CEO biographies are almost a “dime a dozen.” Many have the plot lines that work for a Hollywood interested in digging deep, pulling back the curtains, and showing us our “naked” leaders–all without the proverbial rose-colored glasses.
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln with Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Fields was a tour de force, trying to capture the depth of the man who saved the Union. Abraham Lincoln greatly and frequently despaired that the Union would ever survive or that the war would ever end. His despair was fierce, and fed a depression that was already part of his character. On the big screen, we saw how Mary Todd Lincoln helped guide him through some of these days, back to the light, one might say.
The Letters, a 2015 biopic about Mother Teresa, probably escaped the notice of many people as it stayed in theaters for a very brief time. Set in the 1940’s and 50’s, it focused on her early ministry, sidestepping the last 50 years which she herself described as her “dark night of the soul.” Despite the tremendous work that she was doing, she experienced a great period of doubt and loneliness as she continued to minister with the poor, sick, and dying.
Here’s the thing. I read biographies and watch biopics to learn how a great person dealt with the issues and circumstances they faced. I’m like a sponge, trying to soak in lessons that others before me have learned so that I can try to avoid them in my own journey.
But with these two movies, I’m not sure we learned much about leadership–or as much as we could have.
The “dark night of the soul” is a real and even necessary part of leadership, and it isn’t pretty, romantic, dramatic, or especially cinemagraphically interesting. This is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane “dark night.” This is the inevitable and lonely time when I’m “it.” There isn’t anyone else above or beyond me except God. And I’m not even sure God is there.
Great leaders know dark nights of despair and loneliness. We must. Without them, we are never challenged to examine who we are, what we do, and why we do anything, but in a superficial way. Our great leaders show us the way, in prayer, in vast communities of India’s poor, with a spouse.