No! 42 is not the answer. It is 64……

Chapter 64 of the Rule of Benedict to be precise.

I must admit much of the contemporary leadership discourse leaves me cold. I also get cross (I know I shouldn’t – take a few deep breaths Andrew) by the way that leadership models and courses are pedaled on the market, and bought hook line and sinker by corporations and institutions, the church included.

Lightbown’s law – based solely on my experience, therefore to be treated with a massive pinch of salt – suggests that an inverse relationship exists between focusing and studying leadership and, leadership quality itself. My tongue in cheek suggestion is that for the next decade institutions pledge to provide no more leadership courses; a kind of ‘leadership jubilee.’

But, there is one proviso: a careful study of Chapter 64 of the Rule of Benedict entitled ‘The election of an abbot or abbess.’ I reckon this one, brief, chapter stands in contrast to many modern approaches and provides all the wisdom required. So let’s consider my argument (which, yes, I know, is overstated – but there again aren’t all panaceas?)

A few weeks ago I was shocked to be told by the ‘leader’ of a publicly funded institution that a ‘regulator’ had criticized his approach to the management of the organization because of an absence of fear as a ‘strategic leadership tool.’ Now, not to put too fine a point on it, I reckon that the publicly funded regulator was a ‘bit of a tool.’ Why?

Because the Bible tells us that love and virtue (you know the stuff that drives out fear) must reside at the heart of our approach to leading and influencing others. St. Benedict takes this point very seriously indeed, ‘reducing’ (or should I say expanding?) the role of the leader to the creation of an environment where ‘the strong may have ideals to inspire them and the weak may not be frightened away by excessive demands.’ Put bluntly Benedict knows that any community will always comprise a mixed bag of folk and that we are better off just accepting, working within, that reality rather than undertaking some form of organizational cleansing, through the use of fear, in order to produce organizational / institutional purity. 

Now Benedict is not some laissez-faire  merchant. Instead he believes that the ‘weak’ serve a useful and community enhancing role, they act as a mirror for our own frailty.

How useful is that?

Benedict does not think that we ‘leaders’ should just allow each and every individual to use the community to pursue their own ends, he knows that this is the way to complete and utter organizational disaster (the banking crisis, for instance), indeed he has a name for organizational spongers, ‘gyrovagues.’ 

Gyrovagues display no loyalty, or stability, all they are interested in is their own ‘gross appetites.’ The abbot must distinguish between the genuine spongers and the weak. Spongers should be excommunicated (let’s not forget spongers can be extraordinarily talented, yet lacking in humility), the weak should be viewed as work in progress. The abbot should use ‘prudence and charity,’ to eradicate vice, ‘so as to help each one in their individual needs……they should seek to be loved more than feared.’ 

Abbots should be ‘chaste, sober and compassionate, and should always let mercy triumph over judgement, in the hope of receiving like treatment from the Lord.’ After all as St.Matthew reminds us, Jesus (our real leader – who all ‘church leaders’ should seek to reflect in their dealings with ordinary folk), once remarked ‘just as you did it to the least of these, who are members of my family (so what right do we have to ‘excommunicate them?) YOU DID IT TO ME,’ (Matthew 25, 40).  

So there we go. To me it seems like a good approach. The only real alternative may be a ‘hirem and firem’ approach, ruthlessly adopted, through the strategic use of fear, in pursuit of efficiency and organizational and doctrinal purity, and that is a very frightening model.

p.s. I find it interesting that Matthew places the Parable of Sheep and Goats immediately prior to the plot to kill Jesus.


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