A Fool in an Authentizotic World
A number of years ago, I asked my Organizational Dynamics teacher in seminary which book and/or author would she recommend as one of the best on leadership. Perhaps because of her influence under Dr. Bobby Clinton, especially with his work Making of a Leader, she claimed that he provided the most significant practical information on leadership. That advice led me down the path of a Masters in Global Leadership, a path for which I’m grateful. However, now that I’ve read Leadership Mystique by Manfred Kets DeVries, I beg to differ with her advocation for Clinton’s preeminence on leadership. Right from the start, DeVries offers practical information from the field, not from above, to help organizations understand the impact of leaders have on an environment. As he states in his preface, “my main objective in studying leadership is to bring the person back into the organization.”
For DeVries, leadership rests on the person as a leader, an individual who has more than a public persona. One of his central points for the credibility and significance of a leader stems from whether that person recognizes both his/her giftings as well as the shadow side – that dark side that can trip up someone who doesn’t take the time for self-reflection. From that premise, Leadership Mystique offers a handbook of tools that help leaders discover who he/she is, honestly. Coming from that place, the integrity of an organization can operate from its center that stems from the leader, rather than assuming that an organization will create the leader.
Deve Persad recommended in his Pecha Kucha to read every book with a lens for our dissertation. As I perused through Leadership Mystique, I eagerly soaked up concepts and reflections that I could pass on to leaders that I know. However, to Deve’s point by looking at my topic on wisdom in aging gracefully, I discovered two concepts that I want to transfer to what I call spiritual practices. First, an “authentizotic” organization offers a picture of productivity through creativity and investment. By definition, “authentizotic” combines two words: authenteekos and zoteekos. Respectively, authentic means to hold integrity within itself providing trust and reliance. For zoe/zotic, meaning life, an organization offers a place that is “vital to life” whereby the work environment is life-giving rather than depleting. A leader who provides this kind of organization offers hope through the creativity and passion of the participants involved.
In transferring “authentizotic” to a spiritual practice in aging, people thrive in an environment where their contribution is based on integrity and passion instead of physical capabilities, age, and gender. The ingredients for that safe place require that individuals live out and into their values with congruence, each person owns what they contribute, the investment seeks not only personal development, but that of the community, and that everyone has a sense of belonging. The practice becomes seeking and creating those places for themselves and others.
For example, today I started a Soul Tending class that I’ve developed for people who want to learn what it means to pause, listen, and trust that God has something for them in the invitation to encounter Him. As we begin, I use Parker Palmer’s Touchstones for Creating a Safe and Trustworthy Space:
- Choose for yourself when and how to participate. There is always an invitation, never an invasion; always opportunity, never demand.
- Be present for yourself and others. Presume welcome and extend welcome.
- Embrace difference. Speak your truth. Listen with an open mind to others’ truths.
- Speak for yourself. Use I statements.
- Make space for silence. Slow down and pay attention to the voice of your own soul.
- No fixing. Seek instead, through deep listening and open questions, to help each find his/her own clarity.
- When the going gets rough, turn to wonder. Be open to learning with “soft eyes.” Turn from reaction and judgment to wonder and compassionate inquiry.
- Observe confidentiality. We trust that our words and stories remain with the people with whom we share, and are not passed on without our permission. We are free to express the insights we gain from listening to others without violating their privacy. adapted from couragerenewal.org
These touchstones are part of creating an “authentizotic” environment, whether for an organization or community, in order to create a sacred safe place.
In addition to the spiritual practice of creating safe places, another gift of aging that requires a practice is recognizing the fool in our self. When offering wisdom from places of not only personal experience, but also personal pain, a person usually acknowledges what DeVries calls a morosophe, a learned fool. When in any position of power, whether in an organization or in a particular system, that person needs a “guardian of reality” in his/her life. Laughing at our failings, receiving them in humility and grace, we can then reframe what has happened in the past. At times, we give ourselves too much credit when we don’t deserve it. Other times, we don’t acknowledge the value of our contribution when the denial of that would be lying. Through the “becoming a fool” (1 Corinthians 4:10) spiritual practice, we have a way to see the reflection of who we are with humor and truth. In this honest place, leadership becomes a journey of not only leading others, but also of being intentional in our own lives. The spiritual practice of awareness is a cornerstone to wisdom in aging gracefully. Interestingly enough, it is also a cornerstone to being a good leader.
Referencing the picture – St. Francis (perhaps both present and past) is considered to be a
Fool for Christ in this playful depiction.
 Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries, The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise, 2nd ed. (Harlow, England.: FT Press, 2009), xix.
 Ibid, 254.
 Ibid, 262.
13 responses to “A Fool in an Authentizotic World”
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“leadership becomes a journey of not only leading others, but also of being intentional in our own lives”
Great insight, Mary. There is a direct connection between leading others and know ourselves. If we fail to know ourselves, there will there little space for improvement and maturity. If we fail to know others, we will not lead them in a way that helps them develop and mature.
Brian – you strike me as someone who tries to take the time to know yourself. In your new place, do you find people want to understand themselves or will you have to help them discover that practice?
We have a lot of fairly new Christians who are just beginning the process of maturing in Christ so many concepts are new or unknown. Very few have done any kind of self-evaluation or exam, but some are open to these “new” ideas.
“When offering wisdom from places of not only personal experience, but also personal pain, a person usually acknowledges what DeVries calls a morosophe, a learned fool.”
There once was a time that I allowed my own ‘pain’ and my ‘weakness’ to be more readily reflected to others – it was healthy and benefited those in that small circle. I had a community that encouraged such openness. Unfortunately there are others that treat such fools as expendable, a liability, and I was rejected as such. Today I want to return to that place of honesty, of being the learned fool for Christ – but I admit that it’s hard. Pray for me.
Dave – I will say a prayer. I admire all of you folks that are in present positions of leadership. It’s a lonely place. And I know you need places to be authentic. It seems like we’ve been able to do some of that in our cohort, but it’s probably not enough if you want to have a sustainable ministry and life. May God grant you courage where you need to risk being yourself with the discernment to know when and where.
Mary, when I was reading your post, the passage from the first part of Romans 12 where we are instructed to “not think too highly” of ourselves came to mind. This is written in the broader context of not allowing our thinking to be conformed to the way of the world but rather, to allow our thinking to be transformed… I have observed that in real time, people generally don’t struggle with thinking too highly of themselves but the opposite, they see themselves as having no value and incapable of contributing anything of worth. At the end of it all, the PJV (Pastor Jon Version) of the scripture I referenced looks like this. “See yourself the way Jesus does… No more, no less!”
Jon – I would agree that many people struggle with low views of themselves, particularly filled with shame and a noisy critic. It seems to come out in different ways – bravado for some, hiding for others. In what you shared for your post, I suspect you are quite good at helping people see themselves as God sees them.
I love the Romans 12 passage about being transformed…it is so hopeful that even in our worst estimation of ourselves, God doesn’t give up hope.
Mary, I missed this quote that you captured … “my main objective in studying leadership is to bring the person back into the organization.” I love that! The middle-school my wife teaches in was in bad shape three years ago. As my Father-in-law once stated, “That school doesn’t have any human quality.” It was an institution to the core which is not the kind of environment I would think is best of middle school students. I definitely believe a move to a “authentizotic” environment was needed. Fortunately there was a leadership change and now, three years later, the school has experienced a real transformation. Great post! Love my new vocabulary word:).
Phil – how encouraging to see a school make that drastic of a change in three years. It’s not easy to alter a culture…especially one that has been institutionalized. But to the credit of the principal (I assume), it shows what leadership can do to create something healthy.
By the way, I bet your wife is an awesome middle school teacher. Kudos to her for working with kids at one of the most critical times in their development as a human being.
I love how to connected authentizotic with creating a sacred safe place. That’s powerful and really should be a leaders objective. Leading from a place of vulnerability and creating space really seems key. I wonder how it’s possible to do that on a corporate environment with measured results…or maybe wanting measured results is the problem. Thanks Mary.
Nick – you bring up a good point that in my desire for an “authentizotic” environment, can we really accomplish the goals that are necessary, at least in a corporate setting? I want to believe we can, but I can’t say that I’ve seen it. That’s one reason why I liked Kets DeVries because he seemed to say “let’s be practical.” The little parable in the beginning about the frog, the owl and the alligators – it was a great reminder for me to be careful to not be all cerebral. It requires on the ground work to be a successful leader.
Mary some of the elements that Devries writes about are at times hard to conceive. What i mean is coping with your dark side or shadow side can be unnerving and inconsistent with what you are trying to do as a leader on the positive side. Learning to go forward in spite of this side i think is the most challenging thing that some leaders will face. Giving up is always an option if you let that side win. Giving up is not an option knowing that God brought is this far and he will complete the work he started and this is so encouraging! Blessings Mary
Travis – “learning to go forward” – such a great phrase of recognizing that going forward requires an ongoing practice of learning. It doesn’t just happen. We’ll make mistakes along the way, but God is on our side, right? Thanks for your words.