Posts Tagged 'leadership'

6 Leadership Lessons of St. Francis

Photo credit: Jim McIntosh via flickr

As we approach the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi on Oct 4, 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.  I can’t help but wonder what Francis would say today about responding to oppressed people and victims of natural disaster.  How would he respond, for example, to Puerto Rican hurricane victims and to black NFL players “taking the knee?” On Francis’ feast day, perhaps we can seek to look at the world through his eyes and seek to live, love, and lead as he did.

(An earlier version of this blog/newsletter appeared in May 2015.)

3 Leadership Lessons of St. Clare

Photo credit: Fr James Bradley via flickr

As I prepare to walk in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare beginning two weeks from today, I’ve been musing on St. Clare’s leadership.  St. Clare of Assisi (1194-1253), best known as St. Francis’ “little plant,” 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.
(An earlier version of this article appeared in the April 2016 Executive Soul newsletter/blog.)

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.