Leadership and Listening

In the first book of Kings in the Old Testament there is a story I love when the Lord speaks to Elijah who is in crisis, and tells him to stand outside a cave where he will be passing by. The Lord is not in wind rending the mountains and crushing the rocks, it was not in the earthquake, or next a great fire that pass Elijah by. The Lord was in a whisper that Elijah had to be still to hear. I love that story, because it goes to the heart of the matter of God’s influence. When we shut down the chatter and move away from the noxious drama and all the noise…we will be in a better position to hear God, that is if we really want to hear what God has to say. Listening, while not as flashy as some of the other qualities of a great leader, is, for me anyway, the most essential quality. How can you lead anyone if you can’t hear their pain, their fears, their concerns, their hopes, their passions about the journey ahead? The role of a leader, contrary to many of those who presently act in leadership positions, is not to forge ahead with their own agenda, with everyone else be damned. It is to do what is in the best interest of those who are following you. That being said, the listening only comes after your commitment to what it is you stand for and proclaim, because I guarantee, in the listening process that follows, there will be those who will try to convince you to sway from those ideals to pursue an agenda that will not benefit the whole.

I know I’ve used this before, but in the the first book of Corinthians in the New Testament, Paul creates an apt analogy of the Church being the Body of Christ, with all the many members having different functions to sustain the body, and those differences should be celebrated, because it is their interdependence that allows the Body to fully function. Knowing that in any hierarchy there is a tendency to give greater power to those members that seem more honorable like a foot or hand, and less power to those more unseemly parts, Paul would have none of that and he states logically, if all parts were the same where would the body be? He declares if one part suffers, all parts should suffer, if one part is honored, all parts should share it’s joy. What a beautiful image, right? Sadly it is one where we have failed miserably…and perhaps it is because no one has taken time to listen to the parts of the body that suffer, or to listen to God in the whispers to tell us what to do.

I seem to be in tears a lot these days…a reflection of a developed sense of empathy and artistry, I hope. I hear the pain of those parts of the body of our country, and the scramble of those who try to convince us the pain isn’t real, or those who would damage the rest of the body just so they will listen. So lets all be better at listening, for a start, before we write off a part of this body that isn’t like “our part”. None of us can function if can’t work together and see the value of each gift an individual brings that will keep this body functioning. It need not start from the top down, it just needs to be a reflection of who we are and what we stand for.

Leadership and Movement

Before determining a path forward and to whom or what you pledge your allegiance moving into the future, you must determine, as I stated in my last post, what you are going to stand for (please note that I am perfectly aware that there are many people who move into the future without any regard or thought to what or whom they believe in…but since this is about leadership, good leadership, I will focus on those who do). The next step, in my opinion, is to figure out the method and means you use to actually move forward. And I think it must be said, since believing something is too obvious to state in the past has bit me in the ass, that movement forward has to be a reflection of what you stand for. If it’s not, then you need to rethink what it is you actually stand for. This is really important to me when making a determination of who is fit for any position of leadership.

Any true leader must represent and move in a way that supports those ideals they proclaim as their foundation and motivation. Let me give you an example, and I’m using this particular instance because of the visceral reaction I had to it when I saw the events that occurred on January 6th, 2021. On this sad day in history, insurrectionists broke into the capitol to obstruct the constitutional obligation of the Congress to certify the November election in an attempt to thwart the peaceful transition of power. Regardless of your opinion on the election, what occurred afterward could never be described as anything but unlawful. Those who who broke into the capital, grabbed hands in the house chamber and prayed in the name of Christ claiming after all the violence, vitriol and destruction that somehow God endorsed this behavior and anyone who opposed them were not, in fact, true Christians. The president was silent, but the wasn’t what hit me because I had grown numb to his behavior. What bothered me to my core was watching the insurrectionists pray in the name of Christ claiming his blessings on their behavior. I wasn’t bothered that members of the insurrection prayed, but that they conflated their faith, and the “means” of their stated principle as one and the same and justified the violence they brought. Love is not political. Believe what you believe, but it is never appropriate to use your belief as an endorsement from God for personal politics. Saying you are doing something for God, doesn’t make that true, because none of us know the mind of God. Acting under the auspices of faith to justify bad behavior contravenes the very axioms that faith requires of us. If I act in a way I believe God wants me to, I had better be ready and able to, one: root that behavior in the totality of those teachings and message of that faith (because even Satan can use scripture for nefarious purposes) and two:accept the consequences of that behavior as my own and not blame anyone else. I’ve long been frustrated by those who utilize faith as an imprimatur on their actions…as if making a statement that you are a Christian is license for any and all behavior that flows from that oath. This kind of inconsistency is one of the main reasons that I have put aside traditional means and structures that organized religion uses to celebrate and witness to Christ’s great gift and sacrifice. I’ve been witness and victim to too much corruption all in the name of God. As a caveat, this is not an indictment of those who embrace traditional structures and leaders and still adhere to what Christianity stands for. There is a growing movement, however, that is dangerously derailing the Gospel message: one that is rooted in love, respect for those lesser than, mercy, justice and peace, into endorsement of a political ideology. For all intents and purposes it is becoming what Jesus warned us about, the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing.

While I studied Theology, I spent a great deal of time both academically and experientially to find ways to move within my belief system that reflected that very belief system. Over many decades, I had to alter and change my path and leaders depending on the multitude of my own mistakes, revelations, evolution and transformation. I don’t claim to be exceptional by any means…but I did ask for and expect direction from God, which I believe I received. In truth, God dismantled me and rebuilt me into something else. I took the parable of the talents to heart and tried to bear fruit from God’s multitude of resources. More importantly when you are willing to have eyes to see and ears to hear, even when the glory of God is an indictment against old restrictive behaviors, you have to be willing to change, and often that’s the hardest part. All our paths are different, our personal gifts vast, but any journey, even one that includes following someone else, must be a reflection of what you stand for. There is always room for diversity, but my path forward should never be an obstruction to anyone else’s, especially in the name of God.

An Environment for Leadership

Yes, it’s already March and I’ve yet to post, but there was much wading through necessary existential crap to be done before I could see a starting point. I could write a multitude of papers on the essential qualities of a good leader, histories of great leaders, the measurement and impact of evolutionary roads forward like I did in grad school…but I don’t think that is what this year is about. Considering the climate of the present time, and the depth of anger, misinformation and lack of any true critical thinking of the masses, I think even the second coming of Christ would have difficulty being seen as anything but another rabble rousing anti-(insert appropriate noun) dissident. And if you react adversely to the last statement, ask yourself this: how easy is it for you to lap up that latest sound bites against people or movements you hate…yah, not much use of critical thinking there.

So, it is incumbent upon all of us, I believe, to create an environment where good leaders, in whatever capacity, can succeed. What we don’t need are those kinds of leaders who divide, create fear, lie, disseminate misinformation, and encourage isolationism, all for their own power and gain. You know, the kind that creates such a frenzy of political and vitriolic illusory dust that we can’t even see straight as to who or what we are following. So, what this year will be about for me is settling the dust of anger, hate, and just bad information so we can see clearly enough to follow leaders out there who best represent what we stand for. Let me add a small caveat: what we stand for, is not the same as what we stand against. Standing against something as a primary motivation is too easy for someone with less than altruistic ideals to manipulate the anger that lies within us all who feel harmed in some way into creating the kind of mob mentality that is the source of much of the destruction we’ve seen over the last months. Let the anger we feel from injustice, help us understand and clarify what exactly it is we actually stand for, and find a way forward that is a larger reflection of those ideals. And if what you stand for is destruction and the preservation of your own self interest…you will be in my thoughts and prayers.

For me, the anger I’ve experienced since I’ve started this blog, is the disregard for truth, the hubris of the privileged few, the lack of informed civility in debate and information sharing, the tendency to scapegoat others and avoid personal responsibility, racism and the corruption of Christianity which is the source and soul of my entire existence. So that means, for me anyway, that I stand for: truth, the pursuit of happiness for all, the work that goes with being truly informed and using common decency and civility to share that information, taking responsibility for my own failings and make the necessary changes instead of blaming others, extend a listening ear and commitment to fight against the forces that unfairly marginalized people of color, ethnicity, religion and sexuality, and to declare and model with love all that my faith requires of me. I’m sure there will be more in the coming year, but I’ll start with those for now. Let me finish then with this question:…what is it that you stand for?

Leadership

I know, its February. And it wasn’t because I wasn’t sure what to write about. This year’s theme came early…even before the insurrection at the Capital…so I’ve spiritually hid in a corner for a month. What. An. Evolutionary. Crisis. I can’t even claim simple ignorance about my theme this year…I have a Master’s Degree in it. I’m not bragging, seriously, I am not. I am in a wishing I was ignorant so I can be blissful and spend this year happily learning but instead am having heart stopping moments of reckoning because knowing what I know I should have seen this coming and now I have to say stuff about it. And as much as I loved studying leadership and all the nuances of what kinds of qualities are important to any modern leader, I never particularly had any interest in leading anybody anywhere…and I still don’t. I’ve also never in my wildest dreams anticipated a world in this kind of crisis. In the worst of times I could foresee a world taken over by greedy and powerful men, or at its best foresee a world motivated and directed by ethical and insightful strong women (its my imagination so deal with it). I don’t think there is any dystopian future that I could have imagined that would be based on some of the most bizarre and baseless conspiracy theories invented by who knows who and perpetuated by the once leader of the free world. As incomprehensible as that is to me, calling the millions of people out who believe this shit must be done in a careful and calculated manner. Now, I absolutely get calling these theories “shit” is neither careful or calculated, but think of it as the initial rip off of that proverbial band aid of delusion to get their attention. These theories are “mendacious junk” (from the mouth of a particularly loquacious journalist with whom I share an imaginary verbal love affair) and must be disassembled immediately. If you are offended, I’ll take your derision with open arms because you are being led down a dark path of doom where truth doesn’t matter and fear and gossip rule and could possibly be the spark that causes the apocalypse. I can’t and won’t stand for that, I just won’t. Disagree on ideology, that’s fine but if you are as shocked and appalled as I am at what is going on with all these conspiracy theories its time to pull up our big girl/boy pants and deal.

I have always believed that the world could face any crisis through dynamic, informed leadership. I think it still can, but it is going to be a long and winding road. I’ve always also believed that faith in whatever higher power you embrace would also call forth those inspired individuals necessary to combat any crisis, I call them children of the light and I pray for them every day. But, and this is a big but, not without a good house cleaning (or exorcism…I haven’t decided which word is more appropriate yet) for both our country and church (which sadly is fueling much of pooh flying around). This year is a game changer. Too many fools out there are claiming they know the mind of God to justify their duplicitous plots, they are the thieves in wolve’s clothing that Jesus spoke about. So here begins a year of building a leader (and it is NOT me), and it begins with truth, and principled ideas and solutions that are not exclusive or restrictive.