Dr. Gilliam is director of The Center for Pastoral Effectiveness for the Louisiana Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
- As the Tao te Ching, that 1000-year-old classic work of Chinese wisdom, put it: When a good leader is finished, the people think they did it themselves.
- "Invisible" leadership builds or cultivates healthy organisms and institutions because when the work is done, people can say we did it ourselves. With invisible leadership, the people take responsibility for their work and their accomplishments. For the headliner leader, gratification comes from the thrill of the spotlight and the applause. But the invisible leader finds gratification and even joy in helping to create an environment that empowers people and the organization to learn and grow. A leader who can stay out of the way is uncommon. Yet invisible leaders have built or nurtured many great congregations and other organizations.
-It puzzles people at first, to see how little the able leader actually does, and yet how much gets done. But the leader knows that is how things work. After all, Tao does nothing at all, yet everything gets done. When the leader gets too busy, the time has come to return to selfless silence. Selflessness gives one center. Center creates order. When there is order, there is little to do.
-...When the leader practices silence, the group remains focused. When the leader does not impose rules, the group discovers its own goodness. When the leader acts unselfishly, the group simply does what is to be done. Good leadership consists of doing less and being more.
- Either way, real leadership is not about dominance and control. Though those traits may be part of the lexicon of modern management, let's don't associate them with leadership. Instead, lets reserve the word leader to mean invitation, not imposition. Time and again, in my world lately, I have witnessed the good news that happens when a community, an organization, or a congregation begins to have an honest relationship with freedom and trust. When that happens, it talks less and less about leadership, power, rules and policies.
- But how does an invisible leader lead? How can she or he make an impact and change the system? The power and impact of the invisible leader may not be seen, but it is surely felt by the system. Though it may sound selfless, invisible leadership is actually anything but. Indeed, it may actually be an extremely evolved form of selfishness. An invisible leader is selfish about the purpose and joy of building others and allowing them space and opportunity to grow.