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REDISCOVER GREAT LEADRSHIP: Reflection 9

Emphasize the Christian dimensions of your leadership.

I want to emphasize the specifically Christian contribution to leadership. Jesus Christ is a model of what leadership can be. His action of washing the disciples’ feet epitomized his approach to servant leadership. He described himself as a good shepherd who was always willing to lay down his life for his followers. He insisted that all his followers must, like him, be ready to serve others and never seek to be served by others. Jesus’ life and ministry offer us the major components of a model of leadership that is still valid today. Jesus’ leadership was based on a spiritual experience and before each period in Jesus’ ministry we find him immersed in a close relationship with God, a specific experience that prepared for the period ahead. Jesus led by calling people together in loving solidarity; he never focused just on those with whom he worked, but influenced everyone with whom he came in contact. The vision Jesus pursued implied change at all levels of society, in fact he offered a new comprehensive way of looking at life, as he sought not only personal transformation but societal transformation too. One of the characteristics of Jesus’ leadership was that he rarely dealt with the powerful people of his day—except to denounce their corruption, rather he empowered others, especially the fainthearted, poor, and uneducated. He gave no priority to status, power, wealth, or privilege, but gave voice to everyone. He broke stereotypes, rejected social boundaries, and accepted diversity. In fact, his leadership went well beyond religious renewal to include a comprehensive reform of political, economic, and social systems.

In a Christian vision of leadership, people are first, not products or processes. This means trust, vision, hope, and spirit are a leader’s primary qualities. It requires that leaders need energy, enthusiasm, creativity, combined with humility if they are to serve the common good. These leaders will be trusted and trusting, inspired and inspiring, transformed and transforming, healed and healing, influenced by a vision and influencing others to be visionaries, and motivated by hope while bringing hope to others.

In a Christian vision of leadership the intangibles of leadership are more important than the tangibles. The former are constitutive components of leadership, the latter are means, techniques, skills, and strategies. Leadership training has generally focused on the latter, seeing those components as the real, hard issues of leadership development. This has been an incorrect emphasis and has led us down the wrong path. The intangibles, often considered the vague, soft issues of leadership, are very important. They create a new environment, a new sense of purpose, a new spirit of community, a new commitment to shared vision and values, and all these components are important in contemporary leadership. They are not secondary but integral to leadership success and moreover they significantly affect the bottom line in any company.

Insights of the Christian tradition must permeate all we do, as we immerse ourselves in developmental stages in spiritual leadership. This approach ca be enlightening, challenging, and irresistible for those who sense a vocation to leadership. When all is said and done, leaders are disciples, followers of the Servant Leader

LEADERSHIP AND VOCATIONAL INTEGRITY

I would like to continue some reflections on integrity. It is so much needed today. We need leaders who are willing to become men and women of integrity and show others what good spiritual leadership can be like. So, leaders of integrity are self-directed, pro-active, always accountable, passionately committed to others, they take care of themselves, accept their own gifts, celebrate their own values and priorities, are candid with coworkers, and know what vision drives them.  For such people, leadership is personal development—a journey from acknowledgment of our false selves to the acceptance of our own personal authenticity. It is also the context for individual and organizational development in which the integrity of the latter depends on the integrity of the former.

But, they also internalize social responsibility, and open to genuine dialogue with all around them, aware that their own experiences are always partial and fragmentary.  They accept responsibility, blame no one, and prove every day that their moral centers influence all they do. Personal integrity and social responsibility must also conclude in institutional integrity.  At a time when there are so many critics and pseudo experts, a genuine leader stands up courageously for the institution he or she serves, constantly aware of the purpose of institutions and their normal tendency to self corrupt.  Endowed with courage of conviction, such leaders can move us beyond the comfort that institutions insist on providing, to the alternative ways of living as a community.

Personal, relational, institutional, and vocational integrity reinforce quality of life and lasting leadership.  Leadership lives at the intersection of the authentic and inauthentic, tilting the world toward the authentic.  Leadership is always mindful that, as we call forth authenticity we can never forget that the conflicts and ambiguities of action reside not just in the world but also within ourselves. Leadership is a spiritual journey to the depths of one’s inner convictions, where, alone, one hears a call that no one else hears.  Inner integrity calls leaders to be real, humane, open to the signs of the times, and confident in themselves and their values.  On a more practical level it will require short response time, follow-up to problems, justification for decisions made,  creativity, and willingness to be open to hidden opportunities.

Integrity is not a technique to improve one’s leadership. It is integral to one’s humanity and destiny. Everyone needs integrity, but for leaders it is crucial for the success of their leadership.

 

Train Others to be Visionaries

In recent blogs we have looked at characteristics of spiritual leaders. In this blog and in the next I would like to share with you some ideas concerning a spiritual leader’s need to train others to be visionaries.

Train Others to be Visionaries

Clearly an individual can have a vision for his or her own life with little impact on others. In other words, vision and leadership do not have to go together.  Healthy hermits have vision.  When we speak about vision and leadership, we imply that the leader’s vision is shared with others who are also inspired and motivated by it.  For any leader who believes his or her vision has value for others, he or she must give others the time and space to identify the common vision and make it their own.  A leader can initiate this process, encourage people to question and challenge the status quo, even gently motivate and persuade others as to its values, but can never impose the vision nor allow it to override the visions of others.  In fact, a leader will have to let go of his or her individual vision so that it can gradually become the group’s vision. Ownership of a vision must be enthusiastically discovered by each individual, changing mind and mind set, buying into a new way of looking at reality.

Sometimes members of an organization believe in the common vision, but they do not understand it or live it, nor do they understand its implications, nor would they know whether the vision was actualized or not.  In fact, they simply presume it exists.  This is not enough because not all visions become reality.  A leader must facilitate commitment to a shared vision. These visionary leaders are not born but self-made. They bring people together into a cohesive group through dedication to common, basic values, and shared purpose in life.  It is these common spiritual values that generate commitment and energize people, create meaning in their lives, establish standards of excellence, and bridge the present and the future. When this is done successfully visionary leadership is made visible, and the transformative impact on individuals and organizations is exceptional.

A leader needs communication skills to both convey and maintain a vision, needs impressive management skills to maintain the charismatic image, and needs empowering skills to assure participation.  Leaders must also live in a state of continued dissatisfaction with things as they are, knowing that to be fully satisfied means to have lost vision. Since training others to be visionaries means helping them to be proactive, the leader must help others to anticipate problems and responses. A leader must surface new ideas in others and celebrate them when discovered. This outlook is particularly evident in times of crisis and chaos, when one order is passing and another has the chance to come forth. Leaders’ guidance and vision are critical at such times, when groups move to alternative consciousness and perception from that of the surrounding culture.

Several Suggested Practices for a Spiritual Leader (Fourth)

4. A SPIRITUAL LEADER ASKS QUESTIONS NOONE ELSE DOES

Leadership deals with establishing the vision of hope in our contemporary human communities. This means going beyond what leaders have done in the past. It means struggling with more fundamental questions, living in a state of sustained dissatisfaction with what has been achieved, looking to the future in hope, and being willing to live with the tensions of human frailty in its search for the best human values and for God. All this will mean new ways of looking at the world, new experiments in community interaction, and new percolating structures. Leadership questions today are philosophical and theological. How does what I do affect the human community? How do my decisions reflect God’s plan for humanity? Am I maturing as a human being through my leadership? Am I aware of my covenant with the organization I serve and of the organization’s covenant with its customers, shareholders, and so on? Do I serve the common good? Do my colleagues and I reflect the best of humanity? Does my leadership image the past or explore the future?

When a leader of hope makes decisions, he or she should ask why am I doing this, not only in the short term but in the long term too. In later life will I be proud of what I do today?

What are the alternatives that we can use to achieve our goals equally well but which do more good?

The leader of hope constantly asks self, is what I do in keeping with the best of who we are as human beings?

5. Suggestions:

1. Question yourself on the reasons for your decisions.

2. Do not offer answers until you have exhausted the questions.

3. See yourself and encourage others to see you as a person who asks questions not as someone who gives answers.

4. Ask questions about the future not the past.

5. Ask beyond and beneath what others ask.

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

Several Suggested Practices for a Spiritual Leader (Third)

3. SPIRITUAL LEADERS THINK, MEDITATE, AND CONTEMPLATE

Leaders of hope are men and women of wisdom who make their judgments based on a combination of conceptual thinking, imaginative skills, an artistic sense, intuition, contemplative insight, and the system and community skills of love. These components of decision-making imply new ways of thinking, meditating, and contemplating. Nowadays we no longer value leaders who can make snap judgments, but those who think things through and make correct judgments. We have no use for the so-called leader who makes “those tough decisions,” but one who thinks of every alternative and of everyone involved, and comes up with a decision that is hope-filled in difficult times. We value leaders who have intellectual curiosity.

The spiritual leader of hope is not satisfied only with thinking, but learns to discover and appreciate deeper levels of meaning through meditation. Meditation is discursive thought but gradually becomes a form of prayerful reflection on concrete matters to determine how things ought to be done according to the vision of promise. Gradually, this process becomes simpler until it is a form of centering mind and heart on the issues.

5. Suggestions:

1. As a spiritual leader you should make judgments you can live with and die with.

2. Train yourself to leave aside prejudice in decision-making.

3. Learn a simple method of meditation; if necessary find a teacher.

4. Think of the consequences in others’ lives of what you do.

5. Besides preparing yourself with research and analysis for your work as a leader, also ready your heart and soul.

Several Suggested Practices for a Spiritual Leader (Second)

2. APPRECIATE WHAT LIES BEYOND NORMAL HORIZONS OF LIFE

Some leaders are entrapped in the parameters they have established. They pace around inside their own cage, the stronger eating the weaker, and they call this success. Not only is there a world outside the narrow confines of current failed leaders, but genuine spiritual leadership is only found outside such confines. Other so-called leaders plod ahead like the Budweiser horses with blinders on, less they be distracted by realities around them. The vision pursued by the leader of hope lies beyond normal horizons in the plan of God. Such a leader must have a facility in rising from daily occurrences to make connections to transcendent values. This is one of the most practical things anyone can do, for thinking of the vision of promise gives clear understanding and directives for daily life and leadership.

When you see you are loved by someone, for no particular reason, you find that you are loveable and wonder why. Seeing what lies beyond normal horizons leads us to see and experience a loving God, and that experience changes all understandings of leadership and leads one to servant leadership. Some spiritual leaders and visionary mystics who have appreciated what lies beyond normal horizons of life speak of their vision as one of beauty.

5 Suggestions:

1. When faced with decisions, not only ask how to do something, but also why.

2. Spend a little time each day in quiet reflection, empty of concerns, and  ready to receive.

3. Look at things that surprise you in life and ask why.

4. Think about why you are loved and loveable.

5. Ask yourself for answers to puzzling attitudes you meet in leaders you know.

Something leaders can do immediately

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.

A New Kind of Leadership

We have gone through a trying decade in leadership. So many leaders today work in situations of ambiguity, tension, and often despair (“despair” comes from Latin and means “no hope”). They see failed leadership all around them, incompetent politicians, irresponsible boards, and greedy CEOs. In the eyes of many, today’s leaders fail to cope with the big issues, have lost people’s confidence, and people dislike them. Our world of leadership is depressing, it lacks accountability, so-called leaders burden their followers with their incompetence and then leave, and fear is made systemic. We are surrounded with wars, economic failures, organizational disasters, immorality, political processes that do not work, and a loss of meaning in many organizations we had formerly cherished—all the result of failed leadership. Many followers just do not believe it can get any worse; people are losing resilience and vitality. No one can lead when surrounded with so much negativity towards leadership, but we must find and cultivate leaders who can move us in a new direction, inspire us and draw us to a worthwhile future, and thereby give meaning to our present and provoke a hope for change. We desperately need a new kind of leader, a spiritual leader to bring us to a new era of leadership.