SPIRITUAL LIFE AND LEADERSHIP
Rev. Fr. John-Mary Benedict Ntol Atep
During a Q&A session at a conference, someone asked, ‘What has been your greatest challenge as a leader!’ I think my response surprised nearly everyone in the auditorium. ‘Leading me! – John Maxwell
The Lord Jesus Christ is a Good shepherd, one who died for us while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8). The image of Good shepherd of the Lord is what we celebrate every fourth Sunday of Easter. Precisely, it is a Sunday set aside to assess our sense of leadership. It is always a great news to acknowledge the fact that we are spiritual beings and through the Spirit of God we came into existence and therefore we need to sustain our spiritual life no matter the cost. Leadership is a special gift and skill to take seriously and apply its tenets in order to move towards emotional maturity and spiritual maturity. Thus, our preoccupation is to reawaken the reality of the strong nexus between our spiritual life and leadership.
I like the simple description of leadership by John Maxwell, “leadership is about influence. Nothing else.” It reveals a lot when read reflectively. Influence is the capacity ingrained in every human person to move others into action. The foregoing view of influence is good and it has dominated our spheres of enlightenment and spiritual growth, but reasoned further, influence should not only be understood as having effect on others alone but also on our individual selves. Meaning, you and I can influence our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. We find it difficult to understand and appreciate leadership, especially as we cultivate and lead a spiritual life, because we have been conditioned to see leadership from a very narrow perspective and worse still as a means to move others into action. To this end, leadership in most cases is seen from the dimension of occupying a position especially of high honour. But leadership from the spiritual perspective is holistic.
Leadership properly understood begins with you and me. What we call personal leadership. Personal leadership in the spiritual life is the ability to influence oneself to listen to the voice of God, His Church and an educated conscience and not to be overtaken by time and chance. According to Robin Sharma, “Leadership begins from within. Organizational leadership begins with personal leadership. You cannot be a source of positive energy if you have no energy. The doorway to success swings outward – not inward.” If you cannot lead yourself to accomplish some goals then you cannot lead others.
Today in our world, good things rarely happen and if they do, they are rarely sustained because of lack of good leaders. We have bad leaders in the Church, families, businesses, careers/professions and societal governments because of poor personal leadership. Many of us cannot lead ourselves let alone lead others. The Latin adage: nemo dat quod non habet (you can give what you lack) confirms the seething problem of lack of personal leadership in our world today. This is why we are quick in leading others but neglecting ourselves. The Lord wants us to also develop a good sense of personal leadership. The outcome of personal leadership are enormous: emotional maturity, spiritual maturity, integrity, peace of mind as a result of less mistakes in life and supremely doing and living according to the will of God. Personal leadership has become very important today, because the main part of the problems confronting us in the Church, family and society are as a result of negligence and failure of personal leadership.
- Personal leadership informs us of the need to embrace freedom and responsibility
- Personal leadership challenges us to move from our false self to true self,
- Personal leadership dares us to work on the mechanics of our minds and move from thinking to consciousness
- Personal leadership calls us to liberate ourselves from selfishness to self-forgetfulness
Here is a story from an unknown monk of the 12th century which lucidly underscores the place of personal leadership in the spiritual life: “When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town, and as an older man, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only one I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that, if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.”