“If you try to be all things to all people, you will never exceed at anything.” – Dave Ulrich
The first and most important aspect of becoming a more contemplative leader is learning to cultivate the ability to ask the right questions. Unfortunately, many of us never learn to ask the right questions. We have become so reactive in our responses and actions due to dealing with day to day struggles and problems that we never take the time to reflect on why it is that we are here leading in the first place. This leads to a variety of problems, the biggest of which is short-sighted leadership. When we are overly reactive, we are spontaneous and emotional. When we are overly reactive we lack strategic direction and we rarely reflect on our actions at all. When we are overly reactive, we have no goals and we have no effective way to measure the success of our goals. How do we move from reactive response to a more strategic and goal oriented way of leading? We must begin with ourselves. We need more contemplative leaders – leaders who are willing to begin with their own motives, fears, and desires.
What questions do contemplative leaders begin with?
At the beginning, I would answer this question with another question. What question are you afraid to ask? Usually this is not a question regarding how to lead our organization or congregation. This is usually a question that has something to do with our understanding of self, or lack thereof. This is why the contemplative component of leadership is so vital. If we don’t have an adequate understanding of self, motives, fears, and passions, we cannot lead effectively.
What are the questions we should begin with?
What is the meaning of life?
How do I fulfill my calling/vocation?
How do I live a full and complete life?
How do we find meaning in our vocation?
What is our destiny?
Am I capable, worthy, useful?
Whether you consider yourself a religious person or not, you are a spiritual being. Define it as you will, we all must have meaning in life, but meaning is hard to nail down and can often escape us. There are moments for all of us when we stop and “smell the roses” lifting our eyes up from the ordinary reactive responses we face every day. During these times, we begin to question ourselves and what we do. The contemplative leader learns to foster reflection on the big questions in ways that are productive and life-giving. The contemplative leader thinks about the bigger questions and issues regularly. These thoughts guide their decision making and their relationships. The process of living, growing up, finding meaning, and increasing awareness of who we are and why we are here is something contemplative leaders strive toward. While it may be a difficult task, this is really the only work a contemplative leader can accomplish themselves. Unfortunately, too many leaders rely on others to tell them who they are and how they should lead. Too many leaders find their self-worth in what they can produce. The reality is that you can never be the best and most effective leader you can be by seeking affirmation from the outside. Others cannot tell you who you really are. That is something that you can only discover within.