Artwork: Chagall, America Windows, Art Institute of Chicago (debut 1977).

Two Essential Competencies for 21st Century Leaders

Prophets lead us into a new world, beyond simply yelling at the old one.  –Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical

For those committed to the flourishing of community, it behooves us to ask what is needed to bear wholeness for people and planet?   Two competencies, in particular, lend themselves to leading in times of disruption: that of Poet and Prophet.  In a time, when many voices speak on a superficial level, the poet helps to articulate the pain and questioning born of our state of alienation and dislocation.

The poet understands that many voices compete for our allegiance.  Beyond the quick fix, beyond the individualization of our times, beyond the loss and pain born of deep change, the poet helps to draw people into hope for the future.  Remembering who we are is essential to reclaiming the integrity of core identity and character.  Through image and story, the poet shapes meaning out of chaos that memories might be shared and new visions emerge.  The poet weaves together the disparate (and often, dissonant) voices into a rich tapestry of story and meaning that neither reduces, nor eliminates creative tensions, but rather nurtures exploration of new collective possibilities.  But, as missiologist Alan Roxburgh points out, “Without the prophetic voice, poetic leadership is little more than adaptation and consolation.”

The prophetic challenge of the leader becomes the means by which the community crosses over into a new understanding of role and responsibility in seeking the Shalom of the cities to which we have been sent into exile.  Pain has the potential to open the door to deep, kenotic change.  Kenotic change, the emptying of real and perceived rights and prerogatives that we might embody wholeness, requires attentiveness to both the guilt and the yearning that stirs in our souls.  The prophetic voice is the voice of truth.  As both individual and collective whole come to claim the truth about their present state of being, they are thus invited into a paradoxical experience of loss and hope.   The leader as prophet names dehumanizing policies and structures, as well as introducing new practices that nurture community.   These practices help the community to surrender old ways of being, thereby allowing the new to emerge.

Taken together, these two competencies, when articulated by the leader, empower the community to reside in the liminality of this time.  The leader as Poet & Prophet refocuses the conversation from that which is unsustainable to finding new solutions to the environmental, social and economic challenges we face, thereby inviting previously unimaginable levels of engagement in shaping a new reality.  It is then that deep change can take place, not for the sake of change, but for the flourishing of the community!

To learn more about how to nurture the poet and prophet within your leadership, download this article on The Leader as Poet & Prophet, Deborah Rundlett.

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