As I prepare for the beginning of my third year with St. Andrew’s College, I find myself returning to the theme of leadership. This has been one way I have thematically framed each academic year. In the first year at the college, I explored Leadership & Legacy. The second, Leadership & Seed Sowing. For this third year, I find myself drawn to Righteous Leadership.
Righteous Leadership can be a catchphrase in the contemporary Christian context. It can lead to conversations that are polarising. It can also be one discussion that helps clarify the spiritual journey in regard to offering leadership in and to a hurting world.
As I considered this theme, Righteous Leadership, several particular facets of it have had me musing and will inform this three-part-blog series: Humility, Listening and Learning, and Compassion. Each of these characteristics is intertwined and, I would offer, acts as a building block. Each one depends upon the other as we live into being not just leaders with compassion, but compassion itself. In this second musing, therefore, I invite us to explore Listening and Learning.
In the first exploration of Righteous Leadership, Humility, the significance of community was implied. In the Christian context, leadership as a practice of discipleship always occurs in community. In this place, in which people interact, share, grieve, and laugh, those called to moments or vocations of leadership must be grounded. This sense of grounding, therefore, must begin from a place of humility. In the context of community, wisdom is revealed when all voices are heard. It is this hearing that Righteous Leadership must nurture in the journey of discipleship.
It is from the vantage of humility that leaders listen deeply to those with whom they journey. This listening is not about fixing or manipulating. Regardless of leadership style, whether akin to companion or more directive, a commitment to hearing those with whom we walk is a discipline worth practicing. In such listening, not only are stories shared, but also meaning is mutually made in such relationships. Sometimes solutions or avenues of possibility may be revealed. Just as often, perhaps more so, it is the act of listening, some might call witnessing, that is sufficient for both to have meaning revealed. And this is enough.
In the Christian context, as revealed in the passage above, listening can be challenging. For Jesus, in many instances of his ministry, he was constantly challenged by those marginalised by racialised and gender norms. In his role as a Rabbi, he could have, some might even claim should have, ignored or rebuked such people as the bleeding and Syrophoenician women. Yet when they called him to task, when they charged him to walk his walk, he paused and often found his own disciples telling him it was not right to acknowledge, let alone touch or heal. Yet, in his listening, he heard a truth far greater than those we humans construct: love requires letting go, and leadership, in this context, means that humility must be constantly attended to and reflected upon.
When listening reveals something new, whether easy or not to hear, leaders must then reflect upon such learning. This means not only revelation in the moment from those with whom a disciple may be companioning, but also in the context of life-long learning. To journey as a disciple is to constantly be learning both as a student and a companion or teacher. It is an intentional task that constantly reveals meaning and wisdom. This dance between listening and learning also complements the commitment to humble leadership.
This interplay between humility and leadership and learning then allows us to anticipate the final exploration of Righteous Leadership: Compassion. Whenever I have the opportunity to journey with those exploring leadership and conflict, I share that my experience has illustrated when you know someone’s name and their story, you cannot but see them as blessed children of Creator. Sure, stories are confusing and contradictory. Sure, they often frame us in the best light possible. And, sure they are never objective. But they are beautiful and contain certain truths, which at times may exist in a state of paradox.
Leaders who sit and humbly witness discover in such listening new learning and meaning. In this place, it becomes instinctive to care for all the angels and devils with whom a disciple is honoured to sit. This instinct, compassion, will be the next facet of Righteous Leadership we will explore.