“Leaders, leaders every where… But are the led being fed?”
Grab a seat marathoners for Christ! Tiring week, eh? Bless each of you for being so humble yet courageous for spreading the Good News… a midst SO much bad news: But that’s the best time to take advantage of a broken-open heart, right?
The title of today’s Training Table taste treat is a play on words originating in a poem that may be familiar to many of you, “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Even though the poem in its entirety wouldn’t be familiar to many, one famous line has become a colloquialism about an apparent abundance of something that is, in reality, sorely scant, unfit or unusable.
The famous line is, “Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink.” And, even though the analogy I hope to draw about leadership may not be an all-together popular one to hear, I hope that it might inspire a few folks in leadership positions and in a position to encourage leadership in yourself or others.
There is a leader in everyone who has an influence on another person; and it’s critical that everyone leads in some way, shape or form. But some of you have a disproportionate amount of leadership influence and responsibility. This message is meant primarily for you.
This message is meant for leaders who resonate with the sort of definition of leadership that John Gardner describes: “Leaders do not invent or manufacture motivation. They unlock what is there, awaken what is dormant, and tap hidden reserves. It is one of the tasks of leaders to ensure the continuous renewal of the systems over which they preside. The release of human possibilities is one of the most basic of social objectives and leadership goals.”
Do you know in the deepest recesses of your heart what “the possibilities of human possibilities” really amounts to? It’s as hunormous as God’s culminating act of creation, Beloved of God! The stewardship of human possibilities is a calling that all leaders need to grasp… big time.
When did we play a dirge upon hearing of the demise of generational wisdom?
The main message of Coleridge’s classic poem is one we sorely need to hear today as leaders: the wisdom of the aged and experienced passed onto the youthfully naïve of the day. Or not…
As a leadership coach and mentor, I have a passion for being a catalyst for raising up self-aware, humble, bold and responsible leaders. Providence plus leadership is the only thing that can save our rapidly decaying culture at large; but also the corporate culture (a group of people gathered to achieve a vision) of spiritually, emotionally and inspirationally underfed and gaunt employees in every industry left in the good ‘ol U. S. of A. Presently, employee satisfaction is at an all-time low.
Leaders are called to feed people who are starving for ways to use their unique gifts and talents and be recognized for contributing themselves toward the end of achieving the vision of their organization. Did you get that? All of humanity is inspired to greatness by seeing themselves as contributors to achieving a great vision. Helen Keller, who was blind from birth, once said, “There is nothing more pitiable than people who can see, but have no vision.”
Most leaders have an entire pantry full of ways to feed their people… but don’t have the key to open the storehouse! And so, the led starve for a sense of purpose while the leader wonders why creativity, satisfaction, productivity, innovation and joy languishes. Yes, far too many under-led, under-fed employees are “dead men walking” because of leadership and inspirational malnourishment.
Like the Ancient Mariner who looked upon a sea of wisdom and hard-earned experience going unused on the youth of his day, far too few leaders of today call upon past leadership greatness as the model, method and means of their own leadership legacy. This takes deep self-awareness, purposefulness, humility, patience and constant feedback. The storehouse of leadership greatness of our past is largely going to waste, my friends.
Akin to countless tons of food sitting and rotting on the docks and storage containers of war-torn areas of the world, a leadership feast to feed the led is sitting unused because, among other things, a) the transitory nature of the urgent over the important; b) leaders tasked with stewarding the organizational Vision, Mission, Core Values attempt to do so devoid of knowing their own personal Vision, Mission, Core Values; c) a war of un-dealt-with emotions within the heart and spirit of leadership; and d) the immediate gratification and greed of our culture that tempts leaders from going deeper and being all they could and should be for the led.
Borrowing from Henri Nouwen’s great book, “The Wounded Healer”, I will leave you three main things the leader (positionally and in all of us) must closely consider. Be warned: your instinctual reaction to reading this content MAY be to grab a handful of possible responses. I will tell you what these are after you read the three points below. But I tell you in advance that they are coming so you won’t be surprised and caught off guard, my leader and/or led friends.
A Heart-Hitting Context of Our Day
Allow me to also provide a major caveat or preface to the points below: Henri Nouwen’s input (in quotes below) for leaders of today is placed in the context of fatherless leaders leading a fatherless generation.
I know this articulation of a reality in which we live will set many of you back on your heels wondering what the blazes this has to do with anything – if you even believe it’s true. Today we live in a fatherless generation desperately searching for a new kind of depth and authority. And the means and ends of their “desperate seeking” can be pretty grim… We need leaders to lead in a very, very big way TODAY.
Please hang in there, friends. The implications of what leadership should or could look like in a fatherless generation are very real; and any denial of the situation will simply exacerbate the challenge of fostering great leadership while hardening one’s heart as the means of avoiding embracing the truth. If you’re having difficulties seeing what the possibility of fatherless leaders leading a fatherless generation has to do with the challenges and the redemptive possibilities of leadership, please drop me an e-mail and we’ll unpack it a bit. But don’t simply allow a “huh, interesting…”, “I’m too busy…” or “not my problem…” to suffice.
Nouwen’s content below is invaluable. Please read deeply and consider how the attributes of leadership may be inculcated into your heart for leadership – either by your own life or by your ability to recognize it and encourage it in others.
1) A leader is… An Articulator of Inner Events
Having a deep sense of self-awareness while living in the inner place of existential angst is the number one attribute of enduring leadership. Having been there themselves, “leaders must be able to clarify the immense confusion which can arise when the people in their midst enter the place of their own internal world. As soon as leaders feel at home in their own house, discover the dark corners as well as the well-lit spots, the closed doors as well as the drafty rooms, the confusion begins to evaporate, our anxieties will diminish, and we will become capable of the creative work we are called to do.”
A key word in the leadership descriptor above is “articulation”. As a leader, do you know our own inner story well enough to share it with others with humility, transparency, boldness, creativity and laughter? “The man who can articulate the movements of his inner life, who can give names to his varied experiences, need no longer be a victim of himself. But he is able to slowly and consistently remove the obstacles that prevent the spirit of shared humanness and creativity to enter in.”
NOTE: “Today’s leaders must first have the courage to be an explorer of the new territory in him or her self and to articulate his or her discoveries as a service to an inward-focused generation.”
This is indeed the first feast of the heart of those whom all leaders are responsible for – in service of the led.
2) A leader is… A Person of Compassion
“Through leadership compassion it is possible to recognize that the craving for love that men and women feel resides in our own hearts as well. That the cruelty the world knows all too well is rooted in our own impulses. Through compassion, we also sense our hope for forgiveness in our friend’s eyes; and our hatred in their bitter mouths. When they kill, we know that we could have done it; when they give life, we know that we could have done the same.”
“For a compassionate leader, nothing human is alien: no joy and no sorrow, no way of living and no way of dying. This sort of compassion has authority because it does not tolerate the pressures of the in-group, but breaks through the boundaries between languages and countries, rich and poor, educated and illiterate. This compassion pulls people away from the fearful clique into the large world where they can see that every human face is the face of a neighbor.”
Leadership author Daniel Goleman (“Emotional Intelligence”) defines this sort of leadership compassion as, “Having first gained self-awareness, the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people and the skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions.” Leadership empathy is a useful synonym.
This compassion has authority!
3) A leader is… A Contemplative Critic
“A leader as a contemplative critic is a self-aware and compassionate articulator. He has the ability to reveal the first lines of a new world behind the veil of everyday life. This leader keeps a certain distance to prevent becoming absorbed in what is most urgent and what is most immediate. But that same distance allows the leader of the future to bring to the fore the real beauty of man and his world, which is always different, always fascinating, always new.”
“The leader as contemplative critic can be a leader for a convulsive generation because he can break through the vicious circle and cycle of immediate needs asking for immediate satisfaction. He can direct the eyes of the led who want to look beyond their impulses, and steer their erratic energy into more creative channels.”
“The leader as contemplative critic is not needy or greedy for human contact and praise, but is guided by a vision of what he has seen beyond the trivial concerns of a possessive world. He does not bounce up and down with the fashions of the moment, because he is in contact with what is basic, central and ultimate.”
The leader as contemplative critic has a vision and he understands the sort of stewardship the Leader / Vision-Keeper is responsible for.
Committing to Engage in the Quest for Great Leadership
Let me say from the very heart of my heart that I believe there are many potentially great leaders in our midst but, reflective of the culture at large, most are approaching their job as leader with, a) very little self-awareness, design, and accountability as a leader, b) the wrong premise and priorities as a leader and, c) in a very shallow, near-term, and overly simplistic fashion. I hope this message of remembrance, warning, exhortation and encouragement will challenge some leaders to Go Deeper!
Yes, it is indeed “lonely at the top”, my friends. But for far too many it’s far lonelier and much more difficult than it need be.
I hope that many will see that the heart of leadership is a matter of the heart. And heart work is hard yet extremely fulfilling… and filling for others… as well.
Finally, as I mentioned before, there are seven main responses that will course through your heart and spirit as you have read this Feast of the Heart delicacy about leadership. The seven responses are called “the seven D’s”. Your heart (core beliefs) and spirit (emotions) will likely be vacillating between denial, doubt, discouragement, diversion, defeat, delay and delight.
Please note, my friends, that one word in the seven is the anomaly: Just like the sort of leadership our culture most needs – but has the potential of realizing with some work at a deeper level! My deepest hope is that the unabated DELIGHT God takes in the leader as, An Articulator of Inner Events. A Person of Compassion. A Contemplative Critic becomes your dominion, delight and leadership legacy beginning or beginning again “TODAY… “ (Psalm 95:7-8).
What are three things you could do TODAY to get started (or restarted) in a way that would assure a victory for your leadership, the led, and the culture you have a profound leadership influence over?
Is there a community of trusted friends, leader colleagues… a coach, mentor… a leadership forum of any kind… a leaders retreat… Anything or any way you might use the above content to ramp-up your leadership heart, words, and deeds?
“But you, take courage! Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded” (2 Chronicles 15:7).
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Leading with a Limp, Dan Allender
To Be Told: Book and Workbook, Dan Allender
Leadership Challenge, Kouzes, Posner