Organizational Leadership:

Moving toward a culture of justice, reconciliation, redemption, forgiveness, and beauty


A complete philosophy of leadership would encompass a book. Consider

the following only as a brief summation, using primarily a series of quotes

and ideas that have influenced me heavily in recent years.

I have heard said, "If you think you are a leader, turn around and look.

If no one is following, you aren't."   Perhaps the question most asked:

What motivates people to follow a specific leader?   Leadership research
leans heavily on this question and clearly shows that trust, honesty,

integrity, communication, etc., are huge factors.  How are they achieved?


We can all name dynamic leaders who worked toward good, others toward evil.

Some leave society better, others not. Most evil leaders have managed to coerce or force their followers into granting them actual authority, that is, authority recognized by virtue of a position: e.g., boss, government official, policeman, soldier.  This is called, natural authority. Most of the great leaders who have influenced society for good have demonstrated moral authority.  It is authority that people willingly give to the leader.   This kind of authority has tremendous transformational power and is one of the characteristics seen by leaders such as Mandela, Ghandi, Rev. Tutu, Rev. Martin Luther King, or George Washington.

What characteristics did they have that caused people to follow them?  

Their actions stemmed from deep core principles aligned with universal truth.
My motivation and philosophy is based on two core principles springing from the following scriptural admonition:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’”          

                                                                                                                                                                Genesis 1:26, English Standard Version (ESV)
What this means is:

  • Human beings are a reflection of God and thus have intrinsic value and worth
  • Our task and responsibility as human beings is to care for the earth

The overarching law governing the two core principles is the law of love.

Scripture says:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."                                                                                             Jesus, Matthew 22:37-39 (ESV)
The law of love should guide a leader’s action, Simply stated, this may be defined as, action where the interests of others are as important as those of the leader.

The proper goal of leadership should be human flourishing and care for all of creation.

“The end toward which men strive in life is happiness.  Happiness for each creature is found in the best possible performance of the function for which he is peculiarly adapted. Man then finds his highest and most lasting happiness in the active life of his soul.”                                       Aristotle

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”    
                                            U.S. Declaration of Independence, Paragraph 2, 1776

“Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people, based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good.”                                                                                                                                Ciulla, Ethics, the Heart of Leadership

“Transforming, moral leadership is not a tool…but rather a process which makes of the leader a tool, i.e., an instrument to individual and group development and the satisfaction of authentic human needs.”                                        Carey, Hereclitean Fire: Journeying on the Path of Leadership

There is a constant battle between those who would move toward a culture of justice, reconciliation, beauty, wholeness, integration, etc., and those who would oppose it.

“To the degree people recognize and live in harmony with such basic principles as fairness, equity, justice, integrity, honesty, and trust, they move toward either survival and stability on the one hand or disintegration and destruction on the other.”      

                                                                                                                                                                           Covey, Principle-Centered Leadership

Individuals, groups, or organizations who prevent a move toward integration and wholeness on the part of an individual, group, or organization, may be considered oppressive or abusive.

“Any situation in which ‘A’ objectively exploits ‘B’ or hinders his and her pursuit of self-affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression.”                                                                                                                                                                         Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

The role of a leader is to influence others in a direction that builds and affirms growth as responsible people, that leads to a proper pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Influence should focus on achieving the aims or goals of the group or organization in a way that moves them toward integration, wholeness, and universal principles under the overarching rule of love.  If a leader influences their group to act in a way that impinges on the ability of any other individual or group to pursue their self-affirmation as a responsible people, the action is not in accordance to the law of love.  It becomes an abusive structure.  Thus, leadership is truly a moral relationship.

Moral leading then, can only be achieved to the extent that the leader is moral. Moral leaders and leadership have an integrity that is transformational.

“Transforming leadership…is more potent.  The transforming leader recognizes and exploits an existing need or demand of a potential follower.
But, beyond that, the transforming leader looks for potential motives in followers, seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the

full person of the follower. The result of transforming leadership is a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents."                                                                                                                         Burns, Leadership

Outward actions reflect core values.  If the leader’s inner core in not aligned to universal principles, it will be impossible to sustain influence in a direction of harmony, truth, love, honesty, trust, justice, reconciliation, beauty, etc., for any length of time.  At some point, such leadership will become oppressive or abusive.  The leader’s inner and outer worlds must be in harmony. They must be congruent. 

“What counts is not only what leaders do and how they do it but their ‘interior condition,’ the inner place from which they operate or the source from which all of their actions originate.”                                                                                   Scharmer, Theory U: Leading From the Future as it Emerges

When the leader’s inner and outer worlds are congruent, and based on universal principles which influence others to press toward a higher morality, it becomes authentic, transforming in its power.


Servant-Leadership, as a philosophy, sees the possibility of rolling all the above into a single leader whose primary goal is to build and promote

a more caring society in which serving first is focused toward creating greater meaning and fulfillment, greater relational engagement, greater personal, group, organization, community transformation—in short, greater personal and general human thriving and flourishing.
                                                                                                                                           Adapted from Horsman, Foundations of Servant Leadership

To achieve this level of leadership requires a profound never-ending commitment and discipline, perhaps spiritual grace.

“Authentic [transforming] leadership…implies a self-transcendence that comes only with genuine self-enlightenment, and that is the product of patient psychological reflection, or spiritual grace, or both.”                                          Carey, Hereclitean Fire: Journeying on the Path of Leadership

Greenleaf, considered to be the father of the Servant-Leadership movement, says:
“The servant-leader is servant first…it begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.  Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first.”   

                                                                                          Greenleaf, Servant Leadership, a Journey Into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness
Robert Greenleaf put forth the following widely-accepted definition:
“The best test, and difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged of society?  Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”                                                          Greenleaf, Servant Leadership, a Journey Into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness

Conflicts among individuals, groups, organizations, nations, are never-ending. It is the nature of relationships to have conflicts because of misunderstandings, differences in values, or in fact because some persons have evil intentions. A leader must learn to deal effectively with conflict. Moving in the direction of integration, reconciliation, restoration, and forgiveness, are most effective in transforming society.  In the face of atrocity and fierce evil, this takes an incredible force of character and transformational power.  

Desmond Tutu, who was instrumental in the truth and reconciliation movement in South Africa, stated some key principles in his book,
No future without forgiveness. (Note, the following are direct quotes.)

  • Forgiving and being reconciled are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the pain, the degradation, the truth.
  • In forgiving, people are not being asked to forget.
  • Forgiveness does not mean condoning what has been done.
  • Forgiveness means abandoning your right to pay back the perpetrator in his own coin, but it is a loss that liberates the victim.
  • In the act of forgiveness we are declaring our faith in the future of a relationship and in the capacity of the wrongdoer to make a new beginning on a course that will be different from the one that caused us the wrong.
  • It is crucial too that we keep remembering that negotiations, peace talks, forgiveness, and reconciliation happen most frequently not between friends, not between those who like one another. They happen precisely because people are at loggerheads and detest one another as only enemies can.

Obviously, to pursue the path of forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration requires a transformational leader, one who has aligned their core values to universal moral principles.

I think the following is a perfect summation of this type of leadership, one to which I aspire:

“Power in the context of love, is not power over others, or the power to enforce, but the power with others and power for others. In this sense, forgiveness and power go hand in hand with a servant way of life.  Power then is not only the power to forgive, but the power to evoke in others the tenacity to respond to darkness with light, to respond to evil with good, and to respond to hatred with love."

                                                                                              Ferch, Forgiveness and Power in the Age of Atrocity: Servant Leadership as a Way of Life

The following are references for material used in this essay:

Aristotle & Loomis, L. R. (1943). On Man in the Universe: Metaphysics, Parts of Animals, Ethics, Politics, Poetics. New York, NY: Pub. for the Classics Club.

Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Carey, M.L. (1999). Hereclitean Fire: Journeying on the Path of Leadership (Part four: Two options). Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt. Retrieved June 14, 2011 from https://learn.gonzaga.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_37245_1%26url%3D

Ciulla, J. B. (2004). Ethics, the Heart of Leadership. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Covey, S. R. (1991). Principle-Centered Leadership. New York, NY: Fireside.

Ferch, S. R. (2012). Forgiveness and Power in the Age of Atrocity: Servant Leadership as a Way of Life. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Greenleaf, R. (2002). Servant Leadership, a Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness. Mahway, NJ: Paulist Press.

Horsman, J. (2014). Foundations of Servant Leadership, School of Professional Studies, Gonzaga University, ORGL 520 course notes: chapters one and two. Downloaded September 3, 2014 from https://learn.gonzaga.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-1427181-dt-content-rid-9877631_1/courses/ORGL530_A1_12031_FA14/

Scharmer, C. (2009). Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Tutu, D. (1999). No Future Without Forgiveness. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.