Most of the old notions about leadership were based on sacred perspectives regarding the world. A great leader is an emissary of God. He (and it is usually a male) succeeds his father, by God’s will, and possesses great wisdom and talent given to him by God. He needs this God-given authority in order to achieve some divine mission. Just as God is paternal in character, so the leaders of human institutions treat their employees as children. Just as God is omniscience and omnipotent, so the traditional leader is unquestionable with regard to knowledge, skill and legitimacy of power. God reigns in heaven. Men of wisdom, courage and vision reign on earth. All is well in heaven and on earth—until things begin to change in complex, unpredictable and turbulent ways.
Sacred Perspectives on Leadership
God reigns supreme in the minds of mankind when and where there are thoughts about leadership. We must acknowledge that virtually all of our notions about leadership come from sacred sources. Most Western societies and many Eastern societies first assigned leadership to priestly representatives of God and the Church. Even our militaristic models of leadership have always been linked to sacred missions, visions and values. One has only to listen to the religious rhetoric of the 20th Century Cold War or the 21st Century Jihads and Wars Against Terrorism. We assign great power and responsibility to our military leaders because they have God on their side.
The modern world attempted, without long term success, to divorce itself from the sacred, especially in the ongoing operations of its organizations. As Max Weber noted at the start of the 20th Century, modern bureaucracy was not established to not only eliminate nepotism and other vestiges of family-owned and operated businesses; it was also established to drive the sacred dimension out of secular organizations.i Men and women turned to secular professionals rather than sacred priests for their inspiration and guidance. They turned to lawyers rather than preachers, physicians rather than spiritual healers, and computer programmers rather than theologians. Professionals who wear the secular vestments of psychiatry or psychology became the modern-day recipients of confession and sources of absolution.ii