Friday, November 13, 2015

leadership and belief

Yesterday afternoon I concluded my day at Concordia University Texas having a conversation with Dr. Carl Trovall, our Dean of Liberal Arts, about the topic of leadership and belief.  He is in the midst of writing a new course for our Educational Doctorate program entitled Leadership and Faith Traditions, and our discussion centered on which texts he would include for students to read.  We ranged from the Book of Job to the Tao Te Ching to The Meditations to The Analects to Shakespeare to Niehbuhr to Plato to Kiekegaard...and if you know Dr. Trovall, you know that the conversation was far-flung and incredibly engaging.

So why think about or write about leadership and belief?  The essence of philosophy is that one's thoughts and beliefs shape one's actions...and if that is the case, then leaders should be thinking about what they believe, why they believe what they believe, and how that belief shapes how they lead.  A couple of random thoughts on this concept for a Friday morning:

  • People often tie together their beliefs with their faith traditions - and in many cases that may be true.  However, even when one confesses publicly, "I believe..." they should ask the question of why they believe what they confess to believe and how might that square with their experiences in life?
  • If one's confessed belief does not line up with their life experiences, they might begin to experience a cognitive dissonance, forcing them to wrestle with right and wrong.  This wrestling allows them to consider what might be truth and how that truth lives itself out in their lives.  Such thinking allows people to consider and embrace the power of paradox, one of the thinking patterns that allows leaders to function more effectively.
  • Belief is shaped by many experiences and thought practices throughout one's life, often creating a "voice in the head" that dictates how one acts.  Examining those voices is critical in leadership development, and only by thinking about one's beliefs and examining other's beliefs can the voices be identified.  Of course, the more difficult part is the willingness to modify or discard those voices if they are harmful to one's leadership (or life).
  • There could exist in some faith traditions the thought that reading the texts from other faith traditions might be harmful to one's personal beliefs. For me, if I know what I believe and have confidence that it is the truth, then reading these other texts should only strengthen what I believe to be true, especially when they begin to align with one another.  Having another way of thinking about what one believes provides a bigger tool box for future actions.
  • On the flip side of that, when I come across those areas of other faith traditions that disagree or conflict with what I believe to be true, I begin to gain a greater understanding of how others think and how their beliefs lead to their actions.  My understanding of "the other" is a key piece to transformational leadership.
  • Finally, I cannot leave this blog without promoting the great literature of the world as some of the best leadership development available.  Great literature is written from a place of belief of how the world works and what makes up the essence of life.  Reading Homer, Shakespeare, Dante, Austen, Tolstoy, and Hemingway (and feel free to add your own writer or text here) allows one to enter into the belief system of others AND allows the reader to consider their own beliefs.  What better way is there to think about and shape one's leadership?

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