulness, are sadly conscious of the basic evil in our world, and they know they need to develop self-control.
Self-control is really a re-education of one’s values, focusing on one’s central goodness and moving away from self-centeredness to other-centeredness. This requires reflection, charity towards others, identification of potential addictions, and moderation of one’s passions. All this requires a spirit of sacrifice, a commitment to avoid exaggerations, a monitoring of one’s time, and a willingness to reject comparisons with others for the satisfaction of one’s own presumed betterness. Spiritual leadership does not just happen. It demands a specific preparation that prudent people take to guarantee they will never become like the sick or inadequate leaders we have seen in recent years.
If you wish to become a spiritual leader you must limit negative concepts, attitudes, and behaviors in yourself. This gradual removal of the negative components of one’s life is a preparation to become a leader who serves others without ever evidencing these failures. These preliminary efforts include self-control in the use of food, drink, drugs, sex, or an exaggerated emphasis on one’s own comfort. It will also include the elimination of an acquisitive tendency, a possessive accumulation of things whether one needs them or not. This emphasis on possessiveness in money, goods, and services leads to a false exaggerated notion of one’s own importance. If you do not remove all these forms of self-gratification and self-centeredness, then your leadership is destined to failure.
We must confront the failures of leadership.
I would like to contribute to removing the great question-mark that hangs over leadership. Great institutions, whether in politics, business, social life, healthcare, or religion, are shadows of what they could be. It is heartbreaking to see contemporary “leaders” floundering around in their lack of competence, integrity, and ethics, often struggling for short term gain at other people’s cost, loss, and pain. Others are hung up on ideological points, often non-essentials, while losing sight of the original vision of their organization. Still others arrogantly think they know what is best for their followers, when everyone knows that managers are responsible for most of the mistakes in any organization. Many of our “leaders” are failures, and we spend more time and energy trying to get rid of bad leaders than we do trying to cultivate good ones. As a result, nowadays, so many followers simply ignore their so-called leaders or work hard to manage their leaders’ defects. Let us face it, most of the people we call leaders are at best good managers with a sprinkling of inspiration now and again. Rather than being served by leaders, we often identify our leaders as oppressive forces who put shackles on the powerless. In the middle ages the citizens were allowed one day a year when they made fun of their leaders; it was called “The Feast of Fools.” Nowadays, it would be a daily event, as our organizations are laid waste by fools who claim to lead us.
Not all problems are the result of incompetence, nor of greed and addictions. When you consider leaders in politics, business, and even religion, you may not know what they will do with their leadership once they attain it, but even before they start you know what they will be unable to do. Leaders today work within limitations imposed by lack of education and training, ideologies, psychological problems and agendas of followers, ideas of their backers and benefactors who cannot be offended, and strictures imposed by higher ups. Unhealthy organizations and systems have limiting effects on the good will of men and women who strive to be leaders, reminding us of the need of organizational conversion and of the need to prophetically denounce the arthritic institutions in which they operate.
I seek leaders who will get us beyond the cloud that overshadows today’s leaders and move us to a new reality in which men and women, gifted with management and leadership skills, have something more to offer. They will be dedicated to a vision of hope within the plan of God, will have all the needed skills, attitudes, and behaviors of leadership, will be willing, even eager, to serve followers and the common good, and will have the fortitude needed to endure the pain of being called to serve. We need a new kind of leader, a spiritual leader, motivated by a profound spiritual experience that has touched him or her and is now willing to live in light of this experience. This book gives the steps one can follow to do this, and I hope you will be willing to move in this new direction and answer the call to serve others.
SPIRITUALITY AND SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP
The leader must develop strategies to foster self-leadership in followers. It will require that a leader have trust in self and be peaceful about his or her own leadership; it will require that a leader spend quality time with followers, facilitating others’ leadership. It begins by insisting that followers take responsibility for their own effective performance and avoid common responses of blaming others for failure. A great leader is always ready to step back and welcome the birth of new leadership in former followers.
Every leader will always be confronted with the question of reliability in moments of truth. Followers will examine how a leader spends time, what questions he or she asks, how he or she reacts to critical incidents, what he or she rewards, and so on. These are among the critical moments of truth in which a leader manifests or betrays what he or she really thinks. In other words when one’s defenses are down, what are one’s real values?
Inspiring commitment to the shared vision brings together many of the values of a gifted leader. While truthful, competent, and decisive, the leader must also be a source of inspiration to search for a long-term future beyond the restrictions of the present. A vision that is worth effort can only be attained by people working together. So, a leader has to turn followers loose, give them enough room, and let them build up parts of the vision that the leader never envisioned alone.
Showing love and encouragement is the essential for spiritual leadership, and the spiritual leader’s love shows itself in deep understanding of others, in sharing ideas and information, in giving and receiving emotional support, in giving help to others and also letting them know that they are needed. Loving and encouraging approaches are more effective than are adversarial ones, and give the leader far more ability to influence others and draw the best out of them.
The spiritual leader makes sure that other people’s needs are being served, that followers are growing as people under his or her leadership. A good leader takes care of followers and is not taken care of by them. This caring for followers must be practical too, leaders must make sure that they give followers what they need, rather than constantly cutting budgets and removing resources. Every person in a leadership position must ask if they have looked after others’ needs or their own. When a leader cares for followers he or she will motivate them more easily.
Criticizing constructively, while always reinforcing the self-leadership of followers is a skill that is not easy to develop. The leader who can’t facilitate constructive criticism has problems ahead. A good leader is sensitive to the timing of criticism and can thus bring up the negative at the right time to see its potential for betterment.
In recent years we have seen many leadership failures in top administrators whose greed and total disregard of others became one of business’ greatest scandals. Bearing the pain of an organization’s growth and struggles is also a component of spiritual leadership. A leader will need to name the pain, search for response, and facilitate healing. Great leaders do not emerge from a situation that is without conflict or struggle. Rather great leaders surface in times of adversity.
The leader who is motivated by the thrill of faith can excite others with the shared vision by generating enthusiasm in all they do together. Enthusiasm comes from the Greek words meaning “in God” for the spiritual leader is motivated by a faith that enthuses others, nurtures their optimism and passion. Leaders today are known for their inspiration, heart, inner spirit, and energy — qualities that help maintain momentum in an organization’s pursuit of a vision.