From encounter freedom to new freedom: Lessons for leadership through solidarity

Author: Vazha Vardidze

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Image courtesy of Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani University.

Vazha Vardidze is affiliated professor of theology at Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani University in Tbilisi, Georgia where he also served as rector until December 2022. He teaches Christology, dogmatic and fundamental theology and is president of the Georgian office of the German Catholic Academic Exchange Service (KAAD). He was a visiting scholar at the Nanovic Institute for European Studies in 2017-18 and participated in the Advanced Leadership Program, an initiative of the Catholic Universities Partnership, in Rome in June 2022. 

When I received the offer to participate in a several-day-long leadership course — the Advanced Leadership Program with my colleagues from the Catholic Universities Partnership — I initially questioned the program’s objectives. Can one single week teach you something that is not already part of your charism? Are leadership skills learned or developed? These thoughts ran through my mind. 

Focusing on certain technical skills is always useful but against the backdrop of many years of experience in leadership, which have gifted me with an intuition for personal reflection, it seemed even more important that I answer the question of whether leadership can be acquired. I thought: why not attain a theoretical understanding of this week’s practical experience as a way to not only provide justification for my own opinions but also as a way to discover new capabilities and more clearly identify the necessity of starting a new chapter in life?  

On its own, this intuitive feeling of necessity was not enough because it emerged after I had defined my strategic vision for the future. It is essential to form a new well-defined strategy and determine an action plan that can be examined in the process of revitalization and exploiting new opportunities. This is a long process that cannot be completed in a week-long course. So, I asked myself, what kind of new experience could I gain from these meetings that would actually prove worthwhile in reinforcing my leadership skills?  

Humanity in leadership

In its mission, the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, which facilitated the leadership course, focuses on cultivating artisans of a new humanity. Clearly, the concept of a new humanity must exist beyond the intellectual concept that has evolved over two thousand years and which may be found where that intellectual construct has not been overcome or restricted by immanent order. Setting limits in a similar fashion would result in dehumanization by introducing immanent concepts and creating conditions favorable to nihilism. This novelty of humanism may prove to be the experience that makes a man more human, and that signals new boundless completeness. This factor surfaces in the universality of faith, which heralds the completeness of the concept of the transient world and the emergence of a completely new horizon. But how is this factor, this sense of humanity, felt?  

In her blog “On noticing and acting: An introduction to ‘Crossing the Square,” Monica Caro elaborates on a forum where, as designed by the leadership course, leaders from the higher education institutions that form the Catholic Universities Partnership will converge to form a new unity and reinforce new experiences. This unity must explore both the possibilities of a new humanity and the answers to questions on the understanding of leadership, the objective of the leadership course.   

After 14 years in leadership, I felt a need for renewal in my work, a need resulting from the natural passage of time. And so, the offer to participate in a leadership course came at a fortuitous moment, reflecting how when certain experiences and opportunities emerge together, it can constitute a crucial moment for the revitalization of faith. In a similar way, a synthesis of faith, experience, and practical views proves so important that it is possible to discover a spiritual and intellectual source of creativity that will help overcome the boredom of routine activities and bring a new kind of joy and sense of freedom and, perhaps most affirming, a sense that you have been chosen to perform a special mission. More than technical knowledge, leadership requires the skill of guiding people that assist you in discovering new abilities hidden inside. Those skills create an area for relationships that make clear that each person is unique and incomparable, and their mission is beautiful.                  

A new credo of life

You meet people and learn that you share common issues, similar challenges, and universal principles. Thanks to these people, you also have an opportunity to build new relationships. In addition to realizing your own new freedom, these relationships strengthen your feeling of gratitude and the desire to both receive and give more. They reinforce your willingness to make little discoveries and your ability to see a great design in it. Forming these new connections reveals how necessary it is to face the challenge of new responsibilities to your new colleagues and friends. It also shows how you can internalize these relationships and transfer them to a new dimension that will become a credo of life. 

Eventually, you recognize the importance of relying on others as beneficial, which opens the door to your own freedom; you perceive the significance of general solidarity. As a result, you no longer see the universe as a place in which you are isolated from others, where narrow private interests and individual issues exist. You discover the existence of challenges that are universal and which you tackle by first coping with your own difficulties, and then perceiving common responsibilities.  

Against this background, the realization of crucial and vital events fills you with new hope, a hope that signals the advance of new humanism. As mentioned above, this provides us with an opportunity to free ourselves from everything obsolete and open up to novelties. The same realization demonstrates boundless completeness beyond generations and reinforces your trust in a freedom that can be understood, in its final concept, as a form of self-determination and an awareness of your creativity and identity. This is encounter freedom, bestowed by the Creator rather than an immanent conception, and it deserves recognition. You face the created freedom of others which grants you a new freedom and opens up new opportunities for producing your own creations.  

Returning to the aforementioned skepticism about the wisdom of a few days of leadership training, one thing is clear: you should not just wait for every new thing with openness and readiness, you should know that God will make you feel His mercy in the form of specific people who bring with them a new, unexpected, and creative hope. The beauty, kindness, and self-effort of these colleagues and friends teach you freedom. 

To all those who were involved in these interesting and useful events, and especially to those who organized and made these meetings a reality, I would like to express my deepest gratitude, a gratitude that comes with an awareness that words alone can not fully express the depth of my thanks.