By Jim Higginbotham
I believe that a good leader attempts to respond in a relatively less-anxious manner to the powerful dynamics of an organization's system. When a group begins running around like they're rearranging chairs on the deck of what seems like a sinking ship, instead of trying to direct people over the howling winds (as the group expects), a leader might simply sit down on one of the chairs in the middle of the deck. Even if we can't calm the winds like Jesus did when his followers were panicked in the storm, we can exhibit peacefulness when others are overwhelmed.
As the above image implies, I believe that becoming a good leader is a product of spiritual formation. Only when we are well-connected to the depth of who we are created to be can we live less reactively (among other important qualities of a good leader). Jesus' ability to inspire and empower his followers was directly connected to his depth of spirituality. He constantly went away to pray before important events in his life. Similarly, we need strength from a Source that will help us to face challenges less afraid and not anxiously respond to the pressures that a group places upon us. In other words, we can not act peacefully if we do not possess peace.
This spiritual formation requires self-awareness and a willingness to open ourselves up to a transforming Spirit. Although the Gospels seem to portray that Jesus developed his own spirituality, if this picture is completely accurate, it was only due to his unique relationship with God. We need others to help us understand our strengths and growing edges as well as to connect to the power of the Spirit. That is one of the primary reasons that Earlham School of Religion focuses our program on spiritual formation; it is a corporate activity that can't be done only in isolation. We need to worship and pray together to find our spiritual center. When we are vulnerable with spiritual friends and others whom we can trust, they can help us to recognize our gifts and the areas in us that need to be transformed. Usually, hidden parts of our soul are the source of our anxious reactions to others.
For example, a goodhearted person might sometimes rescue others when they don't need so much help because s/he is uncomfortable with seeing people struggle. A hidden part that this person might need to discover is that s/he feels responsible for others' pain even if s/he hasn't contributed to it. This person takes responsibility for the struggles and thus robs others of the chance to grow from facing their own challenges. Such over-responsibility is not just a personal foible, but it is also a spiritual issue. This hypothetical person needs to learn to turn their concern over to a Comforter that can empower others in their struggles. If we believe that there is a power greater than ourselves, we must learn to trust this Spirit. It can be difficult when we feel uncomfortable, but having faith that God will be present frees us to do what we do best and allow others to use their strengths and gifts as well.
Obviously, leadership requires knowledge and many kinds of skills which seminary helps to develop. ESR's program is based in spiritual formation, because the world needs leaders formed in faith.
Jim Higginbotham is Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care at Earlham School of Religion. He live in Indianapolis.