The Good Shepherd: Leadership that’s life-giving

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Last Tuesday, I attended the launching of the K+12 program of the Department of Education in Malacañang.

In the days leading to this launch, I saw and heard Secretary Br. Armin Lusitro, FSC, over television explain the program and the merits of the effort. It was interesting to watch and listen as he navigated through the objections and comments of people, viewers who sent in their thoughts and program hosts or anchors who propounded their opinions.

On the day of the launch, I saw one esteemed colleague in education—a leader, a guru in this field, but “retired” and now heads a city university. He said K+12 was a good solution to our educational challenges. It will not be perfect in its implementation, but one could see it from the half-full or half-empty glass perspective. What is important, though, is we all come together and make it work.

In these two instances you realize how these two persons raised the discourse and the effort on the K+12 issue to a level that addressed the realities of the situation of basic education in our country, on the one hand, and held on to the vision—a dream—of a better future for the education of our youth, on the other hand.

I thought that today, Good Shepherd Sunday, it would be good to reflect on this theme, what is life-giving? What inspires us in our relationship with Jesus? To what inspired life or way of living our life does our relationship with Jesus lead us? What is it in our relationship with Jesus that makes us say, “Why not?”

One key characteristic of our relationship with Jesus is that it is defined very much in terms of our following Jesus. In scripture and in spirituality, the following of Jesus is a central image of discipleship or the living out of our Christian vocation or identity and mission.

How do we follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, not just in how he leads us, but also in how he is as a leader?

Leadership

Leadership as a gift does not mean to discriminate, but acknowledges a reality that in life, in a community there are different gifts or charisms, as the church would call it, given to address different needs. As St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians puts it, there is one body with different parts and each playing a specific function. Leadership as a gift is meant to fulfill a specific role.

We are all gifted with a charism that will make us part of the enterprise and each one needs to discover his or her gift or charism and play his or her part accordingly. One of the tasks of a leader is precisely to help people and the group or community recognize these gifts and bring them together to work in concert in attaining the community’s vision and mission.

Recognizing something as a gift makes one act with greater freedom and greater generosity. Jesus realizing who he was and what he needed to do came to see that all was from the Father and all was to be given back, led back to the Father. It was this realization that everything was gift that made him freely offer himself, with great love and generosity.
Gift

Everything is gift. It is a radical reorientation. But, yes, everything is gift in life. Oh, what freedom and what generosity with which we will live our life if we come to terms with this!

Leadership as a life-giving element brings us back to one reflection we had last year. Citing Fr. Horacio de la Costa’s homily on authority, we reflected on how authority—leadership and influence—is always life-giving.

Once I was asked in a student forum on leadership about people who are leaders in their fields, authorities in their discipline. I shared with them my own “bias” that I think and feel that one is an authority in his/her field if he/she has mentored someone. This is authority, this is life-giving when one has inspired someone to be his/her best in the field one is being trained for or mentored in.

And one cannot be this life-giving leader if one is not detach from one’s talent and skills, one’s gift. Jesus’ gift was to bring God’s forgiveness and compassion to the world and this he gave generously on the Cross; gave his life freely and lovingly. This one perfect offering became the most powerful life-giving event in the whole of human history. And to this he invites us to follow him and reminds us that what he did to his disciples they must do to one another and others.

This is the acid test of a leader in the authentic sense of leadership, the leadership of a Good Shepherd, of genuine authority. How life-giving are you? As scripture says, “He came that others may have life and life to the full.”

This is the goal of the Christian vision, that others may have life and life to the full. It was the vision that made Jesus the leader that he is. We get a glimpse of this in the story of his baptism: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” And listen we did. For ages we continue to listen to his story, the story of the beloved son, the story of the Cross and Resurrection.

But how have we lived out this vision in our day to day life? This beckons to be answered. The Good Shepherd leads by example. He lived the example of a life given to love and service. And still calls us to follow him to create new life-giving situations, to dream of new things that will give life and ask, “Why not?”

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