Greenleaf writes: Spirit. . .is value-free. Hitler had it. . . Putting value into it, in my judgment, makes it religious. And what is value? . . .I will leave it to the reader to judge. . . In my intense formative experience…I realized that what enabled them…to lead…was that they were able to communicate…what they…valued. Some of what I learned about leadership…was how to create the conditions in which they would talk freely to each other about what they valued.
The premise here is that ‘to lead is to go out ahead and show the way when the way may be unclear, difficult, or dangerous…what makes them leaders is that a significant force of people responds.
…even the ablest leaders will do well to be aware that there are times and places in which they should follow.
…what distinguishes a leader as ‘religious’ (in its root meaning of ‘religio’ – to bind or rebind) is the quality of the consequences of her or his leadership. Does it have a healing or civilizing influence? Does it nurture the servant motive in people, favor their growth as persons, and help them distinguish those who serve from those who destroy?
‘Spirit’ plus ‘Value’ – but what ‘values’? There are values that one holds that, combined with ‘spirit,’ can move one toward the darkness (and since we are all imperfect human beings we all have some of these values – either active or dormant). Which values, plus ‘spirit,’ enable one to choose the ‘light’ more than the ‘darkness’? The great leaders, whether Hitler or Churchill, combined their values with ‘spirit’ and were able to powerfully communicate these to others. As a result both had folks who freely choose to follow them (there were others who followed because they were coerced or manipulated or persuaded). Both created the conditions so that they were able to openly and freely communicate their values (I am not sure how open either was when it came inviting others to share their values).
Both Hitler and Churchill went out ahead and showed the way. They did so even when the way was unclear (more for Churchill than Hitler it seems), or when it was difficult or when it was dangerous. In each case a ‘significant force of people’ followed (again some freely by choice and others via coercion, manipulation or persuasion).
Hitler, it seemed, was not able to ‘follow’ and this was a major contributor to his down-fall. Churchill frequently demonstrated that he was open to following and that was a major contributor to his success during WWII.
If being a ‘religious leader’ simply entailed ‘binding’ or ‘rebinding’ then both Hitler and Churchill could be considered to be ‘religious leaders.’ But there is a caveat: Does one’s leading have a ‘healing’ or ‘civilizing’ influence? This question separates Hitler and Churchill. Does it nurture the servant motive in people? At first blush both Hitler and Churchill could respond ‘yes.’ But if we add Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ for the servant then, once again, Hitler fails the test. Does the way they lead ‘favor the growth of persons’? Does it help distinguish those who serve (again using Greenleaf’s ‘Best Test’ as our guide) from those who destroy? The answer to each of these questions, again, separates Hitler from Churchill.
Given all that is unfolding – or not unfolding – in our country today, I am sitting here this morning wondering how our current elected officials would measure up to what Greenleaf offers us to consider. I am also thinking how our role-defined ‘religious leaders’ would measure up. Like Greenleaf, I will let you, gentle reader, decide for yourself.