One of the great thought leader's of the past 50 years was Warren Bennis (d July 31, 2014). He wrote tirelessly on the topic of leadership. He was a sought after speaker, academic and coach. His book, "Leaders", coauthored by Burt Nanus and his classic "On Becoming a Leader" remain go-to literature on developing leadership strategies and building internal capacity for leadership. One of his early books "Changing Organizations" was instrumental in my initial understanding of organizational culture and change. His work on leadership was seminal in bringing the topic of leadership to the forefront. His clear and forthright writings helped me understand the relationship and balance between leadership and management and how I had both leadership and management responsibilities in the positions that I held.
According to an article by Julie Kirby ( Harvard Blog Post), Bennis was thinking of writing another book which he would have called "Grace." He pointed out that he was not a particularly religious person, but that this word is very powerful. The book would deal with such issues as generosity, respect, redemption and sacrifices. He was quoted as saying: "All of which sound vaguely spiritual, but all of which I think are going to be required for leadership." And, I would say "not going to" but "are required for leadership, today."
Powerful indeed! What a wonderful concept "Grace and Leadership." I think if we want to understand the meaning of the two we will need to go deep within ourselves - to reach a level of consciousness which goes beyond our egotistical self and gets to the core of who we are as a leader - or better, as a person with leadership qualities. We will need to touch our soul so to speak, and in so doing be graced with a transcendence beyond ourselves. This suggests placing our active mind at rest and spending more time in contemplation and meditation.
To be sure, grace-filled leaders will experience internal struggles, maybe even darkness, and hardship. They may be misunderstood, maligned and viewed by some as too soft. They will be tested but being grace-filled their resolve will be strengthened to do the right thing for themselves and others.
Yes, this does bring leadership into the realm of the spiritual world. From my vantage point it means transcending anything negative and focusing on that which is good and worthy. It's based on the principles of: 1) abundance and positiveness (relying on our innate nature to do good), 2) transcendence of self ( moving to a higher level of purpose with humility), and 3) personal discovery (finding a new way to bring the first two to fruition).
The influence of grace-filled leaders will transform toxic and sick workplaces and communities to healthy and vibrant ones. In practical terms this suggests they will rally those around them to forge cultures- whether within or without their organizations - that exhibit compassion, justice, fairness, forgiveness, generosity, respectfulness, and integrity. To do this, however, they too will need to be perceived as compassionate, just, fair, forgiving, respectful, generous and one acting with integrity. And, their power will come from humble and selfless service rather than arrogant and egotistical behavior. My sense is that our troubled world and places of businesses need the wisdom and healing action of grace-filled leaders today.
Fortunately we have proof of grace-filled leaders who can serve as role models for us. Think of Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu who promoted reconciliation rather than revenge, Gandhi and Martin Luther King who transformed countries through peaceful protest, and Pope Paul II who opened the doors for a free Poland through integrity and faith based discipline, and Paul Farmer, "an anthropologist and physician who is best know for his humanitarian work providing suitable health care to rural and under-resourced areas in developing countries" . Think of the countless community leaders who bring hope to the downtrodden, health to the underprivileged, and compassion to the homeless. Think of company leaders who promote ethical business practices, hold people to high standards and values and who contribute to the welfare of communities. Think of the artist leaders who share their talents, gifts and wealth. And think of parent leaders who teach their children to give rather than receive, to love rather than hate, to play to enjoy rather than to play to win at any cost.
Grace-filled leaders are all around us and we can become one of them. I wish Warren Bennis lived long enough to write his book, I'm sure it would have been another classic.
"Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.
It is precisely that simple, and it is also that difficult."
Warren Bennis on "Becoming a Leader.'