REDISCOVER GREAT LEADERSHIP: Reflection 7–Let your leadership give the world something to think about
I offer an approach to leadership that will give the world something to think about. I just cannot take failed leadership anymore! I am fed up and disgusted with our “leaders” in all walks of life; angry at the disastrous situations in politics, at the disgusting aspects of business greed, at the pathetic loss of direction from religion. I know leadership development is always within constraints, but we have to stop this roller coaster, initiate a shake-up of leadership that for too long has been immersed in incompetence, corruption, and secrecy, and has done so much harm to all organizations including religion. We must insist that people in charge be leaders; but this might be too much to expect given the culture of arrogance, corruption, greed, and selfishness that we see all around us and the desperate need of pseudo leaders to preserve the status quo. The steady and relentless erosion of values, of service to the common good, of generous dedication, of a vocational response to God’s call, must be replaced by a renewed dedication to spiritual leadership and to these values. This will happen slowly at first, one step and one leader at a time, but it will be contagious, and eventually will reach a critical mass, and then lots of people will think of leadership in a different way.
Our contemporary world evidences both the “kingdom of darkness” and the “kingdom of light,” but the former seems much more powerful than the latter. Good leadership is rare. Current forms of leadership are not working; even small problems become intractable, and we lack people who can break through the barriers that prevent resolution of important issues in politics, social life, and religion. Key people in the world need to think about new visions, priorities, relationships, goals, means, and strategies. We must find leaders who can create interruptions in the way we have been thinking, force us to stop and reflect, and open us to something different. We need leaders who will not prolong the best of the present, but lead us to the future from a vision of hope. We need leaders who will not embody the worst of humanity, but lead with an awareness that there exist two horizons to life—this one and the one beyond. We need leaders who will not pursue their own selfish goals, but lead from love, justice, and mutual appreciation. We need leaders who will not be fixated with getting to the top, but lead through an extensive commitment to service of others.
There is always tension in leadership between the here and now and the there and then, between the already and the not yet. We need leaders with a new understanding of commitment, who work out of simplicity, who seek direction in contemplation, and who can unlock the potentials of the heart; leaders who act deliberately, always making decisions in light of what is the most loving thing to do. Their action is enlightened, they humbly revise all they do, and they are always involved in ongoing self-formation. The “kingdom of darkness” will not like this approach, but it is needed, and it is the focus of this book. Leaders today need always to review what constitutes good leadership and bad leadership.
I propose there are no great leaders without a commitment to spirituality. If size, balance sheets, status, personnel numbers, salary, profits, power, and so on, determined great leaders then some Wall Street executives, healthcare industry CEOs, politicians, even religious administrators would be great leaders, and obviously many are not. The problem with many of these people is that they make enormous sacrifices of their integrity to remain in power. Rather, inner values, convictions, spirit, and openness to transcendence are the qualities that determine great leadership. We must give serious consideration to the intangibles of spiritual leadership, if we are going to change the kind of approach to leadership from what we see now to what we must attain.
Spirituality refers to a person’s efforts to become the best he or she is capable of being, to become his or her authentic self. Spirituality is the ordering of our lives so that everything we do reflects the values we hold deep within our hearts—honesty, justice, integrity, service, community, hope, and love. In some ways, spirituality is all about relationships; our relationship with ourselves—always striving to be the best we can be; our relationships with others—treating them with respect, seeking what is good for them, serving them, pursuing the common good; relationships with community organizations and structures—utilizing them for the betterment of people and not as ends in themselves; and relationships with God before whom we must judge ourselves and the kind of leadership we espouse.
So, I seek the integration of human knowledge and leadership development with an integral spiritual calling, for spirituality is part of who we are, and we can never be our true selves without it. Leadership without spirituality would be a body without soul. Spirituality gives life to our leadership. A great leader must point to values beyond this world and work within the framework of leadership in light of convictions regarding values beyond the immediate horizon of life. Thus, spiritual leaders climb the heights of leadership by living and sharing values of the Spirit, by leading with spiritual conviction, by being constantly motivated by the vision of the future in hope. I say all this because I believe in a vision of life within the plan of God. All this contrasts with the betrayal of values we have witnessed in so many failed leaders of recent decades.
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.
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).