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REDISCOVER GREAT LEADERSHIP: Reflection 8

  1. 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 4–The challenge of being great leader

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.

REDISCOVER GREAT LEADERSHIP: Reflection 1

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.

 

Several suggested practices for a spiritual leader (Seventh)

7.  CREATE INTERRUPTIONS

Our world of leadership seems sure of itself. Programs turn out graduates with a packet of skills to become leaders themselves. Well-known presidents and CEOs write their memoirs and tell us how it is done! We have seen so many failures, and each leader inflicts his or her own particular damage. In this process of interruption, doubt and uncertainty are good points of departure, followed by a healthy suspicion and skepticism, and culminating in enjoying a little insecurity for a while.

Part of the task of a great leader who wants to be a servant leader is to fight against the nearsightedness of contemporary leadership, to oppose the prepackaged answers, and seek something deeper. This can be an anxious time for a leader.

Often this questioning of the direction of leadership leads to conflict, but this too can raise the energy level and produce significant discussion. Conflict itself can lead to crisis which is an opportunity to make different judgments on the matters at hand

As a leader interrupts the discourse on the nature of leadership, he or she can engage in networking to surface ideas that can lead to new directions.

A lot of contemporary leadership is moderate management sprinkled with a little inspiration. If there is a culture of trust and a climate of creativity, then proactive individuals can think differently about the same things, engage in provisional thinking and decision-making, and courageously move to explore new concepts about leadership at the margins of organizational life. Here the skills are flexibility, improvisation, alternative thinking, bypassing of problems, innovation, and breakthrough.

5 Suggestions:

1. Spend some time reflecting on what is working in your leadership and what is not.

2. Identify those aspects of your leadership you would like to get rid of.

3. Think about which leadership practices in your organization you would like to stop.

4. Reflect on the leader you admire and ask yourself why.

5. Make sure you have created a climate where other people can interrupt your leadership.

A new book on Spiritual Leadership

This book outlines a spirituality of leadership that challenges leaders to present a vision of hope to excite and empower others, to be prophets, mystics, charismatics, and healers to transform society and to effectively respond to the world that is desperate for leaders of hope.

“In Leonard Doohan’s new book Courageous Hope: The Call of Leadership the subtle and profound nature of true living comes to the fore.  Elegant, powerful, and forthright, Doohan’s insights are imbued with good will and a robust sense of what is bouyant and ultimate even amidst the chaos and complexity of the current age.  He strengthens our resolve.  He restores our hope.  And in an echo of Robert Frost, he is not only a teacher, but an awakener.  May this book find you in a place where your will to grow is matched by an inner radiance to serve and help heal those around you… the reading will meet you there and the end result will be a gift to the world.”

Shann Ray Ferch, PhD, MFA., Professor and Chair, Doctoral Program in Leadership Studies,GonzagaUniversity. Author of the Bakeless Prize winning short story collection American Masculine, as well as The Spirit of Servant Leadership, and Forgiveness and Power in the Age of Atrocity

This is a book to sit with for awhile. Try it on.  Read every word. Leaders stuck in the past, afraid to face the future, afraid to take a risk because they might be wrong need an infusion of Courageous Hope. People are not looking for a simple, blind-faith hope. They are looking for leaders with a deeper understanding of hope as described in this book.  With Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins we see millions of refugees and displaced people around the world who live Dante’s inferno while they await leaders with strength to engage in what Dr. Doohan writes of courageous hope.   This book obliges us to ask, “Do I have what it takes to lead with courageous hope? Many are counting on the answer.

Mary McFarland, PhD., International Director – Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins & Professor, Gonzaga University. Former Dean of undergraduate through doctoral program in Leadership Studies at Gonzaga University, School of Professional Studies