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
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.
Leadership is given to people of integrity by their followers who can just as easily withdraw it. Some pseudo-leaders can try to achieve credibility by simply acting the part. Followers soon notice this. In fact, when a leader gives merely lip service to something, he or she gets lip service back from followers. Quality leadership is exercised within a trusting environment. Trust is the emotional glue that binds followers and leaders together. When a trusting environment exists followers confidently rely on the authenticity of their leaders. However, a trusting environment also becomes the foundation for mutual respect, confident risk taking, partnership, and collaboration. In a trusting environment both leaders and followers know that each respects the competence of the other, grants them freedom to act and even to make mistakes, indentifies the blind spots throughout the organization, and will always highlight the positive wherever it is to be found. Failed organizations that lack trust still exist all over the world, riddled with control, rigidity, guilt, fear, intimidation, political infighting, suppression of dissent, and so on. These organizations are spiritually impoverished. Creating an environment of trust means eliminating fear of others’ failures or competence, being able to live with ambiguity, always being ready to show flexibility, and appreciating the individuality of each one in the pursuit of a common goal. Creating a trusting environment requires a new set of virtues from leader and follower alike, as they will need to establish clear and practical institutional goals to maintain this working environment in which alone integrity can flourish.
When a leader witnesses to a firm sense of inner and outer reality, opens up all lines of communication, and integrates all into the pursuit of the organization’s goals, he or she binds the organization closer together. Followers recognize the leader’s integrity and feel more intimately part of the organization, are increasingly proud of their organization, and manifest a greater sense of ownership of the organization and its shared vision.
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.
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.
Spiritual Leadership and Shared Vision
WHAT IS VISION?
A vision articulates what an individual or organization wishes to become. Having vision essentially implies seeing what others do not see; it means appreciating the beauty, hope, and challenge that new ideas can bring to individuals and organizations. It is a form of wisdom to really know where one is going—even amidst ambiguity, conflict, and constant change—this gives one authority with others. Vision includes the ability to see the big picture, all sides of an issue, to let go of vested interests and eliminate biases, and thus to avoid problems that arise from short sidedness and parochialism. Frequently, it refers to the future and implies that a leader acts proactively; it then brings out the best in oneself and in others. Increasingly, it means having insight into present realities and capitalizing on some immediate perspective that others do not appreciate. Vision is not simply the prolonging of the present but the rethinking of the whole immediate reality. Vision becomes an attractive and attainable dream. While unsettling and seemingly dangerous, it is constructive of the future. Vision can also be retrospective, analyzing untapped energy in past failures or short-sightedness in leaders who could not see. So vision can be exercised toward the past, present, and future; it is retrospective, perspective, and prospective.
DELIBERATELY LOOK AT THINGS IN A DIFFERENT WAY
More importantly nowadays, vision is not only seeing in a way others do not see, it is a deliberate decision to look at things in a new way. It starts with one’s basic values and one’s deliberately identified purpose in life. These two facets of one’s personality together form one’s philosophy of life. These lead to one’s sense of mission or destiny, and out of this comes goals and strategies. Vision as a deliberate effort to look at things in a new way is personal wisdom and guides one’s own life. Burt Nanus suggested that a leader will know a new vision is needed when, 1. There is evidence of confusion about purpose, 2. Employees complain about insufficient challenge, or that work is not fun anymore, 3. The organization loses its competitive edge, 4. The organization is out of tune with trends, 5. Employees lack pride in the organization, 6. People avoid risk, 7. There is a lack of shared progress, 8. There is a hyperactive rumor mill. If it is self-centered, then the vision can be bad; if it transcends self in concern for others then it can be good. For leadership to exist, other people must buy into the leader’s vision. Then it not only affects the leader, but motivates and energizes others. Such a vision is specific enough that it guides the leader, but vague enough that it suggests courses of action, and brings forth the best from others in its ongoing development. Some consider that visionary leadership is made up of four interlocking components—personal vision, organizational vision, future vision, and strategic vision.
VISION AND SPIRITUALITY
Vision is not what you see but how you look at things; it’s not what you think but how you think; it is not that you see the future, but how to respond to the future; it is not that you appreciate community, but how you see others interacting as a community; it is not that you see things clearly but that you look at things in the context of the big picture. Vision is not necessarily having a plan, but having a mind that always plans This kind of visioning energizes workers and gives meaning to their work of sharing in a vision that becomes a communal standard of excellence
SHARED VISION AND SERVANT LEADERSHIP
When a vision eventually comes together, it must be powerful enough to take hold of an organization and its common purpose and goals, to capture people’s individual and common hopes, to challenge and stretch everyone in the organization, to energize professional and discretionary commitment, and to satisfy the hopes and longings of all who share it. A vision is always specific enough that people can grasp it and appreciate its sense of direction, yet vague enough that everyone can find a contribution in it that they can make. However, as already stated, a vision for an organization is only useful if followers buy into it. Moreover, once a vision is defined, it must be redefined continually through the new insights of all members of the organization. Although others continually refocus the vision it is still the community’s vision, and a leader must always be able to articulate it. In other words, a vision is never final but is open to further clarification. Common values find new ways to express themselves. Values are the way individuals and organizations measure the rightness of their direction. Values do not create vision, but they always measure the authenticity of new articulations.
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.