Last week, we looked at the context of leadership: exile of body, mind and soul (https://poetsprophets.net/2021/10/14/exile/). This week, we explore leading in exile.
I believe it begins with forming an alternative worldview, not dependent upon the dominant social, cultural andpolitical values. In my work with prosocial leaders, I’ve found that two competencies, in particular, lendthemselves to leading in times of exile: that of Poet and Prophet. In a time, when many voices speak on asuperficial level, we need the poet to help articulate the pain and questioning born of our state of alienationand dislocation.
Missiologist Alan Roxburgh describes poets as:
The articulators of experience and the rememberers of tradition. They image and symbolize theunarticulated experience of the community, identifying and expressing the soul of the people. The poet isa listener and an observer, sensing the experience of the body and giving that experience a voice.
Many voices compete for our allegiance. The poet helps us to remember who we are that we might reclaim the integrity of core identity and character. Beyond the quick fix, beyond the individualization of our times, beyond the loss and pain born of deepchange, the poet helps to draw people into hope for the future. Through image and story, the poet shapesmeaning out of chaos that memories might be shared and new visions emerge. The poet weaves togetherthe disparate (and often, dissonant) voices into a rich tapestry of story and meaning that neither reduces, noreliminates creative tensions, but rather nurtures exploration of new collective possibilities.
The word of the poet is heard because the poet is not didactic. The poet neither scolds, nor sells; rather the poet invites the community to imagine together another way of being. By painting a picture of Shalom throughwords, the poet intuits a way forward that permits relinquishment of old ways of being. The poet thereby creates movement beyond the present crisis of identity to fresh forms of community. These possibilitiesallow the community to shift from a focus on deficiencies, individual interests, and entitlement to a focus onpossibility, strength, and generosity of spirit. But, as Roxburgh points out, “Without the prophetic voice, poeticleadership is little more than adaptation and consolation.”
The prophetic challenge of the leader becomes the means by which the community crosses over into a newunderstanding of role and responsibility in seeking 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 Shalom,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 abouttheir present state of being, they are thus invited into a paradoxical experience of loss and hope. True flourishing involves a delicate dance of repentance as the community acknowledges their state of brokennessand delight as they yield to the possibilities born of an alternative vision.
It is important to note that the truth, which the prophetic voice speaks into the life of the community, is not anephemeral ideal or abstract concept, but rather an embodied reality. This reality is tested and refined in the context of relationship. Truth is made real as the community comes to experience the wholeness of body,mind, spirit, and emotion. The leader as prophet names dehumanizing policies and structures, as well asintroducing new practices that nurture community. These practices help the community to surrender old waysof being, thereby allowing the new to emerge.
The prophetic voice of the leader thereby empowers the community to reside in the liminality of this time. Instead of avoiding or minimizing differences, the leader as prophet helps the community to claim the gift ofconflict. Deep, adaptive change will not come apart from challenge: of our structures, of our processes, of ourvery understanding of community. Beyond the individualism which seeks to care for “self” apart from the“whole” of the community,
Flourishing calls us to realize our inter-dependence upon one another. The leader as prophet refocusesthe conversation from that which is unsustainable to finding new solutions to the environmental, socialand economic challenges we face.
Taken together, nurturing the poet and prophet within allows us as leaders to transforms pain into hope,thereby inviting previously unimaginable levels of engagement in shaping a new reality. When we lead aspoet and prophet, we invite the communities of which we are a part to engage in acts of intentional change, not for the sake of change, but that an alternative identity might be formed for the flourishing of people and planet.
Willing to share your story of leading as poet and prophet? Please share!