Saturday, March 6, 2010

Corner Office

Adam Bryant’s Corner Office column in the Sunday Business section of the New York Times is one of my weekly must-reads. The CEO he interviews always has creative insight on best leadership practices. But what about a leader who combines an awareness of God’s presence with daily management practices? This is the kind of person I aspire to be, so I took a letter written by the late Abbot Norbert Calmels, who led the international Norbertine Order for twenty years, and applied his words to Bryant’s Corner Office questions.

Q: Wha
t would you tell yourself starting out as a leader?

A: Don’t fool yourself. You will find it hard to command, a crucifying experience. It is never easy to direct the activities of others and remain patient. Don’t forget: the one who obeys has to obey only one person; the one who governs has to obey everyone.

Q: How do you do that?

A: You will command better if you learn not to say everything. Keep silent as often as you can. A true leader says only what is necessary, without too many words; to the one who needs it, directly; when it is needed, immediately; and as it is needed, straight and to the point.

Q: You're elected by your Norbertine peers to a position of authority. What does that responsibility mean to you?

A: The first duty of a Norbertine abbot—I was going to say his job par excellence—is to lead people to holiness on the path of St. Norbert. You do this in all simplicity, with a firm and (if needed) energetic hand, but without adopting an air of 'dominative power.' Maintain an ongoing, deep, genuine, human contact with your religious, even if through necessity they keep a respectful distance.

Q: How does one lead others to holiness?

A: The office that elevates you makes you indebted to all. To be an abbot means to have the heart of Christ. A person is not born an abbot; he must become one. To be an abbot is something you learn. You will become one more each day by devoting yourself to each of your religious and by carrying them all in your heart. You will have to accept good and bad moods and sulky acts of obedience, and transform them into evangelical annoyances. You will have to rule in order to serve and serve in order to rule better.

Q: How do you keep from getting too comfortable in your leadership role? How do you keep the community's sense of mission alive?

A: You are called to build up the Body of Christ in love. You must begin over and over, from the beginning. Begin again to live, begin again to convert, begin again to do good, begin again by enduring. Stones do not make up an abbey. An abbey is made up of a group of men who aspire to holiness by devoting themselves to souls. Rather than symmetrically laid stones, an abbey is hearts that are united, hearts that make a single heart, a community of men living together in order to seek God together.

Q: We live in a challenging and confusing time for a religious order. What helps you to move forward as a leader?

A: A multitude of people, invisible but truly present — the souls of the many religious who became holy within these walls and whose sovereign voice alternates with us, this morning, the verses of the psalm of trust and hope—all these fraternal souls accompany you and encourage you. Every abbey must be a place of encounter with the reality of an incarnate God, in order to make real—I was going to say begin again—God’s incarnation among us and make God present to the people of our time by the witness of our faith.