Reconciling Leaders

Tali HairstonBy Tali Hairston, Director of the John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development

The presidential campaign season is a great time to reflect on the transcendent and transformational capacity of leadership. I, like many others, recognize and appreciate the historic nature of the election of Barack Obama in the same year that we celebrate the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Though separated by two centuries of social and cultural progress, both leaders stand in the contextual climate in which the practices and disciplines of reconciling leadership is paramount.


With these historic events as the backdrop for our Winter 2009 newsletter, let me share my reflections regarding the truly faith-filled interdisciplinary nature of reconciling leadership. Leaders for whom the practice of leadership brings them into the intersection of building bridges and relationships that ultimately lead to change; is what I often refer to as reconciling leaders. I believe what you will read in this newsletter is emblematic of the life of such leaders as John Perkins and others whose reconciling leadership often brings them into historic intersections. This faith-filled interdisciplinary stuff is what I am growing to appreciate within my own life, though nothing about my life is magnificently historic.


A Multidisciplinary Approach

At Seattle Pacific’s John Perkins Center, we have the gift of speaking into the hearts and minds of future leaders through experiential learning, global and urban service opportunities, and campus community forums. We often meet one on one with students, staff, and faculty — digging deep into how their discipline, vocation, or degree informs or is informed by the practice of reconciliation and community development. We are grateful to be able to consult with ministry leaders across our region and nation as we build bridges of reconciliation that lead to community development. Many are often surprised on how many different disciplines we reference in our trainings, speeches, or lectures.


A small sample of the disciplines include education, poverty and economic development, public policy, world affairs, theologies of church and mission, history, health, and urban development (to name a few). Not to mention the psycho-social realities of race and racism that historically informed the crucible of ideas regarding the marginalization of gender, ethnicity, and social class. We attempt to reflect, learn, integrate, and train informed by the interdisciplinary education required to be reconciling leaders.


“… partly a matter of faith”

In fact, many community development practitioners reading this article will undoubtedly say I am understating the demand for a multidisciplinary approach. Let me give one day from my own schedule that speaks to this reality. The morning was filled with the challenge of sharing with a student regarding reconciliation and politics, followed by a consultation with university administrators, a wonderful time of sharing with retired Vietnamese ambassador to Pakistan regarding our work in Southeast Asia and, to pull it all together, I enthusiastically spoke to a small group of students at Rainier Beach High School on becoming community leaders.


I don’t intend to impress anyone by lauding such a schedule publically, or suggest this is normative in some grand way, but my day did remind me of a quote from the book Servant Leadership: A Journey Into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness by Robert Greenleaf.


As I plodded through the day, going from one institution and constituent group to the next, I was reminded of what Greenleaf mentions as he builds his argument for a central ethic of leadership. He writes, “One is at once, in every moment of time, historian, contemporary analyst, and prophet — not three separate roles. This is what the practicing leader is, everyday of his life.”


In these words I found great resolve. But I was flummoxed by the very next line. Greenleaf adds, “Living this way is partly a matter of faith.” Where did that come from? To be the reconciling leaders that serve informed by the interdisciplinary world of ideas must do so by faith.


As you read our Winter 2009 Perkins Perspective, hear our attempt to weave together a mosaic of perspectives that exemplify the very work of reconcilers. These reconcilers have different stories and lead different communities. But there is one thing that defines all of us: That is the type of leaders we must be.



Tali HairstonTali Hairston has guided the Perkins Center at SPU since its founding in 2004. He is leading Seattle Pacific in a comprehensive initiative born out of a dream and a partnership between SPU President Philip Eaton and the legendary reconciliation advocate Dr. John Perkins.

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