Benevolence and Leadership. Valuable? Possible?

Jul 31

A recent post on the Business Spirituality LinkedIn site asked: “What difference can a benevolent leader bring to people and organizations? Is it possible to be benevolent without being naive?”

I’m not sure benevolence is the right word here. Benevolence, to me, implies giving to others, sometimes without including myself in the benevolence. I find myself preferring the word compassion. The word compassion, to me, has more of a sense of having walked in the shoes of the other, having experienced their suffering, and supporting all of us in moving toward a more joyful, purposeful life. Compassion is essential to good leadership.

One of my life long lessons has been learning how to expand into my own spiritual understanding and power and then use that spiritual understanding and power to support others as they expand into the fully developed, unique individuals they are intended to be. Supporting them does not mean giving them whatever they want. Often, it means challenging their current thought processes or flat out saying ‘no.’ This is the role of the spiritual warrior.

I was very fortunate to have had two wonderful parents. Both were teachers. Both were fair and compassionate. Both valued order and structure, and yet, there was always space for play and creativity in our home. My parents truly led by example. Because I was happy, I never questioned their leadership. I knew I was loved, respected, and valued. I did what they told me to do simply because I trusted them.

Then I moved out into the rest of the world and discovered, over and over, through painful experience after painful experience, that not everyone was as kind, benevolent, compassionate and fair as my parents. Other people said negative things about me, verbally abused me, bullied me, and betrayed my trust. I had to learn how to protect myself from all this negative energy. I had to learn how to detach mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically. I had to learn how to release my fear. I had to learn how to refocus my outrage from judging and blaming the bullies and abusers to shifting the energy of that outrage into being just, fair, and accountable. As painful and sometimes terrifying as it often was, I had to learn how to say ‘no’, I will not enable and support that conduct. I will not stay in a relationship where I am not respected. I will move out of relationships where I am verbally abused. I simply deserve better.

For me, finding the balance between benevolence and naivete requires a constantly shifting awareness of the energy dynamics of any situation. I can then change those dynamics by changing myself. It always requires staying in integrity with my own values of compassion, non-violence, mutual respect, and accountability.

I’ve walked in the shoes of the other. I’ve experienced their suffering. How can I be anything but compassionate toward us all?


Jun 21

I was nine when my father cried

head cradled on mother’s shoulder

his father’s casket surrounded with flowers and hushed voices.


I did not know the old man

a stern German who shared little of himself

but my father cried.


Then when my father died,

remembered by his music and the Navy hymn

my own tears flowed – for my father, my sons, myself


so many words unspoken

so many hugs unshared

so many possibilities entombed …


© 2009 Janet Smith Warfield All rights reserved