Toward the beginning of my community worker / activist career, some fifteen years ago, I recall having a conversation with an NHS manager which, while I did not realize it at the time, was to have a profound influence on my later activism and, having had to learn the hard way as one often does, was to bear out the fact that many of his observations and conclusions were correct. He led a mental health project that I happened to be associated with, having earlier been a mental practitioner with the Army. The first lesson I learned was the need to understand my community and be able to work with disparate sections of it. The second, which is more to do with this blog, is that those at the top were often, in his view, near to being useless, having got to the position they got to mainly as a result of saying the right things to the right people at the right time.
One sad conclusion I came to this year, more acutely even than in previous years, is that there is a woeful lack of leadership, and this starts at the very top. By leadership, I mean the action of leading a group of people or an organization, or the ability to do this. By the top, I look at the leaders of the western world, e.g. our own UK government that appears to have not a clue how to negotiate Brexit and the USA government that is in the unenviable position of fighting five hugely costly, unwinnable wars. As for what comes below, it is from a range of statutory and voluntary organizations. When I see some of what is unraveling around me, I am tempted to despair because things could be so different. Often I see good people who could do so much better if they were led effectively. I can give specific examples but I fear if I did these could be misconstrued and may damage the whistle blowers who feed me information. The consequence of having bad or no leaders is that things often don’t get done or the wrong things do get done, and this has repercussions down the chain of command. The problem we face when there is a dearth of leadership is that people notice and then react. Sometimes wrong leaders come and fill the gap as a result. I think maybe this is God’s judgment on the world. I find myself praying increasingly for God to have mercy on us and for good leaders to be raised up. It also affects my approach to politics and community, and life in general.
When it comes to self examination, I do not rate myself as a particularly good leader when I am put in a position when I am called to take a lead, although sometimes that is what happens even when not seeking it, but then again that is not something I am in a good position to judge. These days I have little in the way of ambition when it comes to self advancement but there are things that I would like to see happen and, while it is nice to simply get on doing what I am good at that needs doing, in order to get more done I may need to take a lead. Leadership is a huge subject, which is why many books have been written and seminars delivered on the subject. Tempting as it is to explore some of the key points, like styles of leadership, what makes a good leader etc., I will refrain because of ignorance. What increasingly occurs to me is that in the few years I have remaining, I should do my bit in trying to raise up a new generation of leaders. This could be in politics, business, the community, sport and the church (which especially interests me).
As I meditate on the life of Jesus, I see one who was a great leader. He brought together as disparate a group of followers as you can find. The legacy of his leadership became more apparent following his death. He then called certain of his disciples to be shepherds of the flock. These days this is often equated with trained ministers who are ordained, but here I disagree. I am often reminded of a story of this fairly ordinary guy, without obvious spiritual gifting, who found himself among a group of Christians. While he did what he did without ostentation, people began to notice that when things needed doing he did what need to be done, however menial the task, and when people needed encouraging he was often the encourager. When it came to choosing an elder to lead that gathering, he was the obvious choice. While servant-hood is one aspect of leadership, and often one that is not rated highly when it comes to positions of power and influence, it is one I particularly rate. The need for good Christian leaders is as great here as any other sphere.
There is nothing grandiose about being a leader, and when one hears talk of too many chiefs and not enough Indians, too often it is about people wanting to be in charge for the status it brings. But as I look around me, things are crying out to be done that benefit the community at large. What is needed is people to recognize this, realize they can make a difference and get stuck in doing. It is this observation more than any that shapes my opinions on the matter of leadership. I fear in an era where political correctness often calls the shots, what my mentor shared 15 years ago is as pertinent now as it ever was, and too often the good people don’t get the chance to lead. It is not people who talk the talk we need, but those who walk the walk and do what needs doing, who can inspire others to follow.