Slow Leadership

“Life is too short to get too flustered.”

–The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori

By Ann Fontaine

In an interview with The New York Times , shortly before her first meeting with the Primates of the Anglican Communion, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said that if she were rebuked at the meeting, it would not be anything new; she experienced that before as an oceanographer: “The first time I was chief scientist on a cruise, the captain wouldn’t speak to me because I was a woman.” Asked how she would respond if primates walked out on her, she said, “Life is too short to get too flustered.”

Bishop Jefferts Schori is famous for responding to questions with calm, direct answers. And although she says, ”Life is too short,” she seems to have taken her lessons from the Slow Leadership movement to live as though she has all the time it takes to accomplish the work that has been given her to do.

Slow leadership is gaining popularity. It is part of the Slow movement which approaches life with balance. The Slow movement seeks to take control of time rather than allowing the busy-ness of life to control time. It encourages finding a balance between using timesaving technology and taking the time to enjoy a walk or a meal with others. Proponents believe “that while technology can speed up working, eating, dating, etc. the most important things in life should not be rushed.” Slow leadership helps leaders reflect fully on what needs to be done. Then they commit to giving those things whatever time they deserve to do them properly. Instead of reacting to everything immediately, Slow leaders prioritize and schedule activities.

Slow leadership is not about always getting things right but recognizing the power of choice both to act and not to act. In one of the newsletters from Slow Leadership, Getting it wrong to get it right, the author says,

Getting it right, in work or life, nearly always involves a great deal of getting it wrong as well. Success depends critically on how you face up to failure, take the lesson it offers, and start again. Opportunities missed are usually gone forever. The road not taken never shows up on the map again. That’s why rushing through life, obsessed with conventional success and fixated purely on material gain, may produce riches and fame, but very often misses out on happiness and contentment. The New Testament of Christians asks: “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his soul?” You only have one trip around the sun. Use it well, or lose the chance of living and learning forever.

It is easy in this age of technology to be distracted by the amount of information available. Communications are instant and there is pressure to respond instantly. Multi-tasking is praised although it has been shown that those who multi-task have little retention of information. One of the discoveries of “Slow” is that people actually accomplish more when they schedule their work time and don’t allow interruptions when focusing on a task. There is little time for reflection unless we make space for it.

Our religious tradition supports a more reflective life. In the Collect for Peace in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 99) we pray, “O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life…” The absolution for the Confession of Sin (BCP p. 117) concludes with “by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life.” This is a prayer about a quality of life here and now, not about afterlife. In the Book of Genesis, God creates time in the creation of the night and the day. At the end of the six days of creation, God rests on the seventh. The Ten Commandments call us to Sabbath and the Book of Leviticus recommends resting the land every seven years. Jesus shows us that we have eternal life. Christianity teaches that we live both in time and outside of time, “in the world but not of the world,” encouraging us to live “Slow.”

The Rev. Jan Nunley, editor of epiScope, who first interested me in Slow Leadership ideas writes:

My work in the Church is probably as ‘fast’ as it gets. I’m constantly fielding emails and phone calls and crises of one sort or another demanding immediate attention. It’s just the way the news business is, even in the Church–these days, perhaps especially in the Church! Maybe that’s why I have been so attracted to the ‘Slow’ idea–I’ve seen where imbalance and impatience lands us as Episcopalians and Anglicans, and it’s not pretty.

Sometimes I dream about being in a ‘Slow Church’–a fellowship of Christians taking their faith deliberately and seriously, growing in grace ‘organically’ with their roots firmly in local ground, being the Church in one place and for one place instead of all over the map, spiritually and otherwise. Kind of an antidote to this super-sizing, globe-trotting gotta-do-it-all corporate mega-mentality that we’re even seeing played out at the Anglican Communion level, the bitter fruit of globalization that’s driving a lot of our conflicts with each other.

We talk about Jesus bringing abundant life, but what we offer instead is too often a pale imitation of the consumption-driven world. A ‘Slow Church’ would go deeper into the life of God: pray deeper, laugh deeper, listen deeper. We have the resources to do it, especially in the Anglican tradition. We just have to decide it’s worth doing, no matter the cost.

I wonder if I can make a covenant with myself to live and lead with an attitude of “Slow.” What sort of choices can I make that would help me take time to live a fuller but less frantic life. What sort of churches and worship might develop with the savoring of our time with each other and God? As I write this essay I am talking with our daughter, watching the Rockies play the Houston Astros, typing, taking phone calls and checking email. I think I need to practice some “Slow.”

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps the blogs Green Lent and what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

The Eight Principles of Slow Leadership for people who want to live balanced lives and enjoy their work to the full.

1. Right Tempo

2. Right Attention

3. Right Balance

4. Right Perspective

5. Right Direction

6. Right Relationships

7. Right Enjoyment

8. Right Gratitude


Slow Leadership:

Slow Food:

The Slow Home:

Slow Worship and other slowness

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  1. EHCulver

    This past year someone told me that John Wesley said that, if he didn’t spend two hours a day in prayer, he couldn’t get anything else done.

  2. Interesting list. How can one argue with something that is “right”? I’d be more interested in a list of core values, which could guide our thinking and our acting.

    I am just now reading Esther de Waal’s Living with Contradiction and believe

    that (instead of “slow”) my approach would be better described by St. Benedict’s sense of

    balance and living in a way that holds the tension. It is through balance

    and living into the tension of opposites that we grow. Although I spend

    much time in reflection, I think it

    is important to live with a sense of urgency. It motivates us into ministry

    that matters now. Instead of becoming experts in analyzing ministry, we are urged to do

    ministry. The MDGs do just this…set the clock on reducing global poverty.

    The Gospel writers tell us “Run while you have the light of life, that

    darkness of death may not overtake you” John 12:35.

  3. And today is the Feast of St. Benedict – an early adopter of “slow” – balance of work and worship, rest and action. See Speaking to the Soul.

  4. Paul Bishop

    I like the thought of doing things slowly. Doing so has worked for me for a long time. It brings to mind the statement, “If you have enough time to do something over, why didn’t you have enough time to do it right?”

  5. One of the things I admire in Bishop Katharine is her calm demeanor in the face of storms. On the other hand, Archbishop Rowan Williams seems to take slow leadership to extremes.

    I am of an impatient nature, so I probably should incorporate aspects of slow leadership into my life.

    I went to “Speaking To The Soul”, and liked these words about the Rule of St. Benedict:

    The whole orientation of the Rule is to the principle that God is everywhere, all the time, and thus every element of our ordinary day is potentially holy.

    I believe those words to be true, but it is putting them into practice, keeping the presence of God ever in our minds, that is the difficult part.

    June Butler

  6. Ann,

    Thank you for this beautiful reflection. It articulates well so much of what I have been wrestling with in every part of my life.

    It was my piano teacher who used to say: “Slower is faster.”

  7. Heidi Shott

    If I want to do slow, I have to choose it almost every minute of the day. The demands on my time say faster, faster, now now now now now.

    Choosing slow changes the tone of my voice and brings a gentleness to my demeanor in almost every aspect daily life.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  8. An interesting examples: when I read the Bible slowly — it makes a deeper kind of sense; when we let the home-made soups and cakes sit around for a couple days — they taste better; when I eat a piece of dark chocolate slowly, it tastes better; when B.B. King plays merely five notes all night, and slowly at that — he’s the King; when Eric Clapton was called ‘God,’ he was also called ‘Slowhand’ for the way his hand rarely seems to move.

    Greg Jones

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