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Effective Leadership: Vision, Values and a Spiritual Perspective

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Transcendent Vision: As we lean into the future it is important to acknowledge that this future can be saturated with secular values and goals. This future can also be saturated with values and goals that are in some sense transcendent. This means that they rise above our daily life and concerns. They are based on values founded on principles that have no “due date.” Transcendent visions can be found at all levels—the family, the organization, the society and even the nation.

For example, we can point to a patriotic song composed during the American Revolutionary War. Called “Independence,” this widely heard composition by William Billings begins with the traditional praise (“hallelujah”) of the “king.” However, as the song progresses, it becomes clear that this king is not the monarch of England but is instead “God.” The proclamation of independence establishing that a secular vision (earthly rule) is now being replaced by a spiritual, transcendent vision (heavenly rule). Given that many of the founders of the American government were not religious in a traditional sense, we can conceive of “God” for these patriots as a transcendent principle of freedom and rule based on law rather than royal lineage.

Today, more than 200 years later, we find an American president declaring that the power and influence of America come not from its economic or military power (which are based in secular values), but in the sustained American commitment to the institutions of democracy (Richardson, 2023). This transcendent vision of American purpose and values must be protected and repeatedly reconfirmed. Spiritual leadership focuses on this identification and nurturing of a transcendent vision. It also focuses on ensuring that this vision is compelling. This vision is compelling when it serves as an “attractor” for the energy and talent of those living with and leaning toward this envisioned future. It should provide tangible guidance regarding the pathway to an attainable future and offer values-based “guard rails” to ensure that the pathway is being followed. A noted European social historian, Fred Polak has provided some sound advice about these matters.

Images of the Future: Many years ago, Polak (1972) wrote about the decline of social systems that have lost their image of the future. Polak points to a critical factor in the ongoing existence of any social system (or any living system for that matter). It must have something toward which it is moving or toward which it is growing. Without a sense of direction and future possibilities, we dry up and find no reason to face the continuing challenge of survival. Narratives in the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew bible) tells us that without a vision the people perish. There is no hope, there is no meaning. Sandstrom and Smith (2005) bring in Solomon at this point. In his old age and after a life spent away from the religious traditions of his youth, Solomon proclaimed in the opening lines of his treatise in Ecclesiastes that life is “Meaningless, meaningless, it’s all meaningless!”

Solomon had everything anyone could ever want, but he was miserable because his vision was not aligned with a transcendent purpose and set of values. Without a foundation of shared and sustained values and purposes—directed toward a compelling future–we are wandering aimlessly on an alien landscape. We find little reason for producing and preparing a new generation. In the series of Australian movies called Mad Max, a post-nuclear holocaust world is portrayed that is coming to an end. When no viable future is in sight, then (as we see in these movies) there is no attending to children. They must fend for themselves, for we know they have no personal futures.

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