Monday, November 03, 2014

The Connection Between Spiritual Formation and Leadership

Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island, Photo by Konrad Glogowski / Flickr.
Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island,
Photo by Konrad Glogowski / Flickr.

Jim Wallis has written an excellent piece called "What Can Mandela's Jail Cell Teach Us About Leadership?" Wallis states that "Nelson Mandela was the greatest political leader of the 20th century — because of his 27 years of spiritual formation in prison."

Mandela wrote: “The cell is an ideal place to know yourself. People tend to measure themselves by external accomplishments, but jail allows a person to focus on internal ones, such as honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, generosity and an absence of variety. You learn to look into yourself.”

Mandela's influence came from his spiritually formed character. His leadership began from within. Here are some highlights from Wallis's article (you'll do better by reading the entire piece).

  • Know yourself. Unfortunately, leaders are seldom invited to go deeper into themselves.
  • Don't define yourself entirely by outward accomplishments. If a leader neglects the formation of the heart they will view themselves by what people think of them and what they have accomplished. This can lead to "deciding what you think by what others think or want from you," and that's not good.
  • Rigorously carve out private space. Spend much time alone, with God who morphs our hearts into greater and greater Christlikeness. 
  • Be honest. This is not rocket science. Instead of putting the best story forward or telling things in their best light, tell the truth. This is "the moral foundation for genuine leadership." Remember that God knows the truth about us. This reality gives us "a vital measure of accountability." 
  • Be sincere. Wallis writes: "Saying what you mean and meaning what you say makes for the kind of leaders that so many are hungry for these days. People don’t expect sincerity anymore from leaders, and that political cynicism becomes very dangerous."
  • Be simple. "Simple" does not mean "shallow." Cut through all the distractions and get to the heart of the matter. "Good leaders understand the depth of the problems we have to solve but keep their purposes, goals, and directions both simple and clear."
  • Be humble. Do not read your own press clippings. Realize your own need for Gods mercy, grace, and forgiveness. "This is absolutely the hardest thing for leaders of all kinds."
  • Be generous. The test of leadership is not how much you get, but how much you give. Wallis writes: "The essence of leadership, from a moral and religious perspective, is essentially service — to our neighbors and to the world that God wants us to take responsibility for."
  • Don't get bogged down in stuff. Our world offers a countless variety of things and experiences that vie for our attention. Great leaders refuse to be seduced by these things and have learned to focus on what is really demands their attention.
  • Look into yourself. Wallis writes: "That is the continual pilgrimage that leaders most need, and whether we continue that journey will determine the quality of our leadership."