In these pages from the text, there is a counterintuitive grouping together of intuitively compatible principles, such as “Leaders Inspire a Shared Vision” and “Leaders Enable Others to Act”, with a principle such as “Leaders Challenge the Process.” Namely, the former principles suggest the building of community, whereas the latter is almost revolutionary in character: it underscores the importance of challenging an established order. However, upon reflection, their coupling seems entirely logical: one of the ways to encourage “others to act” and establish a “shared vision” is to critique established “processes” that deserve criticism. It is this act, if correct in intent as well as execution, which can inspire others.
This is a fundamentally Christian principle. The life of Jesus Christ is one that challenges an existing order. This is the reason Christ is condemned to death: He challenges the practices of the Jewish rabbis and is crucified for this reason. Yet at the same time He creates the Christian community, giving this community a vision and a course of action. Hence, in Luke, we read the following: “And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-21) The rabbis’ corruption has led them to forget their ethical obligations to the weakest in the community: in the preceding scripture, Christ mentions the poor, the blind, the captives, and the oppressed. Christ’s action is necessary because Judaic practice has not yielded justice. Christ’s words are the infinite justice and goodness of God; when this justice and goodness is not carried out by those who claim to be holy, this hypocrisy must be exposed, in turn inspiring others.
From my own perspective, perhaps before one can study leadership, one first has to find a cause: a leader becomes a leader because he or she has something he or she believes in. Wanting to become a leader and then looking for a cause is reminiscent of the worst excesses of politics, where entrance into “public service” is a mask for personal ambition. Christian ethics is the exact opposite: one looks at the situations of others, one empathizes with the injustices they experience, and then decides to act. This is how one inspires others: not because one wants to inspire others, but because of the pure love of the initial act that in its authenticity compels others to follow the same immutable Christian ethical principles.
- Kouzes, J.M. & Posner, B.Z. (eds.) (2004). Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge.
- San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.