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.
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.
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.