Friday, May 12, 2006

Dreaming with Open Eyes: Leadership and Kenotic Spirituality

“When we open our eyes and dream, we open our eyes.”
– Sam Phillips[1]
[1] Phillips, S 2001. How to Dream; from Fan Dance. Nonesuch Records.

The study of leadership is concerned with the understanding of reality. It is the pursuit of a deepening knowledge of how our world actually works. Joseph Jaworski[1] echoes this notion when he writes: “It’s not about positional power; it’s not about accomplishments; it’s ultimately not even about what we do. Leadership is about creating a domain in which human beings continually deepen their understanding of reality and become more capable of participating in the unfolding of the world. Ultimately, leadership is about creating new realities.” Authentic leadership is marked by an active engagement with the problems and the joys of the world we live in. Seen in this light, leadership is more than just the skilful application of the newest management techniques peddled by motivational gurus and it is certainly more than the capitalist catnip of economic progress at any cost. Leadership is about dreaming with our eyes open, leading whilst present in the moment and to one-another and so finding ways to participate in the creation of a better tomorrow. Christian Spirituality deeply informs this kind of leadership approach. Kenosis, as an ethical construct of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation, speaks of a very specific belief in the mode of God’s interaction with the world. In the doctrine of incarnation, the Christian claim is that God actually lived the life of a man in Jesus of Nazareth and thus the kenosis (self-emptying) of God in Christ provides an ethical and philosophical mode of ministry and leadership that is based on voluntary abasement and mutuality with all of humankind.

The spirituality of kenosis, building on the doctrinal tenets of the incarnation, positions itself in a recognition and appreciation of a specific culture; in a sense the embracing of the self’s and by implication the other’s “sitz-im-leben” (context). Appropriating the values of kenosis in leadership requires the identification and acceptance of the social and cultural locality of the self and the other as the beginning point in the (re)building of community. Leaders with the values of kenosis can be been described as characterised by, voluntary self-limitation, vulnerability, present to the other, voluntary powerlessness, continual purification from self-centeredness, humility, self-sacrifice, and openness to the other. Kenosis addresses the true challenge of dialogical behaviour and as appropriated in the Christian past was often rooted in a mimetic re-enactment of the self-emptying (kenotic) Christ. This reading of kenosis[1] became the hermeneutical key for Christian leaders in the past in which they interpreted the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and applied its meaning to leadership within their own temporal context. Kenosis was often seen as a mystical communion with the kenotic Christ that leads to personal transformation of both the leader and follower and enabled them to practice kenosis (self-emptying) as Christ did. This resolute divesting of the prestige and power inherent in the leadership transaction enables the leader and follower to enter into a new union that is marked by equality and service. Yves Raguin[2], a Christian thinker explains the leadership implications of kenosis, when he writes: “…kenosis, then, is the gateway to mutual understanding, and beyond this, to an intimate sharing that is the consummation of a relationship in union…By dispossession of self we are able to absorb the amazing riches of others…”.

The value of mutuality in kenosis allows the leader to transcend narrow selfhood, to locate the other in love and to truly enter into the world of the follower where the leader becomes the servant of the other. This is a state of mutual acceptance, vulnerability and receptivity. This overcoming of the separation between leader and follower finds it deepest dimension in kenotic love and self-sacrifice that negates, in the words of Thomas Merton[3], the “dream of separateness” that so often pervades organisational leadership. The central value of mutuality in the theological and ethical construct of kenosis allows the leader to locate the follower in their mutual humanity and so find their deepest identity in a communal, redefining, and empowering relationship of self-sacrificial love.

[1] For a full treatment on the theological and ethical ramifications of the concept of kenosis see Cronin, K M 1992. Kenosis. Rockport: Element.
[2] Raguin, Y 1973. I am sending you (John 22:21): Spirituality of the Missioner. Manila: East Asian Pastoral Institute. Page 111.
[3] Merton, T 1966. Conjectures of a guilty bystander. New York: Doubleday. Page 156.
[1] Jaworski, J 1998. Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Page 3.