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Leadership and Letting Go

I am spent, to be frank, exhausted by a way of being that we have called leadership. In my consulting and teaching I must confess that whatever steam “solving problems,” “making things happen,” “competing” or “winning” generated years ago has now expired. And if I am listening well to other leaders, I hear similar strains: groans of frustration and weariness; cries of boredom just beneath the buzz of new things; confessions of not knowing slipping out between the sure pings of PowerPoint. I hear in others what I hear in my own life: a yearning to let it all go.

So what are we ready to admit about leadership? What can we acknowledge now, six years into the new millennium, after 9-11, after the beginning of endless war? What can we say without pretense or illusion in the midst of hurricanes and earthquakes, villages buried by sliding mountains and towns swallowed by giant waves? What is the good news after Christendom, after the dying of our institutions and deaths not yet grieved but hidden by one more new vision and one more new leader who will straighten it all out?

Enough already? Yes, we have had more than enough: so much talk about fixing things, so much energy expended on a notion of success that hangs the world from our hands like a marionette.

Yet the world is energy; it is being born, growing, multiplying, splitting, sighing, and dying yet seeding the cycle again. Living. Not a puppet or a machine, the world is always issuing an invitation to those who would hear: Listen. Pay attention. Participate. Authentic leadership is the acceptance of this invitation. Authentic leadership, then, is a gift, not an acquisition, not an achievement, but grace. All the jingles and jangles of leadership drown the word our hearts know is true: Let go.

My friend David Gregg says that as he gets to know people, increasingly he doesn’t want to hear about all their successes, their high points. “Tell me about your grief, I think, and then I will know something about you,” David says. (Read his sermon “The Gospel of Grief” here.)

That’s the kind of honesty I’m looking for, too. Leadership that grieves. Leadership as grace. Leadership as letting go.