Leadership and Learning by Faith

There is a wonderful man responsible for leadership development in a large organization.  He is a former student who is now well along in his career.  Occasionally, when he is wrestling with a challenge, he calls.

My friend has become effective in creating and delivering meaningful learning experiences that further personal development.  He rejoices in his work and his success.  This success has come by choice.  He made a conscious decision to leave conventional administrative work to focus all his energy on the realization of human potential.

In his organization a pattern has emerged.  Because of his success, many people approach him for help with difficult human problems.  Recently a woman made a request.  She has been asked deal with the fact that an entire department is suffering because of a prestigious senior person who engages in toxic leadership.  She has no idea how to proceed.  My friend said he would take a little time and get back to her.

For my friend, the problem was two-fold.  First there was the challenge of dealing with the toxic leader.  He was not sure what to tell her.  Second, he had some personal hesitation because he had made a conscious choice to get away from such problems.

After much listening, I steered the discussion in a new direction.  Dealing with the latter issue first, I asked if the incoming requests were not a confirmation of his success and an opportunity to get better.  He asked how.  I suggested that every such invitation was a prospect for him to engage in learning by faith, that is, to engage in leadership, to experience it, to acquire a fresh view of what leadership is, and thus become more effective in leadership development.  He immediately grasped it and valued it.

Holding the notion of learning by faith, we turned to the first issue.  He had already indicated that he was tempted to tell the woman that she just needed to go into the department and hold difficult conversations.  I asked what this advice might trigger in the woman.  We eventually agreed that the advice would be next to useless because it would simply trigger fear.  The woman has no idea how to hold such conversations, nor does she have a reason to believe that the conversations might produce a positive outcome.

She not only needed task direction, but she also needed support in the process of learning by faith.  Great leaders are high on task and high on support.  They both clarify direction and nurture learning.  I asked what would happen if he asked her to set up interviews with the department members and he then went to the interviews with her.  What if he helped her form the interview questions?  What if at the end of each interview he asked her what she learned, what she wished she had done differently, and what she will do in the next interview?  When all the interviews were finished, what if he asked her questions about what she learned and what strategies she might consider.

Again, my friend embraced the alternative view.  As conversation closed, he made an observation.

“I recognize that people in this organization tend to do what they have always done but never works.  Sometimes I judge them.  I do not recognize that I am like them.  Conversations like this one are helpful because I need to stop and reflect.  I need to do what I teach, that is, I need to constantly renew my perspective.  When I do, I find the vision and courage to lead.”

My friend was recalling something he already understood.   Leadership is stimulating significant positive change.  Significant positive change happens in relationship.  To help those around us grow, we must be growing.  Leaders must learn by faith, so that others can engage in personal and collective learning by faith.

Reflection

  • Why does leadership emanate from the emergence of new perspective?
  • Why is daily, disciplined, self-reflection the parent of leadership?
  • What is learning by faith, and why are great leaders high on task and high on people?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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