Sooner or later, a man or woman who gives himself or herself to leadership through service sets a new direction for life, one that is different from what we have seen in the failed or inadequate leaders we know. This is a first step in the transformation of leadership and you must want it. To succeed as a leader you need a totally different way of thinking about leadership and about yourself as a leader. You must long to be different. Leadership becomes your way of revealing your own form of exploration.
A great leader is set apart for the service of others. This does not mean that a specific person is any better than others, and one should always avoid unhealthy comparisons. However, if you wish to prepare yourself for leadership, you must long to be different than other people who do not feel this yearning. As a leader in the making you have a vision of yourself in relation to community. This is part of a process of discovering your deepest personal needs, hopes, and dreams. It means moving away from failure and mediocrity, and striving to be the best you can be; a longing emerges to be a different kind of leader than we have so frequently had.
This longing to be different demands focusing on others and not yourself, on others’ achievements and not on your own, on service and not climbing the promotional ladder, on others’ gifts and not your own, on others’ competence and not your authority, on taking care of others and not self-aggrandizement, on seeking the best for others and not what is in it for you. In leadership all this leads to a different set of priorities: not self but others, not power but service, not authority but collaboration, not control but facilitation, not personal vision but shared vision, not telling others but listening to them.
Changing your attitudes and behaviors is a long process, but it begins quietly in your heart, when you feel moved to choose a different direction in your way of leading. This will not just happen by chance but will require self-scrutiny and ongoing discernment. Strangely enough, this process is not one of acquiring new ideas, skills, or practices, but more one of getting to the heart of your leadership. It is more a project of sandblasting rather than adding another coat of paint! peeling away false values and letting the best of oneself shine through. Longing to be different comes to mean longing to be your true self. In the center of each one’s heart there is a zone of natural goodness, and that is where you find the values of authentic leadership. Clearly, you need skills of implementation and management, but leadership is always a matter of heart, spirit, and soul.
A person like you who wants to be a spiritual leader needs to make this longing practical in daily decisions that show how you seek and are determined to be different. If you prepare well, then what is ordinary to some people will never be ordinary to you. The only thing each one can do is live one’s own truth. But this needs lots of careful and deliberate preparation.
Every generation presents us with outstanding leaders, and our own is no exception. However, we have also faced overwhelming failures of leadership, so much so that leadership today is a dark place where at times we are afraid to go. So much harm has been done by our leaders’ cold hands of malice, selfishness, arrogance, and greed that we are filled with anger and even more with anguish at what has happened. Any analysis of political, business, or religious leadership easily leads us to despair. We often feel immersed in a numbness and helplessness as we wonder where all the good leaders have gone.
Men and women who are willing to offer themselves to the service of leadership must mourn the failures of contemporary leadership, savor that failure, face, identify, express disgust at the greed, loss of values, selfishness, and incompetence we see in abundance. All this is part of a process of purification of the destructive models of leadership. But creating the alternative seems too much for us to achieve; it is a dark night in which we are helpless without the transformative interventions of God. Acknowledging our helplessness in face of overwhelming negativity is also a valuable experience of preparation.
Christianity has traditionally identified seven serious failings that go against everything that Christianity stands for, and we generally refer to these failings as the seven deadly sins, or the seven capital sins. They are a summary of the wasteland of failed leadership that men and women of good will must strive to overcome if they wish to be great leaders. These seven deadly sins are pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. It is appropriate to apply these failings to an analysis of one’s own life but, more importantly, to interpret them in relation to social and specifically leadership failures that we must prepare ourselves to avoid.
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.
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.
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.
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
Some Short Term Goals for Spiritual Leaders (Things one can do immediately)
Dedicating oneself to leadership may well be the work of a lifetime, but there are plenty of strategies anyone can implement immediately. These are strategies that get things done but also get an individual thinking in different ways about leadership.
1. Learn more about leadership
Study leadership and do not presume you are a leader. Leadership does not just happen. It is the result of studied commitment. You study how to do the job like a physician learns surgery.
2. Behave in ways that are consistent with your stated values of your leadership.
Audit your own reactions. Religious traditions have always taught followers to examine their consciences on the failures of the day. Make sure that you examine yourselves on your leadership. That is where you spend most of your day, every day.
3. Give credit to others whenever possible.
Good leadership is nearly always invisible, someone else gets the credit.
4. Listen to followers.
Listening creates a different atmosphere and builds strength in others. This means making a deliberate decision to talk less in meetings and listen more, identifying at the end of each meeting what you have learned from followers. Learn what bugs your people and react to problems by listening first. Genuine listening includes openness to the needs, motives, and hopes of followers.
5. Establish ownership for everything you do.
This means excelling in communication and collaborative discussion. If institutional priorities are only the priorities of a few, they can neither expect nor do they deserve significant support.
6. Learn to be an executive.
Be executive not only to your boards but particularly to the ideas and visions of those you serve. Authentic leadership percolates up from the grassroots, it does not filter down from high up in the structure.
7. Stop making decisions.
Invite everyone to assume responsibility. So, strengthen people by sharing information and power and increasing their discretion and visibility.
8. Get out of the way.
Examine your organization to get rid of unnecessary rules and regulations that put controls on others initiative. Belasco suggests, ARestrain yourself from helping people out of their responsibilities.
9. Insist on serving, even in the face of power.
If your boss continues to be autocratic, you must still live as a faith-filled leader, dedicated to servant leadership. You may have to tolerate autocratic behavior no matter how benevolent it may be, but you neither have to endorse it nor imitate it. If you work with autocrats do not participate it will only encourage them.
10. Improve participation in decision-making.
Establish pilot programs within the system or organization. You can not be a spiritual leader whose leadership includes a vision of service while preserving an autocratic environment.
11. Make hope a priority.
Affirm people, give them high but attainable goals, challenge and reward especially with natural personal rewards of appreciation. The most significant rewards in working life today do not cost anything. A good leader can maintain a strong sense of urgency to attain the group=s goal. This inspires hope in others
12. Celebrate your people’s successes.
Be a cheerleader, scheduling celebrations at all levels of your organization and encourage others to do so.42 Honor people’s key achievements with public recognition. Not only celebrate when someone reaches a goal, but also when someone reaches their potential. Celebration should not become routine and at times even meaningless, rather find opportunities to surprise people with a celebration of their successes.
13. Deepen reflection in life.
A spiritual leader is nourished by reflection and knows that vision, creativity and imaginative resolve come from prayerful reflection. The leap of imagination, the ability to find alternatives that no one else sees, the skill to identify common ground in disparate data—these skills are related to reflection and prayer.
All leadership development is ultimately self-development and little else will help our growth as human beings and as Christians as much as a commitment to leadership. Spiritual leadership is not just another management style. It is the result of a conversion and it begins with a renewal of attitudes. While spiritual leadership is an attractive vision it is clear that not many individuals are willing to become this kind of leaders. It is the result of a deliberate personal choice, it requires a commitment in love, and it includes significant sacrifice. Spiritual leadership is very costly. It is neither a technique, nor a strategy in a long range plan. It is way of life, results from conversion, changes the whole focus of one’s way of dealing with others. It is also the most significant vision of leadership for the generation ahead.
The vision of being a contemporary leader is something you need to care about passionately, for while leadership can be exhausting, stressful, and rigorous, it is for the dedicated few a “disciplined passion.” It is an enthusiasm from within, since people always want from you that part of you they do not pay for, your creativity, vision, enthusiasm, and integrity. Spiritual leadership is not a pious Christian reflection, it is the center of contemporary reflections on leadership. We must refocusing our understanding of leadership to stress inner values of the spirit. Peter Koestenbaum wrote that “Leadership is a conversion experience. It is a new alertness. It is a ‘snap’ in the mind to a fresh reality. This is a breakthrough theme. Its models are religion, art, politics, and love” (Leadership the Inner Side of Greatness, p. 50). Once you see leadership as an inner spiritual journey, a personal call and vision of life, rather than a position of authority, or the accumulation of power, influence and wealth, then both the scholar and practitioner must ask different questions, see hiring, training and evaluation in new ways, reinterpret the meaning of success and effectiveness, and look to organizational development in new ways. Leadership is no longer a matter of skills and accomplishments, rather it focuses on the ultimate meaning of life, it deals with destiny and one’s role in the universe. When you become aware of the plethora of books on leadership, most of which have taken a wrong focus, we must challenge ourselves to go beyond questions of technique to ask deeper, more fundamental questions about leadership; those that address philosophy and speak to human core values. Leadership is not simply what we do, but who we are, and what we do because of who we are. Thus, we see that leadership theory has changed focus and much of it is now centers on leadership that emerges from a spiritual commitment. Fairholm captures this change well when he speaks of spiritual leadership as exemplified in servant leadership, “The new spiritual leadership paradigm sees transformation of self, others and the organization as important, even critical. This new leadership model is that of the servant leader. Servant leadership is not an oxymoron, it is a juxtaposition of apparent opposites to startle the seeker of wisdom” (Capturing the Heart of Leadership, p. 26).
THE TRANSITION AND CONVERSION TO SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP
Leaders today must be willing to go through a conversion and become different leaders than they have ever been before. This is a crisis of confidence in what the leader has so far been doing; it is a sense of loss that former successes no longer mean anything; it is the death of past values and the willingness to let them die for they are based on a vision that is too small. The leader who goes through this spiritual experience of passage from a set of old values to a set of new values feels the ground beneath him or her is giving way. He or she grasps that there is more to life than meeting goals and objectives, increasing profits, satisfying shareholders, marketing a successful product or service. People, community, justice, others’ fulfillment, love, and changing the values of society are all more important. All good leaders achieve the former, spiritual leaders also achieve the latter. The transition is a painful conversion, but we desperately need people willing to endure it and participate in the transformation. Leadership must change! We cannot continue with the innumerable failures of recent years. The ashes of previous leadership styles are in the grate, and there is no phoenix to emerge.
The transition through which a good leader passes in becoming a spiritual leader is a dark night. This term, “dark night,” comes from the poetry and commentaries of the Spanish, Christian mystic, John of the Cross, who was also a dynamic and multi-talented organizational leader. The dark night is a stage in spiritual life when one begins to see things in a different way than one ever has before. Sometimes a person cannot see because everything around is dark, but on other occasions a person cannot see because of the brightness of illumination—like standing in the headlights of an on-coming car. “Dark night” for John is the latter experience, and so, for a leader this night can be an illumination of the direction of authentic leadership. The transition to a new level of leadership is an experience of darkness that enables the leader to stop seeing in one way and to start seeing things in a new way. We discover that leadership is not what we thought it was; that leaders do not act in the way we thought they should; that good followers do not react in the ways we thought they would.
These experiences at first shock us, leave us discouraged, and give us a sense of failure in having spent life dedicated to the wrong values. A leader must savor the pain of this loss for he or she must become convinced in the depths of soul that former values are inadequate. For a Christian believer it is God who draws us to a new way of life, fills us with the new values of the vision of promise, and sets us on a new direction in