Leadership Lessons in the Luminous Mysteries – Baptism in the Jordan

More and more, I struggle with the fact that it’s hard to lead people. Measuring and managing performance, the tactical stuff, that’s something I can do, but really leading? That’s something I have to be… and it’s hard.

I’m blessed to be surrounded by thoughtful people who also want to grow, and to have an employer that encourages me to interact with leadership coaches and invest time in becoming a better leader. The other day, my fellow manager, Tracy, and I were discussing this challenge. How do we become more inspirational leaders? Not just effective managers, but transformational leaders.

I’ve been fascinated for over a decade with the lessons that Jesus offers to leaders, whether believers, or just people of good will who are open to good advice. I’ve also established a pretty regular habit of praying with the rosary on the way to work. Usually, it’s mostly a matter of keeping all ten of my fingers on the steering wheel when people are driving like jerks, or focused upon some concern for my family, but I’ve recently begun praying more often for my workmates.

This morning, I thought back to Jesus as a Level 5 leader, and focused my prayer intention upon my own growth as a leader, and my desire to learn how to inspire others at work, at home, and in civic organizations. Realizing it was Thursday, I got rolling on the Luminous Mysteries, and was blown away.

These mysteries focus upon the public life and ministry of Jesus. Catholic or not, Christian or not, a person of faith or not, Jesus has something to teach us as leaders, and these topics of meditation offer more than food for thought.

So, without further ado – here’s the first mystery. I’ll commit to publishing one of these each Thursday at 3 for the next several weeks as I continue meditating upon how Jesus’s ministry as reflected in the Luminous mysteries applies to my role and growth as a leader.

The Baptism in the Jordan

The story, for those unfamiliar: John the Baptist is a fire and brimstone preacher going around telling people they’re doomed unless they repent of their evil and hypocritical ways. He calls on people, mostly religious leaders, to change their attitudes and behaviors, and to express their repentance with a ritual washing known as baptism. Jesus, John’s slightly younger cousin, comes along. John identifies him as the long-awaited messiah. Jesus demands John baptize him, and John awkwardly complies. Once the ritual washing is complete, there’s a voice from heaven indicating that Jesus is the well-loved and pleasing son of God.

Not rejecting what came before

Many new managers, or leaders new to a role or organization take the easy way out. They draw contrasts between what went before, and what they promise. Jesus comes along, the promised messiah, and not only does he not reject John the Baptist and his ministry calling for repentance, but he endorses it, by submitting himself to it, even though his own style is notably different.

John, likewise, demonstrates one of the qualities of a Level 5 leader. He does not cling to his position, but makes way for his successor, and encourages his followers to do the same. He not only welcomes Jesus, but he identifies himself as one who must diminish in order for Jesus to increase. He sends his disciples to Jesus to see for themselves, and encourages them to ask questions.

As I prepare to move on to a new role, how can I empower my successor to build upon the foundation I’ve laid, and preemptively support their efforts to make improvements upon it? How can I build upon the foundation my predecessors laid, rather than tear down their work or their person? What’s good there that I can reinforce?

Once I am established in my role, can I take responsibility for a mess I may have inherited, and focus on solving the problems, rather than assigning blame? If I do so, will it inspire my team to have a similar attitude and focus?

Example of Repentance

Theologically, Jesus had no need of repentance, but he submitted himself to a baptism of repentance for conversion and the forgiveness of sins. There are various mystical and theological opinions as to why he chose to do this, but there is near-universal agreement that at least a secondary purpose of his action was to provide an example for his followers.

A few years back, inspired by a proverb on feast and fasting for Lent, I gave up “defending myself” as a Lenten discipline. It was astonishingly difficult. I speak up in my own defense during nearly every conversation. I’ve made a (only slightly successful) effort ever since that time to carefully weigh whether or not it is necessary to clarify or defend my position. Most of the time it isn’t necessary… but I do anyway.

Is it more important that I’m right, or that I set a good example of how to behave when I’m (perceived to be) wrong? Can I inspire my team to fail-forward by setting an example of recognizing and admitting mistakes early? Can I encourage them to hold themselves and one another accountable by submitting to the same?

Humility

Ultimately, the baptism in the Jordan presents a lesson on humility. At this occasion, Jesus establishes a pattern in which he neither tears down his forerunners, nor speaks in his own defense. He positively affirms by example the value of admitting error and making a firm resolution to amend one’s course, even at the risk of inaccurately appearing to have erred himself. Modern leadership experts (check out the links… I’m not making this up) have repeatedly confirmed that humility is a key to not only effective leadership, but confident, empowering, engaging, and inspiring leadership. That’s what I want, so this is where I need to grow.

Cardinal Merry del Val describes humility in a beautiful litany of prayerful intentions that can be applied directly or adapted easily to a non-religious set of personal goals and intentions for someone wishing to grow in humility:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

 

From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …

 

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

 

That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I,
provided that I may become as holy as I should…

 

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