Learn Leadership from the Founder

– Sabu Koottarappallil cmf

leadingIn every sphere of life we find leaders: in the political, ecclesial and social fields. Leadership is integral to the success of any country, organization, movement or society. We see some great leaders in the world from time to time- those who have influenced people and changed the course of the events that happened at that time in history. We have the examples of political leaders like Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela in the immediate times; religious leaders like Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha in religious sphere; Ford, Steve Jobs and Tata in the organizational field and Desmont Tutu, Malcom X and Mother Teresa in the social sphere. We have our leader St. Anthony Mary Claret who influenced the people he came into contact with in his own unique ways. What made these people to be effective? Surly it is their leadership and ideals for which they lived. Let us look at leadership and see what it means and its different types. We will look at it from the point of view of Jesus and our founder St. Anthony Mary Claret.

What is Leadership?

A simple definition of leadership is that leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal.

This definition of leadership, I think, captures the leadership essentials of inspiration and preparation. Effective leadership is based upon ideas, but won’t happen unless those ideas can be communicated to others in a way that engages them.

Put even more simply, the leader is the inspiration and director of the action. He/she is the person in the group that possesses the combination of personality and leadership skills that makes others want to follow his/her direction.

When we look at the life of Jesus, all through the Gospels we find him motivating and inspiring with his teaching, parables and miracles. Each episode in the life of Jesus had something profound to communicate and those who came to him were moved: scribes and Pharisees against him and the ordinary people including the Samaritan, towards listening to him.

If we look at the life of St. Anthony Mary Claret, we can see that he exercised a great deal of leadership in his roles as a missionary, religious founder, archbishop, organizer of lay apostolate, social reformer, queen’s chaplain, writer, publisher, etc. In each of these areas he proved to be an effective leader, guiding and leading the flock entrusted to him and motivating, inspiring and influencing people as he went about doing his duties.

Leadership as the Ability to Inspire

If we look at the definitions of leadership, we come across many distinct and divergent ones. According to Dubrin, Leadership is the ability to inspire confidence and support among the people who are needed to achieve some goals. So the role of the leader is to inspire the followers to achieve something which they collectively try to reach. Looking at leadership from this act of achieving together, Peter Block says that leadership is a partnership where the leader and the followers are connected in such a way that the power between then is a balanced one. Partnership occurs when power shifts from the leader to the group members. There are four elements necessary for this. The first one is exchange of purpose, which means that they decide goals together and try to have a vision together and the leader facilitates the process of visioning. The next ones are a right to say no, joint accountability and absolute honesty.

In the life of Jesus and also in the life of Anthony Mary Claret we find this. Jesus was able to inspire those who came to him: his disciples, Samaritan woman and those who gathered to listen to him. He continues to inspire millions of people all through the world today. St. Claret as a founder of a religious congregation, and as the Archbishop of Santiago, Cuba and as the confessor to the queen inspired people through his preaching, teaching and writing and more than all, through his life style.

Leadership as Influencing People

There are others who say that leadership is influencing people: John Maxwell sums up his definition of leadership as “leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” This moves beyond the position defining the leader, to looking at the ability of the leader to influence others – both those who would consider themselves followers, and those outside that circle. Indirectly, it also builds in leadership character, since without maintaining integrity and trustworthiness, the capability to influence will disappear. They do this by providing purpose, direction, and motivation — while operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization.

Leadership styles

From Alexander the Great to Nelson Mandela; from Jesus to Mahatma Gandhi; from Winston Churchill to Martin Luther King, there have been as many leadership styles as there are leaders. Fortunately, business people and psychologists have developed useful and simple ways to describe the main styles of leadership, and these can help aspiring leaders understand which styles they should use.

So, whether you manage a team at work, captain a sports team, or lead a congregation or a province or a house or a small batch or group, which approach is best? Consciously, or subconsciously, you’ll probably use some of the leadership styles which you find here. Understanding these styles and their impact can help you develop your own, personal leadership style – and help you become a more effective leader.

Though there are many different leadership styles, let me explain three styles which we find in the Church that are influential.

Charismatic leadership

A charismatic leadership style can seem similar to transformational leadership, because these leaders inspire lots of enthusiasm in their teams and are very energetic in driving others forward. However, charismatic leaders can tend to believe more in themselves than in their teams, and this creates a risk that a project, or even an entire organization, might collapse if the leader leaves. In the eyes of the followers, success is directly connected to the presence of the charismatic leader. As such, charismatic leadership carries great responsibility, and it needs a long-term commitment from the leader. This is something which we find in some of the founders of religious congregations and cults. The leader has a charisma and on the strength of that charisma, others follow the leader.

Transformational leadership

Transformational leaders are persons who inspire followers; know their followers by strengths and weakness to assign them to the right job; and challenge them to work at their best in their field of expertise. They are also true leaders who inspire their teams constantly with a shared vision of the future. In religious congregations and communities these kind of leadership style attracts the members to be a community of brothers or sisters to work for the common goal. Unlike transactional leadership where the leader would never be treated as part of the community, here the transformational leader will feel accepted as part of the community or group. While this leader’s enthusiasm is often passed onto the team, he or she needs to be supported by other people who are more down to earth, practical and people who get things done. This is because transformational leaders take initiatives that is good for the community and there is a need of others in the community to support and get that initiative going

Servant leadership

This term, created by Robert Greenleaf in the 1970s, describes a leader who is often not formally recognized as such. When someone, at any level within an organization, leads simply by meeting the needs of the team, he or she is described as a “servant leader.”

In many ways, servant leadership is a form of democratic leadership, because the whole team tends to be involved in decision making.

Supporters of the servant leadership model suggest that it’s an important way to move ahead in a world where values are increasingly important, and where servant leaders achieve power on the basis of their values and ideals. Others believe that in competitive leadership situations, people who practice servant leadership can find themselves left behind by leaders using other leadership styles.

In the life of St. Claret we see more of a transformational leadership. He was taking initiatives to reform the church and bring back people to their faith. He undertook pain to make travels all through half of Cuba that was entrusted to him and visited all the parishes, preached retreats and missions in all those parishes when he went and within 18 months he could finish one round of visits to all these parishes and started the next. He knew his team and those who worked with him. He inspired them and made them also to be a part of his mission.

In our life, we can exercise any kind of leadership style and a specific situation may demand a particular style of leadership. But if in all these circumstances, if we realize that our mission is to be people who inspire, motivate and influence others through our leadership role and making them partners in the mission of Claret, then surely we are on the right path of being good effective leaders. Leadership in the church is to be a servant, to be a transformational agent, to be one who inspires, energizes and motivates others.

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