As I see it, we shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God: let us think of His greatest and then come back to our own baseness; by looking at His purity we shall see our foulness; by meditating upon His humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble. (Teresa of Avila: First Mansions, Book Two)
I have the privilege of leading people, studying leadership, and teaching leadership. To increase my leadership understanding I recently shifted my attention from leadership theory and technique to biography. In biography we can see effective leadership, ineffective leadership, and misuse of leadership in context. This gives additional understanding we cannot find in theory and technique.
Of course, even the best leaders have flaws. When I mention historical leaders I’m surprised how quickly people jump to a leader’s flaws and discount the rest of their contribution. Hegel’s maxim comes into play: “No man is a hero to his valet; not, however, because the man is not a hero, but because the valet–is a valet.” The inability to recognize greatness is the sign of a “valet-like soul”. (See Gertrude Himmelfarb: On Looking into the Abyss: Of Heroes, Villains, and Valets)
Emerging leaders need to do two things: (1) Have confidence in their own voice and (2) See their limitations. This is self-knowledge: We see our own value while also seeing the gulf between “greatness” and ourselves. For example, this blog is my first serious attempt at writing. To do this well I have to be confident in my “own voice” but also recognize there is a spiritual gap between a Teresa of Avila or an Augustine or a Wesley and me — and a writing gap between an Annie Dillard or a Cormac McCarthy and me. Through confidence I speak. Through humility I learn.
This balanced self-knowledge is also important spiritually. We have confidence and a strong voice because of the beauty and dignity of our souls, we are created in His image, and He indwells us. Through prayer and meditation we also see the gulf between God and us. Maintaining this balance keeps us from becoming “valet-like souls”. Through confidence we speak. Through humility we learn. This is self-knowledge.
Self-knowledge – Part I (click here)
Self-knowledge – Part II (click here)
Self-knowledge – Part III (click here)
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