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.
How to Become a Great Spiritual Leader: Ten Steps and a Hundred Suggestions
This is a book for daily reflection. It has a single focus—how to become a great spiritual leader. It is a book on the spirituality of a leader’s personal life. It presumes that leadership is a vocation, and that it results from an inner transformation. The book proposes ten steps that individuals can take to enable this process of transformation, and a hundred suggestions to make this transformation real and lasting. It is a unique book in the literature on leadership. This book is a challenge to think about leadership in a new way. People who follow these steps will give the world something to think about regarding what leadership ought to be and can be.
1. Rediscover great leadership.
2. Emphasize remote preparation
3. Set a new direction for your leadership
4. Accept your vocation of leadership
5. Implement your call in a vision
6. Live your vision with courage and perseverance
7. Establish supports for your spiritual leadership
8. Evaluate your leadership: an artist’s challenge
9. Work with your followers-disciples.
10. Accept ten personal reflections
This book is the third in a series on leadership. The first, Spiritual Leadership: The Quest for Integrity gave the foundations of leadership today. The second, Courageous Hope: The Call of Leadership, gave the contemporary characteristics and qualities of leadership. This third book focuses on the spirituality of the leader.
Leonard Doohan’s books on leadership have been described as “highly readable,” “profound and caring,” “clear and challenging,” “a profound guidebook for leaders of the future,” “beyond or better beneath many current volumes,” “elegant, powerful, forthright.” Commentators have said “I highly recommend,” “He strengthens our resolve,” “Read every word,” “He restores our hope,” “Learn how to this kind of leader.”
This book is available from amazon.com
I’d like to continue some reflections on this theme of coaching followers, a topic I dealt with before the summer vacations. Coaching followers is an important quality of spiritual leaders. Coaching others requires that leaders be reflective, have political savvy, and maintain spiritual depth. Reflection is needed to receive creativity, political savvy is needed to deal with and direct the resulting changes, and spiritual depth is needed to preserve balance and perspective amidst the change. Coaching others presumes intensity of conviction in the leader who is striving to manage, then empower, and finally liberate the performance of others. Intensity of conviction is very subjective, self-confident, and can be influential, and it must be managed by a genuine respect for others and their views, an attitude of benevolence toward others and their as-yet-unknown responses, and an openness to be changed by others’ input.
Coaching others means helping followers see the excitement that comes with change and crisis and training them to invest in innovative skills that gives the ability to provide alternative solutions that others do not. Coaching others means challenging others to exceed their potential and in doing so exceed one’s own. All this is part of serving others in new circumstances, even relishing change because it gives opportunities to serve perennially in different situations. Approaching change in this way requires humility, passion, boldness, and courage. Coaching for times of change means helping followers retain high levels of self esteem, intensity of conviction, and self-confidence linked to humility. It also insists that simple aspects of life should not be neglected—appearance, verbal skills, body language, patience, politeness and civility.
Managers quickly become obsolete, whereas leaders know their tasks are ongoing. They continue to form, support, and coach the new leaders to whom they delegate responsibility. The goals of leadership outlive the leader in his or her followers. However the leader does not withdraw after delegation but continues to be supportive by fostering personal growth and deeper understanding, offering feedback, and building new skills in followers. Leadership means giving of your best and getting others to give their best too.
Dedicated leaders live in a state of continued dissatisfaction with things as they are and are always striving for something more from themselves and their followers. To be satisfied would mean losing the vision. Thus, leaders continue to model the vision, to proclaim the ideals of the organization by building-up its image, to transmit a shared vision with persuasiveness and inspiration, to demand high expectations of followers, to support followers with high levels of confidence, and to motivate others to the best of which they are capable. A leader helps followers grow in their own leadership style, stressing the ongoing quality of their work, their organizational and societal contributions, and their quality life. A leader will always need to show flexibility, seeking each follower’s way of leading. The only part of vision in which the leader shows no flexibility is the continuing need for commitment to values.
One of the key qualities of spiritual leaders is the ability to coach their followers. Change-leaders encourage their followers to look at things in a different way. This means understanding followers, the way they think, and the way they do things. It implies training them to go away from present views at least long enough to be influenced by something different. But coaching must be done skillfully, and it generally implies giving people important work to do, discretion and autonomy over this work, visibility and recognition for what they do, and the know-how to establish connections with people of power and position. Coaching followers requires strategic skills–modeling a form of leadership based on vision and values, establishing trust among a group of followers, training in team performance, collaborative learning and partnership building. A leader needs to allow followers to improvise and then to learn from their success and failures. There is no risk-taking without error, but no newly created future without risk-taking. Above all, a leader who wishes to coach others to be visionaries must let others have control over their own lives, for it is this sense of freedom that capitalizes on an individual=s energy, creativity, and enthusiasm. When a leader can encourage a sense of risk and improvisation in others and link these approaches to humility, then provided there is a solid foundation of competence and genuine perseverance in dedication to values, a leader can unleash profound power, passion, boldness, and courage in the organization. McLean and Weitzel (Leadership: Magic, Myth, or Method, 186) suggest six steps to unleash leadership potential in oneself or others: 1. Practice influencing others, 2. See similarities between self and others, 3. Recognize and meet others= expectations, 4. Accept and let go of leadership roles, 5. Provide support for each other, 6. Always know your own worth and accept your own stature.
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
In a recent blog I shared with you some ideas concerning a spiritual leader’s responsibility to train others to a shared vision. Here I continue those ideas.
Leaders serve as facilitators and animators of a common vision. They know that no individual owns the vision to share with followers, but that the vision is built around that shared identity of the group. Shared values in a healthy corporate culture are the most important unifying force of the group. A good leader will achieve this through a process of vision development. The group participates in predetermining the vision either by their involvement or apathy. Sometimes a group will need a leader to identify their distinctive contributions, selecting, synthesizing, articulating, and revising the group’s values. Groups often cannot express their own mission, but they can recognize it when a leader they trust articulates their enduring values for them. Thus a leader can focus others’ attention and create in them a pervading passionate commitment for a vision that is unknowingly within them. A leader attains consensus by making conscious what lies unconscious in the followers, calling them to articulate what is important to them in the core of their being.
Identifying a shared vision will require collaborative styles of learning, new group techniques for sharing ideas, and new skills of consultation, dialogue, group goal-setting, and strategic planning. The group together seeks solutions, finds the common ground of unity and community, and searches for the synergy that common problem solving and planning can produce. These creative forms of collaboration expand the group’s thinking, and can generate new meaning to the group’s decisions. These early efforts to identify a shared vision is an experience of interdependency.
The leader will push down as far as possible not only consultation and decision making but also planning, strategizing, and goal setting. The team or group takes over the role of the hierarchy in an organization. However, to assure that the vision is shared within the organization, the leader will train groups to keep others in the next group above or below them informed about the essential components of the vision.
To identify a shared vision, a leader appreciates that the vision must turn inward to the group, but the focus must be on the people who are served by the vision. He or she will take the vision seriously enough to seek out needed resources to attain it. Identifying a shared vision cannot be restricted to one’s working life since a vision that enthuses people will do so because it touches their core values that will be the same in personal, community, and social life.
Groups do not pursue a vision that they do not own. Vision refers to what a group is convinced it should be doing in a given time and situation. Leaders must generate ownership of the vision they find in themselves and their followers; and this can take a long time, and much patience and fortitude. It is often said that leaders must leave followers a legacy, and surely it is the legacy that everyone has a part of the vision; everyone is individually important to the common enterprise.
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?
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.
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
Leaders today must be men and women who can think, reflect, reintegrate, and transform the many aspects of their lives. Leadership is no longer based merely on knowledge, competence, and experience, unless these are linked with reflection that produces alternative ways of thinking and acting. In the past we tended to stress leaders who were doers and achievers not reflective thinkers. Today’s new models of leadership all demand critical reflection, imagination, and an openness to the unknown, the unexpected, and the unexplored. The source of real learning in one’s leadership is within and this implies the importance of reflection. Below are offered four suggestions to help one be more reflective.
STILLNESS: The major preparations for reflective leadership can be viewed as one’s personal contribution in attitudes of stillness, inspiration, concentration, and silence. Each of these is a gift and is also an acquired art that benefits both reflection and leadership. We need to specifically train ourselves in stillness of body. We need to sit still, do nothing and completely relax. For people of religious faith, any of the present techniques for relaxation which help in the acquiring of stillness in the presence of God can be used. This first simple stage should not be passed over. In our present speed-prone age, it can be a real effort. In the long run, it pays high dividends. Linked to this outward relaxed position should be deep and regular breathing. The stillness that reflection and prayer requires is also a fine attitude in daily life and leadership. People who are always rushing here and hurrying there are not noted for the quality of their presence to others, whether colleagues, family, or friends. No one can be consistently still in times of reflection, unless he or she can be still in the presence of others, giving them attention and interest. Stillness is not something that we can turn on for moments of reflection. Rather, it must be very gradually acquired through self- training and sacrifice. This effort to train oneself in stillness and to place oneself in the presence of God is a “prayer of the body.”
INSPIRATION. To facilitate the second step in reflection one needs, throughout daily life, to train oneself in openness to the varied and continual inspirations of the day from wherever they come. To help the development of the genuine spirit of inspiration we need to know ourselves as we are, with the good and weak sides, and express ourselves as we truly feel. If we hide or close ourselves to the unacceptable about ourselves this just becomes a block to our reflection and prayer. We also need to be open to being inspired by others and by the world; and here one need only apply the general principles of dialogue in openness to others and in the signs of the times.
If in times of reflection and prayer and decision-making in leadership we are able to show openness to inspiration, then it will be because we have developed in life this attitude of total attentiveness to the varied inspirations that come personally to us in our hearts, in others, in the world with its history and in daily events. If we have not a listening heart and not trained ourselves in the art of listening, then when a critical time of change and challenge comes it is humanly impossible for us just to switch on to becoming inspired or inspirational.
CONCENTRATION. Thirdly, we must train ourselves to concentrate, then in dealing with others or in discerning institutional direction we will be able to concentrate individually and with others in the challenging moments of life. Here again, we have an act of reflection and prayer which is an art and we can develop it by the way we approach other aspects of our daily leadership life. Therefore, as a remote preparation for reflection and prayer, try to develop concentration.
The ability to concentrate, which is also a common necessity in human growth, is something to be acquired by daily effort. Only short moments are needed, a few minutes while traveling, a view in the city, a scene in the country, a person’s face, a picture, a child—all can be objects of a moment’s concentration. On the other hand, listening intensely for a short while to a piece of music, or just one sound, or a bird, or a person’s voice, or the rustling of leaves—all can open us to concentrate on something we did not perceive before. This is the self training and remote preparation we need for reflection and prayer and a preparation to discover the best in others.
SILENCE IN GOD. The kernel of genuine reflection is silence, and of genuine prayer silence in God. There are several attitudes of daily life which can undoubtedly help and prepare the way for this recollected silence. Awareness to the quality of one’s presence to others and recollection are fundamental. Effort given to this reflective silence is generally more profitable for growth in reflection than is anything else. To these ought to be added a cultivated sense of wonder and astonishment. These qualities are often missing in life today, but if reflective leadership must also include an attitude of openness to the ever newness of others and of organizational growth, we will need a genuine sense of mystery and wonder to appreciate what is always ahead of us, always new, and our growing efforts at concentration will be an aid here. In this connection we need a healthy sense of aloneness, an awareness of our own unfulfillment except through others and in God—in other
words, the attitude of one who is a real searcher.
Above all, one needs patience and a willingness to wait. Sometimes in the reflective moments of a day we try to push ourselves—disliking emptiness, we return to the normal actions of each day at the first sign of “nothing happening.” Those who do wait are generally the ones who can come up with a new insight, can see links with vision and mission, and can see how every member of the group “fits in.” All these above attitudes are also aspects of daily life, and
living through them in daily life can be a preparation for reflection and an enrichment of our leadership skills. Nancy Eggert suggests four means to enter into contemplative experience: 1. Through appreciation of the material world (appreciation). 2. By letting go and letting be (detachment). 3. Through creative breakthroughs (creativity). 4. By means of social justice and compassion (compassion).