I would like to draw your attention to this new printing of my book, The One Thing Necessary: The Transforming Power of Christian Love, published by ACTA Publications (www.actapublications.com). Many writers today speak about the importance of love in leadership development, and I hope you might find this helpful. This book is available from ACTA or from amazon.com.
This radical new interpretation of love as the touchstone of the Christian message, explores the human longing for meaning; the Scriptures; the relational model of the Trinity: the ideas of human vocation, destiny and community; the mystical spiritual traditions; and his own experiences to explain what love is, how we find it, and how it can change the world. Each of the seven chapters contains several quotes and focus points at the beginning and provocative questions at the end for reflection or discussion by adult religious education and bible study groups.
“This book is all about love—and love as the one thing necessary. It is most certainly not about easy love or cheap grace. It is about the transforming power of Christian love. It is not only challenging but disturbing, a book written with conviction and passion.”
“[Doohan’s] artful gathering and arranging of ideas reminds one of the impact of a gigantic bouquet of mixed flowers chosen individually and with great care.”
“Would that we heard more about this in our churches and religious discussions because, “this transforming power of Christian love will save the world” (p. 93).
Every generation presents us with outstanding leaders, and our own is no exception. However, we have also faced overwhelming failures of leadership, so much so that leadership today is a dark place where at times we are afraid to go. So much harm has been done by our leaders’ cold hands of malice, selfishness, arrogance, and greed that we are filled with anger and even more with anguish at what has happened. Any analysis of political, business, or religious leadership easily leads us to despair. We often feel immersed in a numbness and helplessness as we wonder where all the good leaders have gone.
Men and women who are willing to offer themselves to the service of leadership must mourn the failures of contemporary leadership, savor that failure, face, identify, express disgust at the greed, loss of values, selfishness, and incompetence we see in abundance. All this is part of a process of purification of the destructive models of leadership. But creating the alternative seems too much for us to achieve; it is a dark night in which we are helpless without the transformative interventions of God. Acknowledging our helplessness in face of overwhelming negativity is also a valuable experience of preparation.
Christianity has traditionally identified seven serious failings that go against everything that Christianity stands for, and we generally refer to these failings as the seven deadly sins, or the seven capital sins. They are a summary of the wasteland of failed leadership that men and women of good will must strive to overcome if they wish to be great leaders. These seven deadly sins are pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. It is appropriate to apply these failings to an analysis of one’s own life but, more importantly, to interpret them in relation to social and specifically leadership failures that we must prepare ourselves to avoid.
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.
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.
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.
Integrity is not a word we frequently use for today’s leaders. Many leaders today lack integrity and transparency, and we hear denunciations of corruption too often for comfort. integrity requires courage to speak the truth, to accept one’s own independence and autonomy, to honestly present the implications of a vision, and to faithfully persevere in the demands of a vision even when it means standing alone. Integrity includes accepting one’s own blind spots and failures. Integrity is primarily an inner self-knowledge but also refers to followers’ perception that leaders’ values and actions match their words. It is a form of holistic living. Leading holistically also means living one’s life motivated by a set of core values that place a high priority on integrity, service, and spirituality. Integrity includes being absolutely candid and evidencing intellectual honesty in the things one says, consistency in dealing with others, honesty in handling conflict. It implies accepting what we have been and imagining what we can be. It is the spiritual discipline of always speaking the truth, of making sure we do what we claim we will do, and of being ready to hold on to the course of action. When a person has integrity he or she gains trust. However, the integrity must involve every aspect of one’s life—personal, relational, organizational, and societal.
This basic leadership ingredient is an added value to competence. It is beyond expertise and motivation, it is the honesty that one’s core beliefs guide one’s decision-making in leadership. It requires self-acceptance, truthfulness, fortitude, and inner peace. It establishes congruence between one’s inner and outer reality. Individuals earn the right to be called leaders when people find authentic unity between their organizational and professional commitment and their spiritual lives. In fact, a person is not free to lead unless he or she understands humanity, its nature, feelings, processes, and inner yearnings for self-actualization.
Leaders of integrity bring quality presence to all they do. Aware of their own stature as leaders, sensitive to their obligations to others in society, they can peacefully face the falsity and dark side of themselves, of their communities, and of society. Because of their integrity they can attain the characteristics of a successful leader, namely one who can challenge the process, inspire a shared vision, enable others to act, model the way, and encourage the heart of the followers. Let us hope for more leaders of integrity.
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.
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.