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Effective Leadership: Vision, Values and a Spiritual Perspective

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Conclusions

We can find a powerful and compelling view of what we are offering regarding effective, collaborative leadership in the writing of Martin Buber (2000), a Jewish theologian of the 20th century. The overarching nature of this form of leadership is conveyed in Buber’s vision of I-Thou relationship that exists among people in a nurturing community. For Buber, the coherence of a community begins with the coherence of interpersonal relationships. His I/Thou relationship is formed on behalf of some greater devotion or cause.

There is a third element involved in an I/Thou relationship between two people, or a gathering of people in a community. This third element can be achieving the Greater Good or building the Eternal City on the Hill. The binding, relational “glue” is to be found in that which transcends those individuals who are engaged in the relationship. In many cultures, there is a dedication of all members of this society to a specific set of values and ways of finding meaning in their world. This dedication blends the secular and the sacred.

When I/Thou is in place, a psychological covenant is forged. An I/Thou covenant points to a shared commitment that extends beyond the interests or even welfare of either party in an interpersonal relationship. A community or institution-based charter is created that helps to guide directions taken by a community and institutions operating in this community. The charter points to outcomes that go well beyond personal or institutional interests.  Their signature represents a commitment on their part to a larger sacred vision of coherence. It is a vision that provides guidance regarding the future of this community and/or this institution. It is when an institution, community (or entire nation) has a clear and compelling image of its own future that this institution, community (nation) is more likely to endure on behalf of the greater good.

Ultimately, the effective engagement of the five Best Practices from a spiritual perspective is about the process of binding together on behalf of something more important than our individual needs and aspirations. At the heart of this spiritual orientation is a model of leadership that was conveyed by Wilfred Bion (1995), a British Object Relations theorist. He believed that effective, caring leaders—like effective, caring parents—help contain the anxiety (as well as unformed aspirations) held by those who look to the leader for both inspiration and protection. The leader and parent hold the anxiety (and aspirations) themselves for a short period of time, modify (metabolize) these powerful feelings so that they are not quite as powerful and then share them with the child or follower.

This holding and carrying is most effective if aligned with a greater good. There is a form of love that the Greeks call agape. This love exists not only between two people, but also between them and some greater power. Similarly, a spiritually oriented leader doesn’t just look beyond the current operations of their followers to broader and future challenges. They don’t just provide the kind of support and containment of anxiety that makes their team a safe place in which to take risks and learn. They also inspire a deep level of shared commitment, leading to sustained collaboration—and new ways of thinking and being. As Martin Buber would suggest, the I/Thou (rather than I/It) of authentic, nurturing relationships requires this shared commitment to a higher purpose. Herein resides the insights and guidance to be provided by spiritually oriented leadership.

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