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 want to help those of good will who want to become great leaders. We seem at times to be in an irreversible stall when it comes to leadership development. Many people are given authority and power way beyond their competence, and followers must often protect themselves from the irredeemable incompetence of their bosses. We have to acknowledge, with great sadness, that we are surrounded with failures in leadership. However, there are many men and women of good will who could become great leaders to the benefit of society, but at times they just do not make it. Sometimes they cannot bring themselves to make the first demanding steps that could lead to quality leadership, possibly they feel unworthy, or sometimes they have initial fear of the demands that lie ahead. Although endowed with lots of good will, some have been misguided, trained with wrong priorities, led to believe they do not have what it takes to become a great leader, or have been encouraged to model themselves on other leaders who lack the genuine focus of authentic leadership. Clearly, we do not want more of what we have had to tolerate. Some programs and courses on leadership are a hindrance to the kind of leadership that is needed today; thus, some become very competent in skills that harm rather than help organizations and their members. It is sad to see many continue in their immature approaches to leadership because they do not know how to break away from the inappropriate methods and training that have been suggested in the past, or because they lack the guidance they need, or because they lack the strength of will to accept the sacrifices that contemporary leadership implies. Some even resist the call they hear in the depths of their hearts to serve others in a transformed leadership.
I am not undertaking this particular project because I think I see things no one else does. We have benefitted so much from the insights on leadership presented by many scholars and practitioners. I have detailed references to the great contemporary experts in leadership in my previous two books on leadership. However, I have worked all over the world with wonderful people, many great leaders from all walks of life, and have learned so much from them, both in appreciating what led to their successes and in identifying the unfulfilled yearnings of others. At the same time I have seen so many men and women who long to give themselves to the service of others, but just cannot get things moving. They work tirelessly, read and study all the latest insights into leadership development, and attend conferences and workshops that they believe will help. There comes a moment when one needs to pause and ask “Is what I am doing helping me become a great leader?” Often the answer is no; neither the system, nor the leadership model, nor the means suggested are working. Then it is time to stop and acknowledge that we must move in a different direction if we want to foster great leadership, and I offer the reflections in this book to challenge you to do that. If you are a person of good will and long to serve others by your leadership, there is every chance you can become a great leader, provided you focus on the appropriate preparation and consciously participate in the stages of growth indicated in the chapters ahead. This is a menu of floating ideas that can enrich your commitment.
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.
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 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.
5. TEACH A NEW UNDERSTANDING OF COMMITMENT
Spiritual leaders propose a new understanding of commitment. Every good leader challenges self and followers to wholehearted commitment. The leader of hope links professional commitment to the integral human, spiritual maturing of self and each follower. Professional commitment becomes part of one’s spirituality and thus draws out discretionary dedication from everyone. In this context outstanding performance is a matter of personal growth, integrity, character development, and simply being who one feels called to be. Leaders must fire followers’ hearts to see professional dedication and spirituality as two facets of the same life.
Leaders enthuse followers to be dedicated to a shared vision of hope. Commitment relates to the future and so includes imagination, contemplation, and hope. This implies networking to discover other people’s hopes and constantly urging and encouraging others to be open to the unexpected. Commitment is essentially making the vision of hope real in the present.
This commitment to hope implies transformative action as part of one’s dedication. ommitment becomes part of one’s spirituality and thus draws out discretionary dedication from everyone.
Leaders enthuse followers to be dedicated to a shared vision of hope. Commitment relates to the future and so includes imagination, contemplation, and hope.
This commitment to hope implies transformative action as part of one’s dedication. Leaders of hope not only have a deep capacity for hope but a life long dedication to realizing the future we long for.
Commitment is relational. Others are included in our commitment as we are in theirs.
Commitment is to each other to work synergetically. Synergy refers to people who are different creating desirable results greater than the independent parts can do. It is a form of fusion that implies joining, coming together, creating connections and partnerships. It is about reducing barriers by encouraging conversations, information sharing, and joint responsibility across boundaries.
Commitment means encouraging each other to be leaders.
This loving service will also manifest quality commitment in collaboration in culturally and gender diverse situations. For a leader of hope commitment is not merely to a job well done, but to a vision of community.
1. Think about ways you can make an ideal future alive today.
2. Ask yourself why are you committed at work and what is the quality of your commitment.
3. Check how you contribute to the development of your colleagues.
4. If you contribute more on your own than with others, ask why.
5. Identify the links between your professional dedication and personal spirituality.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.