In retrospect, I can see that many organizations provide some role models for leadership. Of course, not all role models are good ones. In fact looking back, I can see that some of them were quite mediocre! But one can learn some things from people who are mediocre or, even, very poor leaders. Of course, no one verbally announced, “ok, this is a lesson in poor leadership!” However, everyone in the group would have known. And I would have learned that you cannot do leadership that way…at least do it that way and be respected and effective.
I know that some leaders are leaders because they bring necessary skills to a position. For example, when a college or university looks for a new president, there is usually a description of the needed skills. One needs to be an effective fundraiser, strategic planner, etc. The college or university is certainly looking for someone who is more than a nice guy or a very pleasant woman. That quality would be welcome, but not sufficient.
So occasionally, I try to read some material in the leadership field. A book someone has loaned me I find quite interesting. The book has a catchy title, Talent is Not Enough. It is authored by John Maxwell. I have already a good idea of what the term, talent, means. Typically talent means the skills, aptitudes, natural gifts, and training someone brings to a task. Normally, talent means both natural gifts and developed skills. I might be very smart, but if I have done nothing to develop my intellectual capacity, I am pretty useless. On the other hand, someone who is a hard worker might not be sufficient for a job. I don’t care how hard working you are, if you have not been to medical school, I don’t want you for my physician!
However, it was a different kind of thought that captured my attention early in Maxwell’s book. At one point Maxwell says, “Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.” This sentence resonated with the way I see things. Let’s look at it in a bit more detail.
I agree that life is a matter of choices. Although that is true, it is not true in absolutely every instance. Some things clearly are not a matter of choices. I did not choose my parents nor my genetic makeup. There are other things in life to which we could point and say, “I had no choice in that!” But by and large, much of life is a matter of choices.
What is clever in the Maxwell quotation is the second half of the sentence. Every choice we make makes us. That is insightful. And it is profound. Essentially, he is saying for the most part we are the “authors of our own life.” That is both scary and sacred. And it surely makes me responsible for who I am.
It is scary to think that the choices I make form me because it means I have no one to blame for what I choose. Let’s put that in spiritual terms. It means if I choose never to engage spiritual disciplines, then I am hoping to be lucky to encounter God. Or it could mean that I presume God will grace me with the divine encounter. However, if I responsibly engage discipline, i.e. pray or meditate, then I would argue that I am more likely to find God or be found by God.
On the other hand, I find it humbling to realize the choices I make form me. It is not only humbling; it is also a sacred responsibility. It reminds me of a saying Thomas Merton once uttered: “I want to become a saint.” In effect, Maxwell’s quotation would say “yes” to Merton. You and I can also become saints. We can choose to be holy. We can choose a life of sanctity. That does not mean we become holier than thou. Nor does it mean that we become sanctimonious.
I like the fact that I am responsible---through my choices---for what I become. It does not mean I am solely responsible. I also think God is a co-creator with me. I believe God graces us through our choices (and, in some cases, in spite of our choices). But it only makes sense to me, since I believe God endowed us with dignity and honor, to ask us to choose our own way through life.
And because I also firmly believe in the power of community, if I am a member of a community where people are making good, responsible choices, then the power of you making your good, spiritual choice strengthens me and my choosing. In the most profound sense, this is the experience of love. Love is my choice, God’s choice, and your choice. But if we are all choosing love, what can be better!