Leadership as light

We often think of leadership as combining qualities such as vision, charisma, decisiveness, and direction. When applied toward good ends, these attributes can positively benefit individuals and groups alike.

In addition, educator Parker J. Palmer looks at leadership in a slightly different way in his neat little book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (1999) (p.78):

A leader is someone with the power to project either shadow or light onto some part of the world and onto the lives of the people who dwell there. A leader shapes the ethos in which others must live, an ethos as light-filled as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A good leader is intensely aware of the interplay of inner shadow and light, lest the act of leadership do more harm than good.

The passage implicitly understands that good leadership is a product of both reflection and action, and is grounded in a moral core. In this season of renewal that includes significant observances for many faith traditions, this is an especially resonant message. We live amidst many leaders, but we need more good ones.


Palmer also is the author of The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life (10th ann. ed., 2007). I highly recommend it for educators in all learning settings.


Book photo: Amazon.com

4 responses

  1. Thank you for this post. With much gratitude to Palmer Parker for being a voice form this deeper perspective on the issue of leadership.
    Relative to bullying, I know from my own personal observation of bullying, that the absence of this deeper perspective is totally relevant. Actually, in my own experience, bullying becomes nothing less than a spiritual issue – and I don’t mean this in any dogmatic sense of spirituality. In a personal experience of bullying, I ultimately found my only possible relief and escape, at least in large part, and chance for healing, in even larger part, involved a deeper perspective, namely a spiritual one. And I do daily pray for all targets (as well as the well-being (true, not winning the lottery) of those who have targeted me).

  2. I love the quote! So key for leaders to shed light on bullying AND respectful relationship skills.

    I think you are right on, too, Gail. There is a deeper perspective…I think of it as human evolution out of an era of aggression and into a more assertive and collaborative time.

    Take care,

  3. Parker Palmer’s latest book, “Healing the Heart of Democracy” Subtitle: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, also addresses the deeper perspective of healing in a spiritual manner. My experiences of healing from being bullied are shared with Gail and Beth. Thank you David, Gail and Beth for your posts.

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