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April 7, 2014

Moral Leadership: Seeing and Meeting Needs for Deeper Healing

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Written by: Duane Covrig
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As a faculty member in the department of leadership, I can say all of us agree  that leadership is an important skill that can be learned. Our responsibilities include helping people become better leaders. However, we don’t have a general or accepted definition for  leadership. In my view, leadership defies simple explanation and varies  depending on the context. However, leadership could be influenced  by culture and many social factors.

To acknowledge the ambiguity of leadership is not to suggest it is trivial or labeled as insignificant. In fact, just the opposite seems true. Given how pervasive and versatile its influence is, for good or evil, it should be studied more and systematically and personal, professional and corporate attempts should be given to grow in this area.

While a definitive statement about leadership eludes specialists, there are some common qualifiers such as influence, initiative, interdependence, and, my favorite, service. When these are present leadership is active

My favorite definition of leadership leans toward a moral expression of leadership as “seeing a need and rallying resources to meet that need to bring healing.”[/pullquote_left]I tend to see the process as both perception and perspiration. It is cultivating a moral understanding and a deep ability to fully sense people and their need, and then develop a growing competency to work a strategy that meets that need.

As such, leadership and service are not passive, Although  they can manifest in quiet ways as well as chaotic and revolutionary ways. Power or control are only possible resources for meeting a need. It can be extremely patient or highly urgent, depending on what will most help to get a need meet.For that reason, service and leadership evades easy definitions.Both requires psychological and sociological processes. It includes about being as much as about doing.

Over the years, some of my friends think I have sold out on leadership because I often blur my definition of leadership with ideas from management and “administration” and don’t mind grouping the trinity of leadership, management, and administration together as really all about service. Over the last several years, I have come to see “followership” in a new light and as an important skill  for accomplishing service and very necessary to help leaders operate effectively.

Which leads to another observation about leadership: as a team sport, leadership is rarely a solo experience.  As Ira Chaleff points out in his book and website on Courageous Follower.This is partly the argument of the new book on Invisible Leadership.The publisher notes:

…”how invisible leadership exists in the space between leaders and followers, artists and subjects, and purposes and people. Rather than reinforcing the idea that leadership is embodied in celebrity leaders or in gifted and charismatic individuals, the well-known and highly admired authors of this insightful new book identify “charisma of purpose” as the motivating force for invisible leadership. (From Sagepub.com)

I agree mostly with this perspective. Also, i  believe God uses charismatic, take charge, even hard-driving leaders “occasionally” to dislodge, reform, or even bring massive revolution because of a long-term need of his earthly children. Noah and the flood shows the fever stage of healing: not pleasant but necessary and sometimes God selects a few leaders to do this “strange” work (both Naaman and Nebuchadnezzar, like Noah, seem to be the sword of the Lord to do some moral purging).

As I get nearer to my death than my birth, my view of leadership gets less focused on the leaders and more focused on the long-term results leaders create to help others, their groups and society or the whole human race.Focusing on meeting human need in defining leadership has another benefit. It distances leadership from its abusive, controlling, and ruthless manifestations that has shadowed its meaning for millennium. Sometimes we could be deceived by this shadow experience of leadership (as Craig Johnson notes in his several books on ethical leadership.Leadership is usually about something else and for someone else.

Based on that premise, leadership can be  viewed as a form of loving service to those in need, this encourages finding and giving resources and wisdom to meeting those needs and to bring healing. Seeing a need and rally resources for that need always requires change. That is what leadership does . Managing that change involves finding efficiency that cultivate even more resources to ease the transitions of change and fund some solutions. Good resource management can be as good as a bold new initiative in meeting needs. It all depends on the situation and the context. A new income stream created by leadership or a tedious management technique that saves resources can  help people and this is what leadership and management should be about.

Truly, leadership could be difficult to  isolate with an unambiguous definition because it involves busy meeting  and needs that  is most manifesting itself it is nearly invisible. Leadership is usually about someone else and always for someone else. It is almost never about that person doing it but about the person whose needs are being met. Looking for leadership, you can typically only see it in a backwards glance as it is usually out helping others.

Leadership is a catalyst. It shows up, makes things happens, and then disappears.  My favorite quote about leadership is “something else” comes from Warren Bennis:

“No leader sets out to be a leader. People set out to live their own lives, expressing themselves fully. When the expression is of value, they become leaders. So the point is not to become a leader. The point is to become yourself, to use yourself completely–all your skills, gifts, and energies–in order to make your vision manifest. You must withhold nothing. You must, in sum, become the person you started out to be, and to enjoy the process of becoming.” (Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader, expanded edition p 2003, p. 104)

In some universal way, this aspect of leadership is what makes leadership a difficult field to pin down. This ambiguity drives some people crazy.  I have had fellow academics chide me about leadership not even being a discipline (which doesn’t really hurt as much as it used to because interdisciplinary work is so interesting to us in education).

I had a president of an international university come up to me once and half ask and half chide me: “What kind of discipline is leadership? How can you have a department because it isn’t even a discipline.” I think he was a psychologist. I wanted to engage him on the sub-discipline of social psychology, where sociological processes have psychological influence and how leadership camps well in social psychological process. I decided to let the conversation go and hope that both of us would learn to lead more by serving well.

It’s hard to define because it is hard to do. Serving as leading is counter-cultural but that is the best way to understand leadership.

 

 

 

 

 

I teach in a department of leadership. We all agree leadership is important and can be taught. We each spend our lives helping people become better leaders.

What we don’t agree on is a precise definition of leadership.

I think this is how it should be.

That is because leadership is one of those complex social processes that defies simple explanation and that varies widely depending on context.

Leading manifests itself in many different ways based on culture sand the confluence of many different social factors and team processes and group need. To acknowledge the ambiguity of leadership is not to suggest it is trivial or should not be taught labeled as insignificant. In fact, just the opposite seems true. Given how pervasive and versatile its influence is, for good or evil, it should be studied more and systematically and personal, professional and corporate attempts should be given to grow in this area.

While a definitive statement about leadership eludes specialists, there are some common qualifiers: influence, initiative, interdependence, and, my favorite, service. When these are present leadership is usually somewhere near by.

Where, is harder to tell!

And the reason for that is that service can go unnoticed and when it is most effective, like a backbone, can go unappreciated, until of course one hurt’s their back.

Service too is a slippery work.

As pointed out in the blog on Naaman and the little maid (2 Kings 5), it can be bold and heart-wrenchingly nation-changing or quiet and unnamed.

My favorite definition of leadership leans toward a moral expression of leadership as “seeing a need and rallying resources to meet that need to bring healing.”

Leadership is seeing a need and rallying resources to meet that need to bring healing result.

I tend to see the process as both perception and perspiration. It is cultivating a moral understanding and a deep ability to fully sense people and their need, and then develop a growing competency to work a strategy that meets that need.

As such, leadership and service are not passive, Although it can manifest itself in quiet ways as well as chaotic and revolutionary ways power or control are only possible resources for meeting a need. It can be extremely patient or highly urgent, depending on what will most help to get a need meet.

For that reason, service and leadership evades easy definitions.

It requires both psychological and sociological processes. It is about being as much as about doing.

Over the years, some of my friends think I have sold out on leadership because I tend to easily blur my definition of leadership with ideas from management and “administration” and don’t mind grouping the trinity of leadership, management, and administration together as really all about service. Over the last several years, I even have come to see “followership” in a new light as a very important skill set for accomplishing service and very necessary to help leadership operate correctly.

Which leads to another observation about leadership: as a team sport, leadership is rarely a solo experience.  As Ira Chaleff points out in his book and website on Courageous Follower.

This is partly the argument of the new book on Invisible Leadership.

The publisher notes:

…how invisible leadership exists in the space between leaders and followers, artists and subjects, and purposes and people. Rather than reinforcing the idea that leadership is embodied in celebrity leaders or in gifted and charismatic individuals, the well-known and highly admired authors of this insightful new book identify “charisma of purpose” as the motivating force for invisible leadership. (From Sagepub.com)

I agree mostly with this perspective. However, I also believe God uses charismatic, take charge, even hard-driving leaders “occasionally” to dislodge, reform, or even bring massive revolution because of a long-term need of his earth children. Noah and the flood shows the fever stage of healing: not pleasant but necessary and sometimes God selects a few leaders to do this “strange” work (both Naaman and Nebuchadnezzar, like Noah, seem to be the sword of the Lord to do some moral purging).

As I get nearer to my death than my birth, my view of leadership gets less focused on the leaders and more focused on the longterm results leaders created to help others, their groups and society or the whole human race.

Focusing on meeting human need in defining leadership has another benefit. It distances leadership from its abusive, controlling, and ruthless manifestations that has shadowed its meaning for millennium. We all get deceived by this shadow experience of leadership (as Craig Johnson notes in his several books on ethical leadership.

Leadership is usually about something else and for someone else.

Given that view of leadership, we are constantly in need of more not less leadership, if, and only if, we understand it as loving service to those in need that leads to finding and giving resources and wisdom to meeting those needs and to bring healing.

Seeing a need and rally resources for that need ALWAYS requires change. That is what leadership does best. Managing that change involves finding efficiency that cultivate even more resources to ease the transitions of change and fund some solutions. Good resource management can be as good as a bold new initiative in meeting needs. It all depends on the situation and the context. A new income stream created by leadership or a tedious management technique that saves resources can both help people and helping people is what leadership and management should be about.

It could be that leadership is difficult to really isolate with an unambiguous definition because it is so busy meeting needs that when it is most manifesting itself it is nearly invisible. Leadership is usually about someone else and always for someone else. It is almost never about that person doing it but about the person whose needs are being met. So, if you are looking for leadership, you can typically only see it in a backwards glance as it is usually out helping others.

Leadership is a catalyst. It shows up, makes things happens, and then disappears.  

My favorite quote about leadership as “something else” comes from Warren Bennis:

“No leader sets out to be a leader. People set out to live their own lives, expressing themselves fully. When the expression is of value, they become leaders. So the point is not to become a leader. The point is to become yourself, to use yourself completely–all your skills, gifts, and energies–in order to make your vision manifest. You must withhold nothing. You must, in sum, become the person you started out to be, and to enjoy the process of becoming.” (Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader, expanded edition p 2003, p. 104)

In some universal way, this aspect of leadership is what makes leadership a difficult field to pin down. This ambiguity drives some people crazy.  I have had fellow academics chide me about leadership not even being a discipline (which doesn’t really hurt as much as it used to because interdisciplinary work is so interesting to us in education).

I had a president of an international university come up to me once and half ask and half chide me: “What kind of discipline is leadership? How can you have a department because it isn’t even a discipline.” I think he was a psychologist. I wanted to engage him on the sub-discipline of social psychology, where sociological processes have psychological influence and how leadership camps well in social psychological process. I decided to let the conversation go and hope that both of us would learn to lead more by serving well.

It’s hard to define because it is hard to do. Serving as leading is counter-cultural but the best way to understand leadership.



About the Author

Duane Covrig

I teach leadership and ethics at Andrews University. I am a Seventh-day Adventist eager for the Second Coming of Christ and positive about His judgment hour work (Rev 14:6-12). I use that reality to understand morality and ethics.






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