Fortnight – Day1: Leadership
This fortnight, unlike any other of my lifetime, seems a good time to post thoughts on faith and human flourishing; a time to review gifts of hope, community, love, conviviality, and grace. This fortnight, as the cold wind of autumn arrives, a sharing of this folio of reflections seems apt. Why? This fortnight will culminate on November 3rd; if one counts the days, that’s fourteen. If one ponders epochs, however, this fortnight faces into a test for a nation’s soul. This fortnight culminates with a pivot point.
Samuel Johnson wrote “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.“ This fortnight for me, then, is a time when the mind is wonderfully focused!
In the fortnight ahead, leadership is on the ballot in the United States. We will better know what Americans prefer in terms of a leader — not just the “who,” but the “how” of leading. What will be seen as leadership strength? What vision, language and actions are seen as most desirable?
Leadership or Connectorship?
All the focus on leadership development over the past two decades has left me bemused. One can only guess at the resources (dollars, graduate courses, research, coaching and consulting) that been given to teaching leadership. I do not doubt there is some benefit; still I am unconvinced the fruit harvested has been worth the expense.
Just as there are times when listening is more valuable than speaking, there are times when following is required in order to later lead. Jesus put it this way, “if you would be master, first be a servant.” On occasion I preached sermons suggesting follower-ship is every bit as important as leadership.
Years ago, in a visit with Robert Greenleaf, I asked if he thought leadership could be taught. He had been an executive with ATT and had written a popular book on Servant Leadership. He had consulted with a wide array of foundations, religious and civic institutions. Bob smiled at my question, paused and said he was “an institution watcher, simply a student of human behavior, noting what I see and not intending to change anybody or anything.” He went on, “Being a leader,” he suggested is “a little like playing violin. If you can’t hear the pitch you shouldn’t try to play.” [There will be more lessons from Bob Greenleaf later in these fortnight briefs].
I was at lunch with a couple of friends. One, the president of a fine academic institution; the other was John McKnight, proponent of asset based community development among communities around the globe. The academic leader spoke in glowing terms of a new leadership development initiative at the school. McKnight, the wise observer of institutions and advocacy efforts over the years, waited until lunch was ending to comment. With good humor and a kind smile he offered, “You know, you may want to consider giving attention to connector-ship more than leadership.” Connecting people is likely to have a longer term pay off… and allow the new, the not yet foreseen, the leaders already present to join the effort.”
Connecting has been much in my thoughts as a critical element of community as we enter this fortnight; even more, CONNECTING is an essential in not only claiming a faith but living it. Faith as a verb, a way of life, is what is missing from so much of the religious lingo and posturing around leadership.
From the Gospel of Mark, 10:42-43 we read: Jesus got them together to settle things down. “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. [The Message].
As this fortnight continues, it is worth considering who seeks to serve and who seeks to be served? It is worth considering who seeks to connect and who seeks to divide? Even as the leaves fall from the trees this autumn revealing what has been hidden in the hills across the valley, may clarity come to our nation as to how to follow and how to lead.
Edna St Vincent Millay’s poem “Autumn Overdue” is identified as a “Fortnight Poem“:
Autumn Overdue Cold wind of autumn, blowing loud At dawn, a fortnight overdue, Jostling the doors, and tearing through My bedroom to rejoin the cloud, I know—for I can hear the hiss And scrape of leaves along the floor— How many boughs, lashed bare by this, Will rake the cluttered sky once more. Tardy, and somewhat south of east, The sun will rise at length, made known More by the meagre light increased Than by a disk in splendour shown; When, having but to turn my head, Through the stripped maple I shall see, Bleak and remembered, patched with red, The hill all summer hid from me.