Unexpected leaders

Inspired by spiritual leaders with humble roots, today’s contributor explores the idea that each of us has a God-given ability to express leadership qualities such as humility, integrity, unselfishness, and compassion.

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Sometimes leadership comes in surprising packages. There’s a best-selling book that chronicles many compelling case studies of ordinary people rising to do extraordinary things. For example, a refugee with a criminal background confronts a powerful and self-serving political leader and secures freedom for thousands enslaved by this leader. A farmer rallies a few hundred people in his region to overthrow a brutal invading army. And a teen from a small rural town gives birth to a child who becomes an inspired teacher and activist whose work transforms the political and religious scene locally and globally.

This book, if you haven’t already guessed, is the Bible, and these are the accounts of unexpected leaders such as Moses, Gideon, the Virgin Mary, and especially Jesus. None of them sought out the leadership roles they assumed, and perhaps this was the real secret to their success. They were humble, selfless, and willing to serve. And most importantly, they were spiritually minded. They looked to the divine Spirit for ideas and guidance and acted fearlessly on the inspiration they received. And they let God take the lead in their own hearts and minds first – like clear windowpanes allowing the light of divine wisdom and love to shine through.

“I ... frequently get out of God’s way” is how American religious thinker and church founder Mary Baker Eddy once described her own approach to life and leadership, according to someone who knew her well (“We Knew Mary Baker Eddy,” Expanded Edition, Vol. II, p. 531). She rose from farmer’s daughter to be an acclaimed author, publisher, and uniquely accomplished healer – using the method of Christian Science healing she had discovered – at a time when women had far fewer rights or opportunities than they do today. At almost every juncture of her life, she made decisions that went against the grain of popular practice and opinion, not because she was personally bold or ambitious but because she was consistently willing to pause and listen for the leadings of divine inspiration.

A great example of this occurred when she was in her mid-80s and the subject of a cruel smear campaign by a New York newspaper that was churning out headlines claiming she was senile or even dead. This would eventually lead to an ill-conceived lawsuit against her. A few days after the stories appeared she met briefly with a group of reporters in order to dispel these rumors by proving her physical and mental capacities.

As she prepared to enter the room to meet with the group, she paused for a long moment and then proceeded. When asked about this later by an observer, she explained that she was waiting for the Christ to go before her (see Robert Peel, “The Years of Authority,” p. 268).

Christ, in its original meaning, relates to the outpouring of inspiration from God directly to His children. So this pause was a way for Mrs. Eddy to acknowledge the presence of a communicator higher than herself, to let divine Truth lead her in the conversation and to know that it was also communicating to everyone present.

And so it proved. Her responses during the interview were clear and calm, and the lawsuit was unsuccessful. About two years later, in 1908, Mrs. Eddy established this newspaper to do something much needed in journalism. In her words, its mission was “to injure no man, but to bless all mankind” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 353).

If we think of the Christ as a universal idea, revealing the higher nature in us all regardless of culture, race, or gender, we’ll appreciate Christ as the essence of inspired leadership. This divine anointing inspires in us qualities such as humility, compassion, integrity, unselfishness, and commitment – the same qualities so fully expressed by Jesus and included in our true nature, too. These qualities enable us to work together, to see past personality differences, to genuinely care for one another. After all, we are all members of God’s universal family, so we innately want as much good for others as we want for ourselves.

So how do we pause and let the Christ take the lead in our thoughts and lives on a daily basis? It happens naturally as we open our thoughts to expressing more of the divine nature reflected in us. As the offspring of a Father-Mother God who is infinite Love, it’s our nature to express love, goodness, grace, integrity, purity – all the spiritual qualities that Christ is constantly pouring out to us and through us.

We can practice receiving and expressing these qualities. Practice seeing them in others. And practice acknowledging that they are always present to inspire and lead today’s leaders.

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About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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