What is leadership? A short post Green reflection.

A certain ‘leader’ – Pilate-  once asked ‘what is truth?’ (John 18, 38).

In asking the question Pilate revealed his true character. Sadly, Pilate had become the ultimate pragmatist an appeaser prepared to act contrary to his better nature. A ‘leader’ weakened through the demands of office.

Leadership (and talent) are in vogue in Church circles. But, before we rush off and decide on the best way to spot talent and train leaders, we possibly need to ask a Pilot like question:

‘What is leadership?’

Different authors, scholars and theorists will, of course, have their own take; leadership (just like talent) is after all a slippery concept. One person’s idea of a great and visionary leader is another persons idea of a tyrant. Often it, sadly, comes down to how we fare under a particular leader.

I have seen all manner of folk prepared to forgive a ‘leader’ for his or her idiosyncrasies when they are on the positive side of the ‘leaders’ decision making. This in turn leads to an interesting reflection: our willingness to follow is often contingent on how a ‘leader’ makes us feel.

I ‘enjoyed’ the support of a colleague for a long period of time when I worked in the City. Support was withdrawn when I stopped being able to feed his career aspirations. I suspect many political (and faith?) ‘leaders’ are aware that their ‘leadership’ is contingent on their ability to promote others, to feed others ego needs.

So here is my stab at what it means to be an effective leader:

An effective leader is someone, who through the force of their character, and the words and artefacts they use to motivate others affects, for good or ill, hearts and minds.

At this stage I have deliberately focused on effective leadership, rather than good leadership. Let’s, for a moment, leave virtue to one side.

An effective leader is someone who can rally the troops to act in a given way, either by ‘praying on’ existing thought patterns, or by promoting an alternative and seemingly attractive narrative. (Story is one of the leaders key strategic tools). Most leaders intuitively know that they will have three types of followers:

The first type is a group that has an already established mindset and is looking for a person or small group of people who can act as a catalyst for action.

The second group comprises a cadre of momentum junkies; people who just want to do something, anything, in response to a given situation.

The third group comprises the thoughtful and open minded. The thoughtful and open minded want to hear competing narratives before deciding which narrative is the most attractive and transformational.

Sadly the history of leadership shows that the most effective short term strategy is to concentrate on the first two groups, often with dire long-term consequences. And this is why short-term absolute performance targets (sorry Lord Green) can be so dangerous.

A ‘good’ (i.e. virtuous) and potentially effective leader should, perhaps, be spending the greatest amount of time seeking to influence the thoughtful, reflective but currently undecided, for it is this group that are prepared to undertake the long and difficult process St Paul refers to as ‘renewal of the mind.’

But this group (lets give them biblical motif – Nicodemus) are hard to find; they prefer to operate under the cover of darkness. Maybe they are correct to do so. But, they are the type of people who are open to new, different and transformational stories. They know the stories they have been told aren’t quite delivering but they aren’t prepared to buy any old competing narrative.

So here’s a leadership challenge for the Church: can we go to into the cover of darkness, the periphery of life and find the modern day Nicodemus’ or are we so fixated on results that we cheapen our story,and in the process simply feed the ego needs of the powerful and the momentum junkie?

If we focus on the first two stereotypical groups are we really leaders, even if we are ‘successful’ when measured against absolute standards?

Church leaders need to be ‘good’, in the belief (faith and hope) that in the long-term the stories they tell, and the prayers they offer, will be effective. But character and virtue must always come before effect.

Is the way we (the Church) approach – and propose to approach – leadership more concerned with effect, or transformation? Now that’s my question?

(Person of prayer, person of story, person of thought and, person of virtue and character – four characteristics of leadership for the Church to consider?)


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