Be faithful to people

“Pressed to identify his own strengths, Jean Vanier referred to his faithfulness to people, the fact that once he had entered into real personal contact with someone it was rarely something he broke”.[i] When we walk alongside people, get to know them in their strengths and weaknesses, joys and sufferings they are reassured, feel needed and confidence increases, leading to more innovation and overall efficacy. In a large organization the leader may need to strategically invest in division heads and encourage these individuals to do the same with their reports.  Taking the time to do this builds a culture of dialogue and working together in the same direction, towards a shared vision.

“Failures are inseparable to a work of this kind, and necessary for our growth”.

Even when there is disagreement, listening to difference can lead to greater understanding, people feeling that they have been heard and overall fewer misunderstandings.  Sometimes disagreement manifests in behaviors such as resistance or stonewalling and the leader is challenged to figure out what is underneath it.  Upon further investigation they may discover a feeling of inadequacy and fear of failure faced with change therefore, it is best for a leader to interpret the thoughts and actions of others with a charitable disposition and suspend judgment until more dialogue can occur.  True community depends on dialogue.

Inviting vulnerability and seeing the potential for growth through the appropriate supports and equipping, reduces the fear that inhibits innovation and causes mistrust. Dorothy Day certainly believed in this, saying: “Failures are inseparable to a work of this kind, and necessary for our growth”.[ii] Modeling vulnerability is an important part of leadership since it gives permission for people not to be perfect. A leader can model vulnerability by admitting to mistakes and also taking opportunities during meetings to facilitate deepening connections by asking people to share their challenges and how they overcame them.

Take time for self-reflection

A leader needs to take time to be reflective and notice their reactions so as to grow in self-awareness and autonomy – in the sense of not being dependent on the opinions of others. Margaret Wheatley suggests inner work exploring these types of questions:  How do I process what’s going on? What are my ways of gaining the big picture? What are my practices for restoring a sense of peace and possibility?[iii] Some people find journaling to be an efficient tool, others a coaching relationship.

The research of Deana Raffo[iv], Assistant professor of Management as well as that of former Medtronic CEO Bill George[v] identifies self-reflection as the missing point between self-awareness and authenticity.  The rationale for engaging in reflection is clear in the research of David Sable[vi] with undergraduate students.  His evidence points to contem­plative practices as enabling people to feel more connected and empathetic with others. Admittedly, this may be challenging given the fragmentation of the role of a leader, time constraints, proclivity towards action as well as expectation to be transparent and interactive both on and off line. These challenges serve to amplify the need for a leader to take time to think about and include the needs of others rather than being driven solely by their own.

A reflective leader is one who is better able to create a sense of belonging to community and is better equipped to face the challenges of leadership. Taking the time to be reflective leads to mindfulness, greater understanding of oneself and more unified functioning.  While there are many reflective practices, the important thing is to take time to think, discern, learn and improve.  As Margaret Wheatley asserts, it’s important not just for the leader to do individually but: “A leader can do the most good in creating an organization that is healthy by creating the conditions for people to come together and be thoughtful again.”[vii]

Work for a purpose beyond yourself

What matters to me and how can my work advance this in some way? 

An essential question for leaders to reflect on is: What matters to me and how can my work advance this in some way?  Discovering and acting upon a purpose beyond oneself brings meaning to work and can motivate followers to find meaning in work also.  This leads to a deeper commitment and sense of fulfillment.  Having a greater purpose creates unity and fights fragmentation in the activities of work.

A personal emphasis on human dignity in interactions can also be scaled up to an ethic of care in a wide range of settings including mental health, homelessness, elder care, child protection, asylum seekers, indigenous peoples, marginalized communities of all description and humanitarian aid. Pease and Vreugdenhil (2017) argue for political ethics of care models so that a more progressive approach to leadership in international social work and social development practice in humanitarian aid may result. Their interdisciplinary approach moves the emphasis on human dignity to the scale of leadership in wider contexts while staying in similar values and purpose.

Being spiritual may also help one be more focused on human dignity. The experience of self-transcendence may help one to cope with difficulties and to experience higher feelings of purpose and meaning.[viii]      Piff et al, (2015) found that experiencing awe can result in a diminishment of the individual self and its concerns, increase prosocial behavior and ethical decision-making and predict greater generosity. “Awe shifts people away from being the center of their own individual worlds, toward a focus on the broader social context and their place within it”.[ix] Several other studies have shown that spiritual and religious experiences can foster environmental awareness and prosocial behavior, possibly through a process of enhanced identification with the surrounding world and a strong feeling of interconnectedness.[x]

Commit to beauty

Committing to beauty is perhaps an unusual call to action for leaders but it can be an effective tool for a peace leader. “Beauty appeals to what is good in us”[xi]– not manufactured or superficial beauty focused on the self, but a natural or created beauty that inspires to innovation, creativity, love, generosity, sacrifice and selflessness.  In the life of Dorothy Day we see the power of natural beauty as a healer:

“There were tiny flower gardens and vegetable patches in the yards. Often there were rows of corn, stunted but still recognizable, a few tomato plants, and always the vegetables were bordered by flowers, often grateful marigolds, all sizes and shades with tier pungent odor. I collected odors in my memory, the one beauty in those drab streets. The odors of geranium leaves, tomato plants, marigolds; the smell of lumber, of tar, of roasting coffee; the smell of good bread and rolls and coffee cake coming from the small German bakeries. Here was enough beauty to satisfy me.”[xii]

A leader can empower and inspire motivation for a common good or shared vision through beauty in language (speech, poetry, literature), the visual and performing arts, music, prayer and ritual.    There is power in art, music, literature and nature that leads to wonder and gives us a clearer vision into the depths of reality.  Those who experience them can become moved towards unity, fullness and community.

The world will be saved by beauty, and what is more beautiful than love?”


The mission of Dorothy Day and the aesthetically unattractive Catholic Worker house serve as an example of paradoxical beauty. With its poverty, random alcoholic tenants, basic furnishings, endless pots of watered down soup and pots of mashed potatoes, the willingness of those within to spend time with criminals and vagrants, to write for their newspaper – this is a beauty that has the potential to overcome  loneliness, create unity and commitment. To see the good amid the challenges, find hope amid despair and be able to “conquer the bitterness, the sense of futility and despair”[xiii] is leadership that people long for. Dorothy Day took inspiration from Dostoyevsky’s statement: “The world will be saved by beauty, and what is more beautiful than love?”[xiv]  Peace leaders can indeed use beauty as a tool for peace.

Leaders who commit to people, are reflective, pursue a purpose bigger than themselves and who appreciate and nurture beauty are often able to promote peace more effectively. Our conceptual understanding of leadership and associated behaviors will not however change overnight.  It involves persistent focus and commitment to incremental change of attitudes and habits.  Knowing what should be done and having the means to do it are useless without personal commitment. Subhanu Saxena, managing director and global CEO of Cipla, a large Indian pharmaceutical company emphasizes this saying: “The practice of leadership means that you practice like an Olympian athlete. Every day in the office is your gym to become a better leader.”[xv] Even seemingly small shifts in our awareness and behaviors can have positive effect. The process of change involving spirituality seeking wisdom may be less of a complex process than about disciplined personal commitment.

[i] Spink, 2006: 157.

[ii] Hennessey, 2017: 185

[iii] Margaret Wheatley in Goldman Shuyler et al, 2016: 36.

[iv] Raffo, D. in Goldman Schuyler et al, 2014: 179.

[v] George, B., 2015.

[vi] Sable, 2014.

[vii] Goldman Schuyler, al 2016: 31.

[viii] Nygren et al., 2005

[ix] Piff et al, 2015

[x] Kamitsis & Francis, 2013; Piff et al., 2015; Schnall et al., 2010; Zhang et al., 2014.

[xi] Clayton, D., 2015: 18.

[xii] Day, D., 1952: 52.

[xiii] Hennessey, 2017: 258.

[xiv] Hennessey, 2017: 213.

[xv] Saxena in Goldman Schuyler et al, 2014: 22.


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