Mark Fairweather Tall

Rebuilding trust in leadership

28/03/2016 15:55

I picked up a book this week that raised a very interesting question on its back cover: “What does it mean to provide leadership in a church that once shaped culture, but is now fast becoming a minority subculture?” There are many avenues of thought that we might go down in reflecting on such a question, but my mind was taken by the idea of ‘leadership’.


It isn’t easy being a leader! We only need to look at the news on a regular basis to see the challenges that are faced. David Cameron has been criticised by Barack Obama for being “distracted” from Libya and leaving the county in “a mess”. This follows British intervention in 2011 that saw the removal of Colonel Gaddafi. Jeremy Corbyn has had his leadership constantly questioned almost from the moment he was elected. Moving from the political to the sporting arena, Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal football manager for nearly twenty years, has said the continued speculation about whether he should continue in his role is “becoming a farce”.


Perhaps behind the recent media headlines lies a greater truth articulated by Professor Rob Goffee who said: “There is a crisis of leadership. We have fallen out of love with the people that run organisations. We have fallen out of love with organisations.”[1] Evidence for this argument comes in recent years from issues including the banking collapse, politician’s expenses, the phone hacking and Volkswagen emission scandals, FIFA corruption and so on. Even the church has not been immune with cases of sex abuse hitting the headlines. The result is that people today are more generally suspicious of leadership than they have been in the past.


In the light of all this it is an interesting question to ask, “What does it mean to provide leadership today?” Or to put it another way, “What is the future of leadership?” How do we provide leadership that is engaging, inspiring and meaningful? How do we rebuild trust in leadership?


I listened to a very interesting Radio 4 programme entitled, “The future of leadership” in which this question was explored. It spoke about how the ‘command and control’ style of leadership, where the leader simply tells everyone what to do has outlived its usefulness. The Army is highlighted as an organisation where this style seems the most natural fit but how they have moved away from this style. The ‘superhero’ leadership style was considered as well. In this, the combination of intellect, charisma, energy and skill of a particular person is believed to be the way to  bring about transformed situations. However, this style of leadership has its problems, including finding such people, the assumption that one person really can know enough to make perfect decisions all of the time and the potential paralysis to the organisation when the ‘superleader’ leaves.


According to this programme the next generation of leadership needs to be different. Netflix is one example of changing leadership. Those who work for Netflix don't have  the number of days holiday they take tracked. They don’t need to get their expenses approved and they don’t do yearly performance reviews. Employees are given great amounts of freedom so that they can take risks and innovate without being held back by procedures. Behind this ethos is the idea that people anywhere in the organisation, at any level might have the idea that makes the difference. Microsoft have changed their style from ranking employees according to success criteria because this encourages a damaging level of competitiveness between worker that is now seem to risk holding companies back in adapting to the future. Here again, there is emphasis on the importance of team and any member of that team might have an important contribution to make. to preparing them for the challenges ahead.


And this brings me back to the original question: “What does it mean to provide leadership in a church that once shaped culture, but is now fast becoming a minority subculture?” Does the church need to learn from this ‘new’ management style that the programme claimed is the future of leadership?


In going back to the Bible, I can’t help but wonder if actually the Bible hasn’t got there first! In 1 Peter 2:4-5, we read about a principle which declares that all believers are priests: “As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” In our relationship with God there is no need for a priestly human mediator because Jesus is our mediator. He is our superhero leader. We are not called to be ‘superhero leaders’ but rather are called to represent Christ to one another. We all share in the priestly task of building bridges between God and his world. This means that anyone in the church might have the answer that makes the difference (like Netflix have discovered?). Moving to the writing of the Apostle Paul, we have the image of the body being made up of many different parts. Team is important because people have different gifts to bring that go to make up the ‘whole’. Team is important because our effectiveness is dependent on each person playing their part for the benefit of all (as Microsoft are working on?). If rebuilding trust in leadership is about recognising the value in each person and building team, we have a biblical precedent for this.


Is it just possible that behind what businesses are discussing as the ‘future of leadership’ and behind the ‘crisis of leadership’ we find answers in biblical principles? If so, shouldn’t this encourage us as Christians that the church and the Bible are not out dated or irrelevant but still provides answers today? In fact, people might even be surprised at how up-to-date the church is!

[1] Professor Rob Goffee is co-author of the book, ‘Why should anyone be led by you’. This quote is from the Radio 4 programme: The Future of Leadership


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