Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Leadership development: Marcial Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ

 While reading Shellie Karabell's article on "Leadership today: less charisma, more consensus," I found myself thinking back on what I wrote about leadership in my forthcoming book reflecting on my experience with the the Legionaries of Christ and Fr. Marcial Maciel.

Leadership’ implies certain characteristics, if the leader is to have the ability to motivate a group of people to obtain a specific result. It’s often a combination of personal qualities, and demands of the situation. Management isn’t the same thing as leadership. Management is about getting people together to achieve goals or desired objectives. Managers make plans, organize, direct and control. Leaders listen and observe, they articulate their own values and visions, without imposing them. They set the agenda. They focus more on substantive improvement, rather than managing change.

"Charisma' is one of the first words that come to mind when speaking of leaders - after all, the best ideas in the world won’t get a leader very far if he or she is not compelling enough to get people to listen. At a time of crisis it is tempting to entrust our hopes to a few charismatic individuals. (Think Barak Obama, and Ronald Regan.)

‘Charismatic’ leaders believe strongly in themselves, as opposed to believing in others. Their personality traits set them apart from ordinary men. As a result, their followers treat them as if they have exceptional qualities, often considered exemplary. They regard the individual as a leader. Heroism and extraordinary achievements can be the basis for charismatic leadership. Alternatively, it can come from exemplary character or, sanctity beyond the ordinary.

Going forward,  it's important we ask ourselves what kind of systemic cultural drivers led to some of the crises we’re facing today.

In the old days, we developed potential leaders by teaching them some skills and theories. Many supplied their own charisma. Today's leaders face global responsibilities and very complex situations. To lead well, they first need to understand their own motivations. They need to understand their "dark side" - the aspects of their personalities which come to the fore in times of stress and frustration. Otherwise, leaders, especially the charismatic ones, fall victim to the temptations of pride.

Developing new leaders involves aspects that go beyond effectiveness skills.First, there is the question of meaning. How can we help leaders become more mindful, more aware of what they represent, of how they articulate and embody a set of values for their organization? Then there is the issue of ethics - how do we ensure leaders develop a sound moral compass?

Think of the challenges faced by a contemporary leader. They include the complexity of cultures, and the ability to consider overwhelming amounts of data. Add to these the emotional intelligence required to handle the anxiety arising from the need to act decisively but inclusively, to encourage change while upholding values, to be self-confident while knowing they do not have all the answers. Gianpiero Petriglieri, Affiliate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD, suggests that this may be too much of a burden for one person. “What we need to develop,” he says, “are what I’d call leadership communities, rather than great leaders.

The question we need to ask is, ‘what do we need to know and how can we provide opportunities for these kinds of leadership to be developed? This I think, is an especially pertinent consideration for senior leadership within the Catholic Church in the light of the unfolding clergy abuse scandal.

The sheer cognitive complexity and emotional intensity of the challenges that the Pope, Bishops Seminary directors and Religious superiors face today means that we should be devising a more robust system of leadership development within the Church.

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