Recent Popes may not need advice on effective leadership, but it may be helpful to some of their aides and, indeed, any Christian.
According to Alexandre Havard, an acclaimed speaker and writer on transforming culture and business, effective leadership requires the exercise of virtue, and two virtues in particular: magnanimity and humility.
He further believes these can be strengthened within the life of a committed Christian more than in any follower of any other faith.
But for Havard, the director and founder of the Moscow- and Washington-based Havard Virtuous Leadership Institute, too often people — including Christians — see leadership as limited to only one of these two virtues. And when taken separately, he believes, these virtues are denied their true meaning and value in terms of leadership.
Catching up with Havard on a visit to Rome recently, he explained that magnanimity should be understood not only in believing in the capacity for greatness, but actually doing great things. And it should be joined with humility, the habit of serving others with all your strength and talents, given by God and discovered by you.
He said the problem for many Christians is that they tend to have a vision of humility that is separate from magnanimity. “[They] stop trying to think about what their talents are, what gift they have to multiply,” Havard said. ”It’s much easier to say to God: ‘do the work in me and I just do nothing, I will just wait for you to do it,’” he said. “But God very often tells us: ‘I will not do it because I have already given you talents through nature; you have to discover those things and do it.’”
The way to combat this, Havard explained, is to unite humility with magnanimity and put them into action. “Humility is to say: ‘I have gifts, I have talents, and they come from God.’ You recognize that you have not produced those talents, that they are a gift from him to you,” he explained. “Then magnanimity is to say: ‘I have them but I have to make them fructify, I must develop them and multiply them, and put them at the service of the community and the common good.”
”So you see these two things come together,” Havard added. “[Talents] are not mine. I have been given them and this is my humility; my magnanimity tells me to multiply them and use them.” Usually, people’s idea of humility means talking down one’s achievements and talents for fear of seeming proud. But this is a false humility, a “small-mindedness,” Havard said.
Furthermore, he added that what’s important in exercising leadership is human hope, as opposed to hope in God.
“Human hope, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, is about magnanimity; magnanimity is the virtue that generates human hope because you see that you can do it and then you do it,” he said. “You see that the more you have hope, the more you do things, and that’s why he says magnanimity is the virtue of action.”
“This is why entrepreneurship has to do with magnanimity,” he said. “As St. Thomas said: magnanimity is a tendency towards great things, an extension of the soul towards great things.”
Havard, a French-Russian Catholic, stressed that Christianity isn’t necessary to be a good leader (many great leaders in history have not been Christian). But he said Christianity “gives so much light, so much strength for magnanimity and humility” through the servant-leadership example of Christ, and the supernatural virtues of faith, hope and charity which “elevate and strengthen” the natural virtues.
He pointed out that Christians also have the blessing of being children of God. “Alexander the Great was magnanimous, he had a sense of greatness, although he did not know he was a child of God,” he said. “So imagine Christians, the asset they have for magnanimity. We are children of God and must dream God's dream.”
To acquire magnanimity, Havard recommended loving others above all, but also surrounding oneself with magnanimous people such as parents, teachers, friends, and also beautiful art, good books, and music. Moreover, he pointed out that truly magnanimous people aren’t afraid of making mistakes; they’re more afraid “of lack of action.”
Quoting the Austrian management guru Peter Drucker, he said he would never promote to a top-level job a man who was not making mistakes “otherwise he is sure to be mediocre.”
Havard has written two books on this subject: “Virtuous Leadership,” published in 2007, and “Created for Greatness: The Power of Magnanimity,” published last year. The first book focused on all the virtues involved in leadership; in the second, he focuses on two specific virtues — magnanimity and humility — and how to develop them. Both books have been translated into many languages.
He said he would “love to have people in the Vatican” reading his material, though he stressed recent Popes have already provided excellent examples in exercising these virtues of leadership. “John Paul II was a very magnanimous guy,” he said, “and I’m sure Benedict XVI, although I don’t know him very well, is also very magnanimous.”
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek, and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin
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