Since taking up my role as president of Episcopal Relief & Development over 13 years ago, many people have kindly sent me articles and books about leadership. How is it recognized? How is it developed? What does it look like in a faith context? How can one be a non-anxious leader? You get the picture.
I read much of what was sent to me as I searched for my vision of how I want to be a leader. After over 25 years serving in various leadership roles, I can’t say that I subscribe to one school or genre of leadership.
So much depends on context and how one’s personal gifts and graces (or lack thereof) interact with circumstances and the people you are trying to lead. I’m reminded of the quip about pornography—it doesn’t have a definition, but you sure know it when you see it.
Nonetheless I am always intrigued by new and interesting takes on leadership.
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of spending several days with a friend and colleague who leads Anglican Missions Board for the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, The Reverend Canon Robert Kereopa.
While we were together we were sharing some of the challenges that we face in our respective roles and reflecting on how to be leaders of our organizations in these strange and challenging times.
Robert introduced me to what he described as the three beating hearts of Maori leadership: conversation, hospitality and unity.
As Robert explained, the food of a leader is conversation and discussions leading to wisdom and understanding. It is talking respectfully with people we may not agree with and learning from them. Leaders must listen carefully. They can only persuade through empathy and understanding.
Furthermore, as a leader one must bless and show hospitality. One must marginalize oneself in order to magnify others. Leadership is not about oneself. It is about making room for others and enabling them to unleash their own gifts.
Finally, as a leader one’s work is to inspire unity among people through persuasion. The often unspoken implication of leadership is that there are followers. If those followers are not united, then leadership is meaningless.
I’ve been turning these concepts of conversation, hospitality and unity, over in my mind during the past several months as the United States has been selecting senators and members of Congress to lead us for the next two years and beyond.
Setting aside policy agendas, I’m intrigued by what it might mean if we elected leaders who used the three beating hearts of Maori leadership to guide their actions.
How would that change the tenor of our political discussions?
What kinds of people would feel called to step forward to offer themselves for leadership roles?
How might our country and our world change?