Friday, December 19, 2008

The Value of Community

"The monastic perspective can assist us specifically with regard to understanding the value of community. Imagine for a moment that the people you encounter at home, work, or school are the very people God has given you to pray with, eat with, and play with for the rest of your life. And you are supposed to thank God for this, every day, several times a day. This is what monastic people take on. And what they've learned from this particular asceticism, in attempting to live in peace with themselves and with others, may constitute their greatest gift to us. How radical to think that we can best know ourselves by embracing commitment, not rejecting it; by relating to others, not callously relegating them to the devilishly convenient category of 'other.'"

Monday, December 08, 2008

Leading with the Head bowed down

Lessons in Leadership Humility from the Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia.

Leadership often draws the wrong kinds of leaders. Positions of power and influence have the tendency to attract the proud and the upwardly mobile individualists[1]. Contemporary leadership authors have gone as far as describing organizational leaders as idols, heroes, saviors, warriors, magicians, and even as omnipotent demi-gods[2]. But recently more voices within organizational discourse have been raised to question our perception and acceptance of these power-vested models of leadership. Could leaders be humble, many wonder[3]? It seems that the tide started to turn as the century did, in favor of a virtuous approach to leadership, culminating in the publication of Jim Collins’ pioneering article on Level 5 Leadership in the January 2001 edition of the Harvard Business Review[4]. Collins proposed that the “most powerfully transformative executives” surveyed in his study all possessed the virtue of personal humility.
Although Collin’s work[5] does not describe the process of formation of humble leaders, it does provide an erudite four-fold description of organizational leadership humility:

  • Personally humble leaders demonstrate a compelling modesty. They shun public adulation and never boast.
  • Personally humble leaders act with calm and quiet determination, not relying on inspiring charisma to motivate but rather inspired standards.
  • Personally humble leaders avoid personal ambition in favor of multi-generational organizational growth and development.
  • Personally humble leaders are self-reflective and tend to appropriate blame towards themselves are not others.

How then is humility formed in leaders? It might not come as a surprise that Jim Collins is not the first person to describe the possibility and power of leadership humility. A sixth-century Christian monk, St. Benedict of Nursia (480-540 A.D.), the father of Western Cenobitic Monasticism[6], wrote a rule in which he provided his followers with a twelve step process description of how humility is formed in followers and leaders alike. Benedict’s rule on humility has worked well as a guide and “spiritual manual[7]” facilitating personal and communal transformation within the Benedictine Order and others for well over 1500 years[8].

For the rest of the article see this link.

[1] Taylor, Barbara Brown. 2005. The Evils of Pride and Self-Righteousness. The Living Pulpit, October-December 2005:5.
[2] Morris, J. Andrew, Brotheridge, Céleste M., and Urbanski, John C. 2005. Bringing humility to leadership: Antecedents and consequences of leader humility. Human Relations, 58/10: 1323-1350.
[3] See Dickson, John P. and Rosner, Brian S. 2004. Humility as a Social Virtue in the Hebrew Bible? Vetus Testamentum LIV,4:459-479; and Elsberg, Robert. 2003. The Saints’ Guide to Happiness. New York: North Point Press.
[4] Collins, Jim. 2001. Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve. Harvard Business Review, January: 66-76.
[5]Collins, Jim. 2001. Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve. Harvard Business Review, January: 66-76.
[6] Cheline, Paschal G. 2003. Christian Leadership: A Benedictine Perspective. American Theological Library Association Summary of Proceedings 57:107-113.
[7] Waaijman, Kees. 2002. Spirituality: Forms, Foundations, Methods. Leuven: Peeters.
[8] Mitchell, Nathan D. 2008. Liturgy and Life: Lessons in Benedict. Worship 82/2:161-174.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Reflective Leadership

I read a wonderful article on the discipline of reflection and spiritual leadership this morning by Leonard Doohan in the 2007 edition of the International Journal of Servant-Leadership. Doohan proposes that the emerging, post-industrial, values-based models and theories of leadership are no longer based on knowledge, competence or even experience, but rather on critical reflection, imagination, and an openness to "the unknown, the unexpected, and unexplored." This is where the ancient Biblical devotional discipline of reflection offers a sound base for the reflective attention to that which is ultimately real. Who better than Thomas Merton to shape our understanding of how all of this works:

"Puritas cordis [purity of heart] means much more than moral or ascetic perfection. It is the end of a long process of spiritual transformation in which the soul, perfect in charity, detached from all created things, free from the movements of inordinate passion, is able to live absorbed in God, and is penetrated from time to time with vivid intuitions of His action, intuitions which plumb the depths of the divine mysteries, which "grasp" God in a secret and intimate experience not only of Who He is, but of what He is doing in the world. The [person] who is pure in heart not only knows God, the Absolute Being, pure Act, but knows Him as the Father of Lights, the Father of Mercies, Who has so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son for its Redemption. Such a [person] knows Him not merely by faith, not by theological speculation, but by intimate and incommunicable experience."

Thomas Merton. Bread in the Wilderness (New York: New Dimensions, 1953): 20-21
Leonard Doohan. Spiritual Leadership and Reflection. (International Journal of Servant-Leadership,2007) 285.