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.
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.
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.
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.
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