Leading Like a Monk: Starting From a Strong Foundation

Leading Like a Monk: Starting From a Strong Foundation January 4, 2018


Starting From a Strong Foundation

It is the first week of the year. Some of us have already given up.

We set out with great intentions and expectations. This year was going to make all the difference. Our leadership would grow stronger and shine brighter this year.

We knew where we wanted to go this year and nothing would stand in our way.

Our plan was to build strong, healthy habits. We would develop leadership which stand the test of time. One step, one practice, one block at a time we would build an impressive 2018.

How could it all have come apart so quickly?

Some of our efforts are already tumbling down because we did not start from a strong foundation. We may have had a good idea of where we wanted to go but we did not lay much groundwork. It is as if we thought we could just start working.

The work we do this year, and each year, would benefit from a strong foundation.

We cannot realistically expect our leadership to last if it does not have a steady base. It is not as if we are working only from the ground up. No matter what we are trying to build we need a solid, stable foundation.

Our growth does not only rest on what we wish or hope will happen.

As we set goals and made resolutions for this year we begin from where we are. We are not building castles in the air.

First we clear away anything which might get in the way or weaken what we are building. We establish and continue from a strong foundation. Each layer of stones supports the layers above it. Our foundation supports the entire structure.

Monasteries Built From a Strong Foundation

One thing I enjoy about visiting England is spending time in the ruins of monasteries.

There are a significant number of historic sites in England which were monasteries. Their construction dates back to before King Henry VIII dissolved the monastic orders.

Many of these sites have been preserved to teach visitors about historic English monastic life.

The sites I have visited help feed my interest in monastic life. They provide tangible insight into how monks lived and how the buildings were constructed.

It is fascinating to see how these communities were established over a thousand years ago. Even the construction of the buildings still sparks insights and questions about the lives they led.

There is something remarkable in seeing and touching stones laid in walls so long ago. Even now, hundreds of years after the communities were dissolved, the walls still stand.

One of my favorite sites is the abbey in Whitby, on the coast of Yorkshire. The remaining structure bears the scars of attacks and target practice in the First World War.

Some of the monastery walls, like at Whitby, still support arches and windows. They remain standing.

These monastery walls were built from a strong foundation.

I do not know how long the people who built them believed they would stand. It appears they set out to create something permanent, to make long lasting changes.

The monks I know today approach life from a long term perspective. As they discern and make decisions they are not seeking quick fixes. They believe what they do this year will affect the future of their community.

Building from a strong foundation is important to them.

How Can We Start From a Strong Foundation?

Part of the strong foundation under those abbeys in England was their belief they were building for the future. What they were doing made a difference, it mattered.

It can be easy for us to forget to start from a strong foundation like theirs.

We forget the changes we have resolved to make this year. Falling back into comfortable pattern of behavior, we fail to see that we make a difference.

Our society does not encourage us to recognize the depth of our commitments and actions. We fail to see how what we do affects anyone but ourselves.

If the foundation on which we are trying to build is narrow or uneven it will not hold strong.

Like the monks who lived in England, and those who live with us now, we need to start from a strong foundation.

Measuring the Strength of Our Foundation

This year may be off to a fast start for us, or it may seem we are barely moving. We may be taking one step forward and two steps back.

What has happened so far could already make us feel like starting over again.

It can be a challenge for us to discern whether we have started from a strong foundation.

We will probably never know the names of the people who built those monasteries in England. Their foundations are still strong. Their arches are still standing.

What we are building this year can have even stronger foundations than what they built. We have the advantage of strengthening our foundations as we build.

As our year develops we may get to a point where we question the strength of our foundation. It may seem too pointless to even continue.

We can recognize what needs to change and start over.

It is not about building something which will last a thousand years for us. We are not trying to build something permanent for people to visit in the future.

The work we set for ourselves this year surpasses whatever anyone else asks us to do. Our efforts grow out of who we are and our deepest aspirations. We are not building walls, but constructing our year one moment after another.

Our living, growing foundation can be stronger and more challenging than a stone wall. We persist, and each day we begin again.

How can we start from a strong foundation today?

Where will starting from a strong foundation take us this week?

[Image by Smabs Sputzer]

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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