Leadership Theology

by Simon Goland, June 19, 2012

Leadership and Personal Development (LPD) is a 2-year course I teach at Bainbridge Graduate Institute, as part of an MBA in Sustainable Business degree. The theory, practice, and meaning of leadership through the lens of looking at oneself is a deep, evoking, and transformational process the students go through, both in the classroom and outside of it. About a week ago, another group of students has completed the course and the program. For some, it is the end of this intense and rich journey, while others have chosen to do the degree in 3 years instead of 2. Either way, their LPD course is complete, and we are moving on – they are spreading the wins and flying away, and I am sitting in front of an empty nest, and not for the first time. Even though it is the third group of LPD students that graduate, these endings don’t get easier. Perhaps quite the opposite, for my journey with them was profoundly deep, rewarding, inspiring, and rich in learning – and in emotions. Especially now, in the final completion phases, when I read their very last reflection papers (they submit these every term-end). When one steps up, one needs to know that the world will test what one is made of. And this group of students certaily stepped up, and was thoroughly tested. Truly, madly, deeply. And they are all standing a bit taller now, ready to face the next phase in their lives.

“Learning cannot be designed. Ultimately, it belongs to the realm of experience and practice. It follows the negotiation of meaning; it moves on its own terms. It slips through the cracks; it creates its own cracks. Learning happens, design or no design. … In fact, the whole human world is itself fast becoming one large organization, which is the object of design and which must support the learning we need in order to ensure there is to be a tomorrow. Those who can understand the informal yet structured, experiential yet social, character of learning – and can translate their insight into designs in the service of learning – will be the architects of our tomorrow.” – Etienne Wenger

As part of this paper, they submit what we call their Leadership Theology, described in the assignment as “a reflection of what you stand for as a leader, no matter what.” And now, as I go through these papers, thinking about the person writing it, and the journey over the past almost two years, I cannot help but feel grateful and hopeful. Yes, there are many more feelings cruising through me at this phase of completion, but let’s stay with hope and gratitude for now. For the experience and the future, of our collective kind. Below are a few phrases that jump at me from the papers I read.

  • There is no business in which we can engage that is more important than relationship with family and self.
  • Integrity. Love. Joy. The Future Generations. People truly alive in their gifts. That is what she stands for. NO MATTER WHAT. No matter what. That is what she stands for.
  • Practice What You Preach.
  • Respecting the beings in this world enough to really listen to them and have their words speak through you.
  • Seeing, speaking, listening and learning from a place close to the earth.
  • Being nothing more and nothing less than what I am and loving who that is, happy to share it with the world.
  • A good leader serves a cause, never his or her ego.
  • I love deeply and I am loved in return. I model possibility.
  • It can be done. “Think big, start small, act now!”

It is easy to become negative, disillusioned, depressed, numbed, or righteous when looking at the myriad challenges we are all facing in pretty much every area of our lives. From environment, to food, to pollution, to injustice, to greed, to… just name it. The only problem here is that, while perhaps all of it is true, nothing will change from such a dark and heavy place. This is where hope and gratitude come into play.

You must give birth to your images.
They are the future waiting to be born.
Fear not the strangeness you feel.
The future must enter you long before it happens.
Just wait for the birth,
for the hour of new clarity.
– Rainer Maria Rilke 

Sure, I am sad and emotional, about the completion of my journey with them, at least in this capacity and form. We have gone through a lot together, got to know each other deeply, got to laugh, cry, explore, connect, and share of ourselves. There have been few other groups I have facilitated where I reached such deep and autuhentic connection – with them and myself. This is part of the reason the ending now brings up such emotions. With that, gratitude is alive and beating strong, for the richness of the experience, and for knowing that we have all done the best in bringing ourselves fully out, learning and sharing and preparing for what’s next. And hope for the future, when I think about these change angels and agents, unleashing their gifts and passions and skills in areas where they are needed. No matter what.