Human conscience acts like a judge, alternately accusing and defending us. Leaders rely on it. If the lens of conscience is clear, its job is to tap us on the shoulder and point out whether our walk matches our talk. In a perfect world, conscience acts as a safeguard to let me know I’m on track or as an arbiter to tell me I’m off course.
Unfortunately, in real time, leadership gets complex and messy.
The leader’s lens of conscience bends with the warp and woof of life.
The more it warps, the harder it is for us to make a proper distinction between right and wrong.1 But this doesn’t slow down the operation of conscience. It just keeps humming along, even when the lens is not clear. So leaders do the wrong thing – lying, character assassination, philandering, pilfering – you name it – and then blow off correction or curl up in a fetal position and play the role of victim. The problem is with the lens. Leaders don’t wake up in the morning and say, “I’m going to be a jerk today!” They don’t drive to work and think, “How can I destroy this organization?” But they do.
Christian ministries have paid a high price at the hands of unbridled visionaries and unprincipled pragmatists, those who claim to have heard the voice of God but whose conscience lens is blurred – or shattered altogether. Our problem with the lens is endemic; it is a liability of our individualism. If individual conscience is the only lens through which a leader sees reality, then she is the easiest person to dupe.
An essential part of the solution is not deeper soul-searching or longer prayer vigil, but developing an ear – and more importantly a process – for receiving outside signals. That’s the topic for next time.
1 Mike Metzger, Doggie Head Tilt (blog article), August 9, 2013
Photo Credit: Craig Moe