In recent months I have become very interested in the topic of leadership.
Which might seem silly, since I do not manage people, or lead a congregation, or hold a military command position. But I’ve come to recognize that “leadership” is a topic that has broad implications, broader than just our job descriptions. And for those of us who embrace contemplative spirituality, it’s a topic that I think we need to be paying close attention to.
In fact, let me make a couple of bold statements:
- To be a contemplative means to be a leader.
- And to be a good leader, one needs to be contemplative.
Why do I say these things? Well, to begin with, everyone has a foundational task in leading your own self. Call it discipline, self-control, good habits, time management — it all boils down to our ability to shape our own lives and missions in constructive and consistent ways. Nobody’s perfect: we all make mistakes. But learning to lead ourselves in a better and more effective way is an important part of contemplative living.
Good leaders do not dominate, but rather influence and inspire those they lead. Being a contemplative begins with allowing God to influence and inspire ourselves (there’s that self-leadership bit again), but that’s only the beginning. We receive God’s love, inspiration, and influence in order that we can then share it with others. The “others” we lead may or may not be people who we lead in an official capacity.
I know from my years as a corporate manager that sometimes the most effective leaders in an organization do not enjoy any official status as leaders or managers whatsoever. Saint Benedict insists that sometimes the youngest member of a monastery may be the one who speaks the will of God — in other words, who has something to say that will provide healthy and constructive leadership for the entire organization. This holds true for other organizations as well.
Since I’ve mentioned Saint Benedict already, maybe this is the place to say that I turn again and again to St. Benedict (found of western monasticism) and St. Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits) for inspiration both in my spiritual life but also in my understanding of what it means to be an effective leader.
They both exemplify a term I learned from Tilden Edwards: “mind-in-heart leadership.” This means something different than just relying on feelings or emotions when we lead. Rather, a mind-in-heart leader is one who leads out of prayer and contemplation: who allows listening, not-knowing or unknowing, trust, and seeking the face of God to shape one’s leadership style.
I don’t think this model of leadership shows up in many business management textbooks! But it has guided the Benedictines and the Jesuits for centuries, and it can revolutionize our lives as well.
I know not everyone who embraces contemplation see themselves as “leaders,” but I’d like to challenge you to do so. Because you have answered a call to listen for God in silence and trust, you have something to share with others. Don’t bury your talent or hide your light under a bushel. Be willing to inspire and influence others with your trusting, seeking heart.
A question for you: Can you think of a practical way that contemplation and silent prayer influences you to be a better leader (even if the only person you’re leading is yourself)? If so, I’d like to know about it — please leave a comment and share your insight.