Two weeks off from school, I’ve taken Tom Schimmer’s advice and pressed the “Pause” button. As well as enjoying time with my family I’ve been reading Paul Mariani’s, Thirty Days: On Retreat with the Exercises of St. Ignatius. Spending 30 days of silence in a Retreat house, the author takes part in the five-hundred-year-old Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and comes to an understanding of what it truly means to put others before oneself.
In reflecting upon Mariani’s experiences, I began to see that his understanding really is the basis for effective leadership. Fran Norris Scoble, in perhaps the best essay I’ve read in the past year, Is School Good for the Soul, advances my premise:
It matters far less that we know what time class starts than that we know why we gather and how we are changed because we do.
As leaders, in putting others before oneself, we learn to appreciate that we grow into our real knowledge of a place and a people through the thousand unmarked interactions of the everyday and the commonplace. In knowing “why we gather” we can view ‘mandates’ or ‘directions’ not as points of contention but rather as opportunities to design communities that encourage reflection and introspection: opportunities to lead while imparting a fundamental sense of possibility. We can, in the end, invite those we lead to pursue inquiry with us and in so doing create a culture that allows us all to become comfortable and assured in our abilities to speak to the hearts of all – addressing not only what we are doing but also what we are feeling.
As I prepare to reengage with my school community today, I reflect upon Mariani’s understanding and become even more aware that, for me, leadership is not a goal, position or title but instead a process of engagement around moral purpose and identity: an engagement which excitingly will always be built within the context of human relationships.
Putting others before oneself. Maybe Paul Mariani is right. Maybe finding out what those around us need truly is the basis of compassion. And maybe this is at the heart of leadership . . . I think it is.