Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Leadership Failure, Spiritual Failure?

One of the assignments for my spiritual formation class this week is to reflect on this quote from Samuel Rima's book, Leading from the Inside Out: "every leadership failure is, at its root, a spiritual issue" (129). I want to admit that I may redirect this assignment in the future. It mostly seems a helpful question only if you agree with the quote, and the more I reflect on it, the more I disagree pretty strongly with it as a Wesleyan.

The Wesleyan tradition makes a sharp distinction between sin and weakness. Sin in particular for a Wesleyan coalesces around choices. I do not believe, for example, that having a tendency to be late to things is a sin. It can be a sin if I choose to be late to spite the person I'm meeting with or if I choose to ignore the effect my actions have on others.

To be sure, there are habits that are sinful that lay just below much conscious intentionality. My tendency to be late can "wrong" others by messing up their schedules. But I don't personally consider it a sin in general for a student to be 5 minutes late for class every day. I consider it a weakness. Weaknesses can easily slide into sins, but I see a pretty significant distinction.

A person who is consistently late to things or tends to be disorganized may very well fail in leadership. Certainly a person who is on time and organized has definite advantages in this respect. But I would not call a leadership failure for these reasons a moral or spiritual issue. In that sense, I disagree with Rima's statement. I knew a leader who was a great guy, very intelligent, and highly informed, but he was often unprepared for meetings and sometimes didn't pull the right triggers at the right time.

He ended up changing jobs. I don't know that I would call him a leadership failure, but I certainly wouldn't say there was any spiritual failure behind his leadership issues.

In the same way, I would just as strongly disagree with Bobby Clinton's sense that you cannot be a successful leader if your spiritual life is not in order. Poppycock. Many ministers are highly successful leaders because they are type A personalities. Their home life and families go to pot, their children rebel because they are busy leading the church effectively. They are spiritual failures on a grand scale--and highly effective leaders.

How many episodes of SVU and Criminal Minds show how the immense success of a particular kind of driven person correlates directly with failed home life. You can play around with words--they're not really successful leaders. That's circular and ridiculous. The question is whether an individual can cast appropriate vision and manage effectively and be a spiritual failure. Yes, you can!


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Leadership is about objective values and goals, given within a particular context, whereas spiritual success is dependent on personal understanding, if one believes in sprituality and if "God" is necessary for such growth.

What is "good" is good, according to objectivistic thinking, whereas, believers believe that what is "good" is what "god" requires, no matter the rationality. Faith is not based on reason in these cases.

Is "good" an objective term, or not? Is "good" a social construct, or a personally understood one? Are human defined by social constructs, or by their innate natures? One understands an absolute, while the other understands personal growth and situadedness.

Today, when "God" is not the focus except in religious circles, the question is about whether free societies should be deterministic in limiting individual expression, or whether individual flourishing is what makes for socital flourishing...

Character is what defines the individual. In the context of leadership, those that have "character" are those that uphold their obligations, or the expectations of those that are dependent on them for leadership. But, character is also what is necessary to accomplish certain "ends". Therefore, character is about development of certain gifts of the individual. Character, then cannot be understood in universal terms. What is "good" character for one 'end" is not the proper character for another "end". This is why "ends" must be determined by the indvidual themselves, with the counsel of the wise.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

BTW, I don't think that anyone can find their "ends", if there is not good leadership, because leadership respects the basic values of the liberty and equality of others. This is justice. This means that leadership will not abuse their power for their own purposes at the expense of others.