Today we remember the powerful leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the enormous role he played in moving ahead the cause of racial justice. According to researchers at Harvard Business School, King exemplified not just one, but two types of vital organizational leadership.[1] First, he articulated a clear vision, set goals and established high expectations. Second, he was an example of servant leadership. He did not ask his followers to do anything he was not willing to do, including putting his life on the line for the cause. 

In the 6th century, Benedict was ahead of his time in regard to understanding effective leadership. He delegated authority widely—to his prior, his deans, the cellarer, and the porter—and he listened—not just to his leadership team, but to the whole community. In chapter 3 of the Rule he states: “Whenever any important business has to be done in the monastery, let the Abbot call together the whole community and state the matter to be acted upon. Then, having heard the brethren’s advice, let him turn the matter over in his own mind and do what he shall judge to be most expedient . . .”.  It is not just from the wise older men that he solicits advice, but from the young monks as well. “The reason we have said that all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.”

Twenty-first-century books on leadership would not be too much different in their advice to readers. Among the eight essential leadership skills identified by Lauren Landry [2] is receiving and implementing feedback. In a survey by the American Management Association, more than a third of senior managers, executives, and employees said they “hardly ever” know what’s going on in their organizations. Asking for feedback from your team, says Landry, can not only help you grow as a leader, but build trust among your colleagues. 

What stands out in Chapter 3 of Benedict’s Rule—in contrast to more authoritarian monastic rules—is the principle of humility, as modeled by the abbot in the way he leads. His leadership style is not an autocratic one and respects the wisdom of others in the community. 


Gracious God, give me the wisdom to seek council when I am making decisions that affect others and the humility to honor and support the decisions of those who lead me. May listening, love, and mutual obedience be present in our life together. Amen. 


  1. “Martin Luther King, Jr.: A leader to inspire businesses.” W. P. Carey News, Arizona State University, 1-17-2022.  https://news.wpcarey.asu.edu/20220117-martin-luther-king-jr-leader-inspire-businesses
  2. Lauren Landry, ”8 Essential Leadership Communication Skills”. Harvard Business School Online, 11-14-2019.https://online.hbs.edu/blog/post/leadership-communication

Published by Stephen Isaacson

Stephen Isaacson is Prior of the Cornerstone Community, a lay Benedictine group within Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon. He has served in many other roles in the Cathedral and is currently the Co-coordinator of Outreach Ministries at the Cathedral. Prior to his involvement with Outreach or the Cornerstone Community, Steve was Professor of Special Education at Portland State University, where he also served as Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Education. During his career in academia, he authored a number of juried publications and instructional materials.

One thought on “Leadership

  1. I look forward to your thoughtful posts. I appreciate learning of the many ways we are the same. All faiths, religions, sanghas….. desire similar outcomes and struggle along the path.


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