My mom used to tell me that fashion circled back around so that what was once old-fashioned is now in vogue again. I had to live long enough to see some of those cycles at work to see that it is true, but the return of bell-bottoms, mini-skirts and boots of all kinds has convinced me that everything old is new again. What does that have to do with Jesus, leadership and the Church? Well, Jesus demonstrated a way of leading: I your Lord and Master, now become your servant. Do not Lord you power over one another, I am the Master and teacher…learn from me.
You don’t have to be a historian to know that this model of leadership did not take hold for many years after Jesus. The Roman Empire’s organization and leadership ideas informed those adopted by the Church and soon, Jesus as a servant leader was obscured by other approaches.
In the 1970’s Robert Greenleaf grabbed a hold of Jesus’ idea of servant leadership and introduced it not into the church but into the business world. He asked if those being led grew as persons, became healthier, wiser, freer and more likely themselves to be servants? He asked if leaders were having a positive effect on the least privileged in society, or at bare minimum, if the poorest were not further deprived under a person’s leadership.
Now, in 2019, Pope Francis is naming the influence of a more Roman Empire inspired leadership model: clericalism as characteristic of the church. He contrasts it quite clearly with Jesus’ model of shepherd, of servant calling for leaders who smell like their sheep, who bend to wash and kiss the feet of the least among us.
Now, in the 21st century, leadership researchers, writers, scholars, practitioners and bloggers are turning their attention to the benefits and gifts of what they are calling “compassionate leadership.” What is that exactly? Well, it’s leadership grounded in these concepts:
- I understand you. A desire to connect to others through the mind and the hearts, so as to build safety and trust that will enable risk and growth.
- I feel you. A desire to move from empathy as an idea to being vulnerable enough to share feelings and so act from the heart. Emotion drives behavior. Shared emotion enables humanity to flourish and courage to unfold.
- I want to help. A commitment to removing barriers to success, to providing ample resources and to pitching in with the leader’s own time, talent and treasure to foster the mission.
Compassionate leaders embrace communion and community through diversity, inclusion and equity.
Compassionate leaders nurture the vocational call through engagement and development.
With thanks to God, let us embrace Jesus’ leadership model as the way for all ecclesial leaders. With thanks to God, let us learn the 21st century ideas and skills to make community and communion possible. With thanks to God, let us lead with head and heart, enabling those we serve to grow into what Matthew Kelly calls the “best version of themselves.”
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