Leading Like a Monk: Leadership Begins in Stillness

We admire leaders who get us moving. They spur us to action by stirring something deep within us.

Some leaders give us facts and information which present a challenge and how to meet it. Others connect with a feeling or memory deep inside us which moves us to act. There are leaders who show us a new potential image and enlist us in bringing it to life.

Leaders are people who inspire us to get things done.

Inspiring Leadership With Words, and Without

Many of the leaders who inspire me lead with their words. The earliest books I ever read, scenes from movies and videos, conversations I have shared. The words of Abraham Lincoln, of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., of women who I have met online. So many people’s words have shaped me and my own leadership.

There are also leaders who inspire me without saying a word. They find the points of stillness around which noise swirls.

I am part of a monastic community which practices silence. I spend time there on retreat at least once each year, and join in the silence while I am there.

There is a power and strength to the community’s stillness which attracts me. A few months before my visit I start feeling eager, itchy to be there. The silence of the monastery draws me in and inspires me.

The monastic community is full of people I see every time I visit, to whom I have never spoken.

Each of the monks is a leader who inspires me not with words, but by example. We know what values we share, and what we have committed to do to put them into practice. Their commitment inspires me even when I am not actually there to see them. Their examples demonstrate their leadership, and inspire my own within me.

We do not need to exchange words for them to spark deeper responses in me.

Entering the Stream of Leadership

When I take time for morning prayer, for example, I am entering a stream of practice. Not only am I inspired by the example of the monks in the community today, but back into the past. My practices are lifted by the examples of monks today and of those going back centuries. Our hope is that our examples will inspire practice for centuries to come.

Beyond words, the stillness inspires us to continue and to grow.

Whose example inspires your leadership without words?

Where Does Leadership Begin?

There have been times when my leadership was not ready, not prepared. Circumstances have pushed or pulled me into acting before leadership had developed within me. Not every situation resulted in a disaster, but some did and all of them could have been better.

Each of us spends time and effort developing our leadership. Where does that leadership begin? What is its source?

Some people become leaders almost effortlessly. Others struggle to be given opportunities to lead. Some arrive in a position of responsibility with almost no recognizable preparation. Other people spend years preparing for to lead in roles which are outdated or not a good fit for them.

As a young child, I was taught that being a leader was good. I was captivated by leaders and leadership beginning at an early age. In school, I went on to study political science, law, and public administration, in which leadership is essential. Eventually I found myself in frenetic situations where I was expected to lead, and tried to do my best.

My leadership, though, begins in stillness.

Finding the Stillness Within

The first step for me is finding the stillness within myself.

There was a long time when I was sure it was as chaotic in me as it seemed everywhere else. I was working as hard as I could to lead; whenever I started to rest, I became physically ill.

Stillness appeared to make me sick.

Discovering a still place in the middle of the tumult took a lot of hard work. For years I was skeptical it even existed and did not believe I would ever find it. I sought silence in spite of what was obvious to me at the time.

With time, effort, and help from other people, I realized there was a way to find stillness. My path of exploration required me to let go of the distractions blocking out the quiet.

The silence remained hidden to me when it was covered in outside noise. I developed the skill of appreciating quiet and rest, and found hidden depths within me which had been there all along.

We do not necessarily need to spend hours sitting in silence. Once we have found the still places it is enough in the moment to take a deep breath and remember. The quiet restores us and reminds us who we are.

Steps Into Stillness

It is not that we find calm pools of inner stillness and dive into them. We may stick a toe or an elbow in first to test the temperature. Silence is not always safe, and the power of deep silence could knock us down.

Silence draws us in, one step at a time. There is no rush, we take our time. We cannot force ourselves to be still; we become still.

Silence gives us opportunities to get to know ourselves. As we become acquainted, we begin to understand. We learn lessons we can teach other people.

Leading From Inner Stillness

Peace and quiet attract our attention. Our stillness, around which the tumult swirls, draws us in and inspires us. We share with the people around us what the silence teaches, and become leaders who inspire them.

We recognize leaders who lead from inner stillness. The still points in them reach out and connect with the still points within us.

We begin to lead, not only with our words, but also by our example.

Where does your inner stillness lead you?

Who do you recognize as leading from inner silence?

[Image by Peg Syverson]

  • http://www.camphill-hermanus.org.za Karen

    Above webpage belongs to the community I live & work in…

    Longing for silence (I take short walks whenever possible and retreat 3 out of 4 Sundays for at least 8 hours into solitude – practicing toward silence) Through InVia in Stellenbosch, SA, I have done only one silent retreat, but I was too undisciplined/ to inquisitive about all the new faces I encountered for the first time & at the time.

    I’ve known this inner silence and experience glimpses of it a few times in a month. Twice last week (it was an extraordinary week, where I met Desmond Tutu, by surprise and shared Holy Communion with him)… And seeking further silence a bee stung me on my nose. That was the end of silence for the day, though.

    What struck me most about the blog was this passage:

    “We recognize leaders who lead from inner stillness. The still points in them reach out and connect with the still points within us.”

    Thank you for sharing these words… Awareness… I hope to get there in the near future, more regularly, possibly even to move in such a way, much like breathing :-)

    Monastic retreats and possibly even a later lifestyle is plucking at my heartstrings (perhaps it is only because I long for complete and utter peace and silence for just 48 hours… I work with 9 differently abled adults daily. They keep me

  • Strategic Monk

    Thank you, Karen.

    Yes. Yes.

    I am praying for you, particularly as you listen to those heart strings . . .