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.