Posts Tagged 'leadership'

Business Success

Photo Credit: nguyen-hung-vu, via flickr

Photo Credit: Nguyen Hung Vu, via flickr

The U.S. Presidential election has raised the question of what successful business is.  Is a business successful simply because it makes a lot of money?  What if the money comes through cheating customers or suppliers?  For example, is a rich person who runs a drug cartel a successful businessman?  Is someone who becomes rich, at least in part, through tax evasion, a successful businessman?

Business requires trust.  I pay money for goods or services because I believe in their value. I trust that what I am paying for is being represented accurately and is priced fairly.  Often I shop online, which requires the further trust that the product I can’t see is what it says it is and that it will come to me in a timely fashion.  I trust the seller’s promise that I can return anything that doesn’t meet my expectations and that my money will be refunded.

Business requires good relationships.  A businessperson develops relationships with suppliers and customers, convincing them that they can craft a win-win relationship.  Honesty forms the foundation of these relationships.  If a businessperson proves dishonest, suppliers and customers run in the other direction. As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Businesses built on trust and good relationships contribute to the social fabric of the larger society.  Businesses lacking trust and good relationships tear the social fabric.

So, what is “success” in business?  I posit that the answer is not simply “more money.”  To be sure, a business must make money in order to survive and thrive.  Yet the purpose of business is far more than money.  Saying that the purpose of business is making money is like saying that the purpose of life is breathing.  Breathing is necessary to life, yet breathing is not the purpose of life.  The purpose of life is to love and to give.  The purpose of business is similar: to give goods and services that contribute to people’s well-being.  A successful business provides useful goods and services, operates with integrity, and thrives.

For example, Wainwright Bank in Boston, under Bob Glassman’s leadership, aspired to become the leader in lending to nonprofits.  Naysayers claimed that Wainwright Bank would suffer financially for its idealism, claiming that loans for homeless shelters and food banks are risky business.  In fact, the opposite proved true: Wainwright Bank’s community development loans totaling over $700 million experienced zero losses during the time of Bob Glassman’s leadership, in sharp contrast to other banks’ loan portfolios. I posit that Bob Glassman is an outstanding example of a successful businessman, making money and serving people in his community at the same time.

Instead of evaluating the merit of a business solely on its money-making capabilities, let us hold a higher standard for businesses.  Let us assess the value of a business not only through its financial success but through its ability to serve the community, to contribute to the well-being of the world. Our time here on earth is precious, as is our opportunity to create legacies for future generations. May the businesses we create not only thrive but also embody the highest ideals of our humanity.

3 Leadership Lessons of St. Clare

photo credit Fr James Bradley

Photo credit: Fr James Bradley via flickr

St. Clare of Assisi (1194-1253), best known as St. Francis’ “little plant,” eventually emerged as a strong leader in her own right in thirteenth-century Italy and beyond.  While St. Francis took center stage with his extraverted charismatic leadership, St. Clare quietly built stronger structures behind the scenes.

As I muse on St. Clare and her contributions, three leadership lessons stand out for me.  Clare teaches me about prayer, community-building, and persistence.

First, Clare knew the power of prayer.  She knew that prayer provided the foundation for all of her leadership.  Without prayer, without her radical trust in God, she could do nothing.  She prayed for strength and guidance when she was called to lead her community of “Poor Ladies” as a young adult.  Later, when an invading army swarmed her vulnerable convent of San Damiano, outside the protection of the city walls, she prayed.  Upon praying, she felt led to stand at the window in front of the army, armed only with the host, the body of Christ, and her trust in God.  Faced with Clare’s shining strength, the army became confused and fled.  Thus, through prayer, Clare saved not only her convent but also the city of Assisi.  Finally, Clare’s prayer undergirded her day-to-day leadership in the convent.  When faced with lack of food, with illness, with cold, she prayed.  People brought turnips, medicine, and blankets, and year after year, all the Sisters’ needs were supplied.

Second, Clare knew how to build community.  Though she lived in an enclosed community at San Damiano her entire life as a Sister, she built community both at home and afar.  She showed her 50 fellow Sisters how to live together in compassionate service in cramped quarters and difficult conditions.  Beyond San Damiano, she instructed Agnes of Prague, a princess who left behind wealth and status to found a religious community like Clare’s, in building a convent.  While Francis’ communities faced divisive conflicts, Clare taught her communities to work through conflicts in ways that built stronger relationships.  And she also built relationships near and far, with St. Francis and his brothers, with priests, with bishops, and with Popes.

Third, Clare lived perseverance.  Her entire life, she fought for a way of life like Francis’ in which she could be true to the gospel as she understood it.  For her, this meant living in poverty, in total reliance upon God.  She appealed to every Pope in her lifetime to approve the rule she had written to regulate life in her community.  When Pope after Pope said no, she didn’t give up.  Finally, on her deathbed, the Pope sent word that he had heard she was dying and he wondered if there was anything he could do for her.  When she said, “Approve my rule,” he relented, and she received papal approval two days before she died.

Leading with soul is never easy, whether one lives in thirteenth-century Europe or modern times.  The way is often fraught with stresses, discouragements, and obstacles that challenge our commitment to walk our path with faith.  However, we can turn to those who have come before us, those like St. Clare who embody the qualities of a good leader. They show us not only that it is possible to lead with soul but also that we are not alone in the journey.


What Do You Mean . . . “Leader?”

Photo Credit: Steve Johnson via flickr

Photo Credit: Steve Johnson via flickr

Susie Allen, who co-leads the Boston Soul of Leadership program with Margaret Benefiel, is guest blog author this month.

A few days ago, a friend was speaking with me about a deep passion she has for a topic she wants to bring into focus for discussion and reflection at her church. As she was talking, I found myself moved by the power of her own experience around the topic, and drawn into her ideas about how to create programming to bring this topic to light.

I asked her about her plans to generate such a program, given her deep passion and clear ideas. She responded to my question by saying, “Oh, I can’t do this. I’m not a leader.” I detected some sadness as she said this, acknowledging that despite her passion and desire, she does not feel equipped to bring such a program into being.

So I asked her, “What do you mean by ‘leader’?” She began, and I joined her, to outline a concept of leader. In front of people, directive, vocal, powerful, confident, knowledgeable, command and control. We sat for a moment to be present to this picture of leader.

We began to talk about her ideas: create a display of printed resources on the topic; identify books to study in small groups; lead a book discussion; organize a calendar to schedule small group book discussions; create publicity for the church and community; distribute person-to-person invitations; and gather testimonials. Then we wondered together – which, of all of these ideas, might she set into action? Which energized her? Which tapped into the gifts and skills she knows she has?

All of a sudden, “leader” took on a different character and quality. In the context of enacting her vision, “leader” might be described in these ways: creator, writer, connector, organizer, gatherer, small group facilitator, storyteller. She began to see herself as someone who has leadership qualities that could be engaged to bring her vision to life.

Organizations and workplaces are as varied as the people who are a part of them. The leadership styles and characteristics needed in the cockpit of an airplane are vastly different from the qualities needed to lead a street ministry, or direct an orchestra, or run a household.

What is your sphere of influence? What are the particular gifts and skills you know you have? Where do you come alive in your work? What is the best workplace environment for your personality?

Another friend recently asked me when Executive Soul might be offering programs for “followers.” We smiled together, and then I wondered with her – is she leading in ways she hasn’t yet become aware of? I’ll bet she is. And if so, how does she want to energize and engage the leader within?

6 Leadership Lessons of St. Francis

Photo Credit:  kenkopal, Flickr

Photo Credit: kenkopal, Flickr

As I walk on pilgrimage this week in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi, I ponder what I can learn from him about leadership. Like all of us, Francis scored some wins and some losses when it came to leadership. And like all of us, Francis didn’t always know in advance what approach to leadership would prove effective. As I reflect on Francis’ life, six lessons in leadership effectiveness stand out to me.

  1.  Be true to yourself. Francis traveled a number of paths before he found the one that was right for him. The son of a successful cloth merchant in thirteenth-century Italy, Francis seemed destined for business success. From playboy to soldier to knight to cloth merchant, Francis experimented with paths he thought might suit him. It was only when he heard God’s call to rebuild the church that he discovered his true path. Yet when he abandoned his father’s business and embraced poverty and service, the townspeople called him crazy. For years he wandered through his native city following a path that no one understood. In time, as he persevered in pursuing the way that was his to pursue, a few people caught his vision and began to follow him. Eventually, his followers numbered in the thousands. By being true to himself and persevering in the face of misunderstanding and mockery, Francis forged a new way that attracted thousands.
  2. Love God passionately. Francis brought the passion of his former life to his love of God. Not one for half measures, Francis fell utterly in love with God, and loved with abandon. He roamed the countryside singing of his love, and he constantly sought ways to please God.
  3. Embrace all. Francis learned early on that rebuilding God’s church meant embracing everyone. He embraced the leper who represented the lowest caste in society. When people began to follow his way, he embraced brothers from the highest class to the lowest, inviting them to live together in simplicity and community. When Clare ran away from home in order to follow him, he embraced her and helped her establish a women’s order. Francis learned to see the gifts that each person brought and to embrace people with gratitude for their contributions.
  4. Live with joy. Francis lived with contagious joy. His delight in the beauty of nature, in the uniqueness of each person, in the gifts of God, drew people to him. Even in adversity, Francis lived with joy. For example, when a hut in which he took refuge for a night proved to be infested with mice, after an initial expression of displeasure, Francis welcomed his “brother mice” with joy and hospitality. His joy disarmed friends and detractors alike.
  5. Approach power courageously. Francis, the “little poor man of Assisi,” decided early in his ministry that he and his tiny band of brothers should approach the Pope to ask for his blessing on their way of life. Undaunted by Pope Innocent III’s wealth and power in contrast to their outcast status, the rag-tag band walked from Assisi to Rome. Rebuffed by the cardinals when they arrived, they persevered in seeking an audience with the Pope. After the Pope had a dream in which he saw a little poor man holding up a huge church, he realized he needed to talk to Francis. Francis and the brothers, fearless before the Pope, described their way of life as living the gospel as Jesus intended. The Pope, impressed by their sincerity and commitment, gave his provisional blessing.
  6. Reach across differences. The Crusades broke Francis’ heart. He hated seeing Christians fighting Muslims over the holy land. In 1219, he traveled to Egypt where the battle was raging, and crossed enemy lines, unarmed, in order to speak with the Ottoman Sultan. He hoped to find common ground, and risked his life to do so. He boldly spoke to the Sultan and the Sultan listened attentively. Though he didn’t achieve reconciliation, the two men left the encounter with mutual respect and admiration.

St. Francis, not always knowing what he was doing, discovered how to be an effective leader as he followed his calling. Much of his success in leadership was a side effect of his faithfulness.

St. Francis displayed a great deal of love and courage during his lifetime, and he influenced many people through his example. His life, teachings, and spiritual insights have attracted many followers through the years. His teachings are timeless and continue to live on today.

Note: Francis also suffered a number of failures in leadership which can also prove instructive, to be explored in a subsequent reflection.







Vetoing the Keystone XL Pipeline: Moral Leadership for the Environment

photo credit: tarsandsaction, flickr

photo credit: tarsandsaction, flickr

Like Jim Wallis, I believe that budgets are moral documents. They reflect our deepest values.  Like budget decisions, climate decisions are moral decisions.  Decisions that impact the environment reveal our moral commitments.

How does Barack Obama measure up on the moral leadership for the environment scorecard?

President Obama vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline Tuesday.  He also forged a historic agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping in November to reduce carbon emissions in the U. S. by 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2025. He has worked with the auto industry to put into place historic fuel economy standards.  When he wasn’t able to convince Congress to pass environmental legislation, he worked behind the scenes, using the Clean Air Act of 1970 to set tougher environmental standards.  All of these actions give him points for moral leadership.

At the same time, some have criticized Obama for not doing enough. In 2011, Al Gore published an article in Rolling Stone magazine, saying Obama had “thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change.”  During the first two years of his administration, many environmental activists expected more legislation to slow climate change.  Cole Stangler argues that, even given legislative obstacles, Obama could have done more through federal agencies.

I would argue that President Obama has indeed turned a corner on the environment, that he sees the urgency of the issue, and that he is now exercising moral leadership on behalf of the planet and the life it supports.  His recent actions all demonstrate his commitment to the environment and his new willingness to stick his neck out for his commitment.

Is it enough?  No.  We’ve gone too far down the road of planetary destruction to turn around easily.  At the same time, Obama has taken historic steps to build on other presidents’ environmental safeguards.   Until now, Theodore Roosevelt (who did more than any other president to conserve land) and Richard Nixon (who created the EPA and signed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts) were the presidents who had done the most for the environment.  President Obama has surpassed them and set the stage for the work that remains to be done.  May we applaud his moral leadership and work with him to save our planet.

Soulful Leadership in Conflict

Photo credit: Tejvan Pettinger, flickr

Photo credit: Tejvan Pettinger, flickr

Yesterday the Vatican released the final report on its unprecedented investigation of Roman Catholic sisters in the United States.  Six years ago, when the Vatican announced the apostolic visitation  (its formal name), many of the sisters whom the investigation affected responded with hurt and anger.  Yesterday, thanks largely to competent, spiritually grounded leadership on the part of American sisters, the spirit was conciliatory.

When the Vatican launched the investigation in 2008, under Pope Benedict, to “look into the quality of life of religious women in the United States,” the announcement was met with suspicion and apprehension. Since the Vatican had previously only ordered an apostolic visitation when a group had gone astray, sisters wondered what the Vatican wanted to investigate and why.  Some congregations reported that their elder sisters felt that their whole lives had been judged and found wanting,” remembers Sr. Sharon Holland, president of the Leadership Council of Women Religious, which represents about 80% of the 57,000 nuns in the U. S.  When Sr. Sandra Schneiders, professor emerita of New Testament and spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California, learned of the visitation, she warned sisters to be cautious, treating the visitors as “uninvited guests who should be received in the parlor, not given the run of the house.”

In a situation that could have escalated badly, American sisters rose to the occasion.  Grounded in prayer and equipped with excellent leadership skills, both the visitors and the visited made the best of a difficult situation.  Mother Mary Clare Millea, an American nun appointed to oversee the visitation, structured the visits in such a way that they encouraged openness and respect.  By September 2010, an Immaculate Heart of Mary sister wrote, “There is a warm, ‘sisterly’ spirit about the way our visitors have interacted with us. They seem open and appreciative about who we are.”

When LCWR past president Sr. Marlene Weisenbeck was interviewed by the National Catholic Reporter in August 2010 and asked if the investigation could move toward being seen in a positive light, she responded, “You know, I think we’re quite a ways along the road to that being true already. There was anger at first, but as people are having better experiences with the visits, the mood has been changing.”

The visited, as well as the visitors, sought to look for the best in their sisters who were visiting them. Mother Mary Clare Millea reported in yesterday’s Vatican press conference,

The Apostolic Visitation provided many opportunities for reflection, dialogue and communion among women religious in the United States as well as with the Church’s pastors and lay faithful. Congregation leaders, including those who expressed resistance initially to this initiative, have shared that the process has yielded surprising positive results.”

Sr. Sharon Holland, initially skeptical about the visitation, affirmed its value at the press conference:

First of all I would like to express thanks to Mother Mary Clare. The organization, preparation and carrying out of this enormous undertaking was truly amazing. The training of the team of religious who visited our institutes resulted, when the time came, in a great sense of freedom. . . Despite the [initial] apprehension, today we are looking at an affirmative and realistic report which, we know, is based on the study of written responses and on countless hours of attentive listening.

While more work of healing and rebuilding trust remains, the outcome of the visitation is more positive than many expected.  It provides a good foundation on which to build.

American nuns have much to teach the world about soulful leadership.  Remaining spiritually grounded, working with mutual respect and openness, listening deeply, and utilizing skillful collaborative processes, all can go a long way toward healing hurts, de-escalating conflict, and moving forward.  When we can let go of defensiveness and work collaboratively in the midst of potential conflict, unexpected breakthroughs can occur.

Soulful Leadership in Finance

Photo credit: Philip Brewer, flickr

Photo credit: Philip Brewer, flickr

The past decade has witnessed scandals, corruption, and greed in the financial sector. The U.S. and Ireland, in particular, have produced many examples of how financial misbehavior damages people and the economy. Bankers have suffered an unprecedented loss of respect in the eyes of the public, and “finance,” for some, has become synonymous with “corruption.” Not surprisingly, The New York Times concluded in 2012 that “the misconduct of the financial industry no longer surprises most Americans. Only about one in five has much trust in banks, according to Gallup polls, about half the level in 2007.”

In the midst of this greed and corruption, is anyone exercising soulful leadership in finance? Is anyone showing an alternative path?

Partners for the Common Good, in the U. S., and Clann Credo, in Ireland, have been faithfully pointing the way to an alternative approach to finance for years. They believe that the purpose of finance is to serve the common good, and they have discovered innovative ways to do that in the midst of a culture that does anything but. For example, in the conservative banking industry, where revolutionary ideas often meet with resistance, the founder of Clann Credo, Sr. Magdalen Fogarty, pushed the envelope by continuously urging bankers to embrace new ideas: “Why not give it a try?”

Clann Credo, founded in 1996, pioneered the idea of social finance in Ireland. With a mission to “design and promote innovative Social Finance products and services” which “contribute to inclusive prosperity and develop social capital in a way that benefits everyone,” Clann Credo launched its work. Having grown steadily over time, in 2011 it provided more than 10 million Euros in loans to nearly 100 projects which would not have qualified for bank loans.

Partners for the Common Good, created in 1989, serves as a “collaborate vehicle for religious institutions to help the poor and empower the marginalized” through providing loans to people who would not otherwise qualify for credit. To date, PCG has provided loans to more than 100 organizations engaged in economic development, and won a Presidential Award for Excellence in Microenterprise Development in 2001.

Equal Exchange, for example, a U. S. company funded by PCG, partners with Latin American farming cooperatives to pay a fair price to poor farmers for their coffee beans. From selling coffee to religious communities and churches, Equal Exchange has expanded to selling in grocery stores and other retail outlets. A successful business, Equal Exchange has also influenced large coffee businesses to offer fair trade products.

Ballybunion Sea and Cliff Rescue received funding from Clann Credo when it needed a new lifeboat. The organization trains and deploys volunteers to rescue people at sea, and, since its founding in 1986, has carried out over 250 rescues. An all-volunteer organization, Ballybunion Sea and Cliff Rescue has successfully raised funds in its community for 28 years to keep its operations going.

Not only do the loans bring about economic development, they also keep providing capital to new projects when they are repaid. Both PCG and Clann Credo report a high rate of repayment, higher than the rate of repayment that most banks experience with loans to businesses. These loans contribute to economic development and are, at the same time, a good financial investment.

Financial tools are powerful. Like any powerful tools, they can be used for ill or for good. Partners for the Common Good and Clann Credo demonstrate the power of financial instruments when used for good. “Finance” need not be synonymous with “corruption.” May others draw inspiration from PCG’s and Clann Credo’s innovation and vision, and follow in their path.