Leading Like a Monk: Leadership at the Speed of Chanting


The Speed of Chanting

Many Benedictine monks practice Gregorian chant.

The monks at the hermitage where I am an oblate chant together at four services each day. They recite prayers and sacred passages following set rhythms and melodies. Their chanting is slow and reflective, drawing people into contemplation.

It is not the chanting of fans at a sporting event or protesters at a demonstration.

People purchase and download recordings of monks, and other people chanting. Many people find listening to monastic chanting helps them become calm and centered.

I am not a natural chanter, or even singer. Each year the time I spend at the monastery helps me become more comfortable with my chanting.

Monastic chanting is not intended to be something for us to evaluate. Some of us may be more gifted at carrying a tune than others. Chanting is a method of slowing down and paying attention.

When we chant together the sound we create is greater than the sum of our abilities.

Monastic chanting is intentionally contemplative. We are not rushing toward a conclusion or a result. There are pauses for our reflection.

The monastic community where I spend time is silent. We do not talk to each other. There are people I see each year whose voices I have only heard when they were chanting.

People at the monastery are not separated into the ones who chant and the audience. Everyone participates, even if is is silently, even if they might be a little off key.

Monastic life often proceeds at the speed of chanting. The intention is to take time to pay attention and reflect on what is most important.

More significant than meeting deadlines and achieving results is spending time wisely and well.

It can be a challenge to lead at the speed of chanting.

Hurrying Leadership

Some of the leaders I know seem to always be in a hurry. They believe leadership gets people stirred up and active, working toward their goals. It may annoy them when they notice people sitting and talking or reflecting. A good leader would help them get moving.

They think leadership inspires activity.

Strong leaders do help people get things done. Some of the best leaders I know are incredibly effective at focusing on results.

What are we waiting for? Is there something holding us back? Let’s get going!

The leaders who inspire me, though, appreciate being able to lead at the speed of chanting.

Leadership is not exclusively, or even primarily, about motivating people to hurry.

Yes, measurable goals and deadlines can help us focus and motivate us. Getting to the end result, though, may not be the most significant part of a project.

One of the nonprofit groups where I worked helped community leaders in community college. The people participating had completed high school. They were responsible members of their families and their communities. As I helped mentor them I would often hear there were things they had to do. They had to write a paper, do a project, and take certain classes. School was an additional responsibility and they had to produce results.

Part of my work was to help them see their lives in new ways. I would remind them no one was forcing them to complete their projects or even take classes. Going to school was not intended to be a burden of responsibility, but a new opportunity.

Producing results was not one more thing they had to do. They got to work on them.

Motivating people to get up and moving may not be the way to produce the results we  want.

The Rhythm of Leadership

We cannot necessarily observe whether we are leading other people well. People hurrying to try to achieve results may not be learning or growing from our leadership.

Chanting is powerful not because everyone who experiences it shares the same feelings. It does not benefit us because we feel calmer or less upset.

Like leadership, the deep effect chanting has for people comes from sharing the rhythm.

When I am at the hermitage I sit in the chapel and listen to the chanting. I may not be the most gifted chanter. There is power in joining in the chanting, and power in listening.

The first service, early in the morning, begins in stillness and listening. Each service throughout every day adds to the depth of the chanting.

Even when I am not there with them, I can hear the monks chanting.

The chanting they have recorded and the chanting I remember draw me into it. I share the rhythm and breathe in the melody. We listen to each other and the chanting draws us together.

Chanting at the monastery is not about getting everyone to do it correctly or even the same. The fabric of the chanting is woven from many voices. We all chant together.

Leadership works the same way. It is not about getting everyone to work in the way or at the speed I would like them to work. Effective leadership grows out of weaving together the voices and the rhythm.

Leadership begins in stillness and listening.

Leadership at the Speed of Chanting

It is easy for us to see what we do more as responsibilities than as opportunities. Leadership is about helping us slow down and find our rhythm and how we can contribute. Leaders help us pay attention to the rhythm and speed of chanting and not get ahead of ourselves.

Each of us leads in our own ways. In stillness and listening, with rhythm and melody, we make our own contributions to the fabric.

It can be easy for us to rush ahead or drag behind. The leaders who inspire us remind us of our pace and our pitch.

Like monks early in the morning, we take a deep breath and we begin.

When will you live and lead at the speed of chanting this week?

How are you weaving the fabric of your leadership today?

[Image by virtusincertus]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.

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