I just returned from speaking at an international conference on ethics and leadership held in Leuven, Belgium. Scholars, church leaders and business leaders came from Europe, Africa and Asia. The theme focused on the rapid changes in the way leadership is understood in all kinds of contexts. As the lone North American, I did a little presenting – and a lot of listening!
Let me share a few things that I learned from various parts of the world:
First, practices of leadership require openness and vulnerability. With perhaps the exception of military organizations, contemporary leaders recognize that flexibility, adaptability and paying close attention to others are indispensable factors. With the increased scrutiny that new technology brings, leaders also hold a high standard for integrity and character.
Second, culturally diverse teams are more adept at problem-solving. Differences in background, culture and expertise are not challenges to be overcome, but assets to be leveraged. What if the task of the leader is more about getting groups of people to work well together rather than always coming up with the answer?
Third, leadership, good or bad, lives out of a particular narrative. A common narrative for leadership practices is that of power: “We will do this because I say so.” Yet for Christian contexts, leadership emerges from a different narrative, one bound up in the Jesus’ story of relinquishment. As Jesus emptied himself (Phil 2:5ff.), so do leaders. Such a narrative creates an internal compass that guides the leader.
One evening at dinner, I was sitting with the COO of Europe’s largest retail clothing company. As we talked he observed that the Christian faith turns standard leadership practices upside down. As I nodded in agreement, he said, “The deeper I live my faith in my work, the more joy I have in the practice of leadership.” I say “Amen” to that!
May God bless you in your practice of leadership.