Monday, April 3, 2006

The Out of Touch Leader

By Mitchell

What with everything that's been going on lately, it's been easy to lose touch with other areas of interest that fly below the radar. For example, Herb Ely has a terrific piece from a couple of weeks ago on a subject that's always of interest to me: the question of leadership. Herb asks the question "Are Leaders Always Out of Touch?" and seems to suggest they usually are. We're talking about all kinds of leaders here: political, corporate, religious. One of the things they have in common, in my opinion: they lose the foundation on which successful leadership is built. As Herb suggests,

The problem is, I suggest, worse that just being out of touch. Leaders become so committed to their frames of reference that they can be said to be in denial about coming disasters.

Herb's right that the problem is more than being out of touch. Perhaps we're talking about the same thing, perhaps not; but it seems to me that part of the problem is that these people are no longer grounded in reality. And by reality I'm talking about something more supernatural than listening to their advisors. Whittaker Chambers once suggested that without a moral foundation, capitalism was no better than any other kind of -ism. What we see in common so often in cases of failed leadership is that lack of moral structure to their plan.

In biblical times the role of warning leaders of coming disasters belonged to the prophet. In church history many men and women assumed the role of changing their orders and were called reformers. In modern times employees can always try to warn the public of a leadership failure by going to the press, the police or congress. These employees are whistleblowers – or informers.

Today there's a great debate going on about the role of religion - in public life, in politics, in the workplace. Listening to argument in the Church about issues such as abortion, homosexual marriage and women priests, you'd think there was even disagreement about the role of religion in religion. And yet it's clear that religion - in terms of a strongly developed and ordered conscience - is what's missing so much of the time when we discuss failed leadership. Are these people truly concerned about the primacy of one faith over another, as the multicultural mavens suggest? Or are they worried that the prophet preaches the words of a rival to their way of thinking, an inconvenience that prevents them from considering their own true love?

I've said before that religion is a very inconvenient thing nowadays. When you're all tied up in worship of the ego, the bottom line, the material good, the sensual pleasure - it's just plain annoying to have that whispering in your ear. That's why most of the prophets were killed, the reformers exiled, and the whistleblowers fired. Their glory only appears retrospectively, when we can appreciate them from a distance, at which point their disgraceful death becomes a victory that transforms the meaning of their life.

And at this point I think I'll stop, because I feel another, longer post coming on, from an extraordinary talk I heard over the weekend.

In the meantime check Herb's post out, which deals with this topic much better than I have!

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