Leadership is for Everyone

25 May

Over the last couple of weeks the media focus on certain high profile sportsmen and their behaviour may have proved Groucho Marx right when he said,  ‘Only one man in a thousand is a leader of men — the other 999 follow women’.  The truth in his humour may give us pause to think about how we treat others, for our treatment of others defines whether we are in fact leaders or followers, whether we make a difference, whether we are the difference we want to make, or whether we cause collateral damage because we choose the wrong leaders.  If, as sociologists say, each of us influence somewhere around 10,000 people over our lives then the choice between leadership and tagging along for the ride becomes one we need to give serious thought to. In today’s reading from Acts (Acts 1:15-17,21-26) we have an example of leadership being exercised right at the beginning of the Christian community.  It is only a few short weeks since Jesus was crucified and left the disciples and his followers alone.  Judas, one of the twelve chosen to represent the twelve tribes of Israel has committed suicide and something needs to be done to put the order in balance.  He needed to be replaced to maintain the groups integrity. Up steps Peter, Peter, considering his impetuous displays and his failure in the heat of the cold Good Friday morning seems the most unlikely to be the one anyone would follow.  But leadership is not a right but a gift and they all knew that it was Peter whom Jesus had gifted with the role of leadership.  They had all heard Jesus in conversation with Peter and knew what his role would be.  They accepted it, although as time went on that didn’t mean Peter the leader wasn’t challenged by others including Paul about some of his management decisions.  Leadership is about taking people with you to places they perhaps would not have gone, management is the skill to support that journey.  Peter had the first because of his charisma and passion and because he was gifted the leadership by Jesus. The other he should have left to those with the gift. Peter was surprising as a leader, showing attributes that on a first read of his character appeared not to be there.  As a fisherman he would have no doubt run a tight ship aware that if it’s not done right we don’t eat.  In that scenario he was the boss, the one making the decisions.  But here, at the very beginning of the Christian church Peter exhibits the benefit of at least three years in the best leadership school available, the presence of Jesus. And here we see one of the key truths about leadership and that is people only learn what you have taught them in your absence – in your absence people learn, remember, act on what they learnt while you were with them.  While Jesus was there he was the leader and Peter and the others weren’t aware of what they had learnt because they had no need to practice it.  Now, now was different.  They were alone, fearful of both the present and the future, unsure of how the authorities and the synagogue was going to deal with them and needing to act decisively and quickly to regain control of those who were looking at them for direction and hope. Walter Lippman puts it this way: The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on. This is a lesson society needs to revisit in terms of leading children into adulthood.  Parents are pivotal leaders whose presence teaches their children how to be in the world. The modeling of right thinking and subsequently right behaviour is more powerful than any education program, which can be instituted by any government, educational system or body. You may have seen the story about the boy in an American college school who was refused his graduation certificate because he went to another schools formal where dancing would occur.  Apparently some years earlier, I presume on enrolment at this college, he signed a contract which explicitly banned such activity.  Now in the last year of school he wanted to go and have fun with a girl at a dance.  The school outlined the implications, but he went and then he and his family complained.  While the rule may have been verging on the ridiculous is not the issue.  He had made a commitment which he followed while it suited him.  When it didn’t he complained.  My concern was the response of the parents – they failed to lead.  Why didn’t they remind the young man that a commitment is just that and until that commitment no longer applies i.e. when he leaves school, then he needs to be a man of his word and abide by what he agreed to.  They didn’t and he will be the loser because of it. One of the best ads on tv makes this point in terms of alcohol and binge drinking. It’s the one where subsequent generations of men at a barbecue ask the pre-teen son to get another beer from the fridge.  The boy becomes the man and perpetuates the problem.  As parents and community leaders our behaviour is our leadership – we aren’t meant to be perfect, for like Peter we stuff up but we, like him, need to keep stepping up aware of our failures but remaining always the leader. Peter and the ten disciples stand up and speak, not as those taking leadership but as ones seeking leadership.  Note that the issue at hand, the replacement of Judas, is discussed in and by the community. US Senator and one time Presidential aspirant, ELIZABETH DOLE, comments that What you always do before you make a decision is consult. The best public policy is made when you are listening to people who are going to be impacted. Then, once policy is determined, you call on them to help you sell it. (oh if only!!!!)   That is just what Peter does – he draws around him the community and lays out the problem.  He does not impose a solution but seeks direction.  Modern day leaders always seem more intent on imposing decisions or consulting only to justify their decisions as the appropriate one. Leadership is not imposing, it is seeking direction by the community you represent. It was discussed and two nominees agreed upon.  We are not privy to how that occurred but I am sure it was full and frank and had its political overtones, but no-one was imposed, and to ensure that was the case they made the decision by a lottery, drawing of the name out of the hat, by lot.  This practice was an accepted method for accepting God’s will.  Note, I said accepting, not choosing God’s will. Today Christians spend much time discerning God’s will, and often it is an individual decision much like that of the politicians decision making process, if it suits me then it must be God’s will, if it suits me it must be good for the country.  This ploy of attaching God’s will, the will of the creator, sustainer and redeemer of the world with our personal need to be fulfilled and valued is at the very least misdirected and at the worst simply wrong.  Hebraic theology, as found throughout the Psalms has little to say about personal wellbeing for its sake alone, it is only ever achieved through complete and unflinching faith in God, particularly when God seems to be absent, silent and simply not available as in times of national danger, sickness, injustice, poverty and the normal travails of life and often over a very long period of one’s life.  Jesus never deviated from this and we find him on the cross, quoting Psalm 22 but still remaining faithful when his personal wellbeing was being ravaged by injustice. 70 times in the Old and New Testaments casting lots is referred to, albeit this is the last time it is mentioned in the New Testament, but the practice did not necessarily cease.  It was used because there could be no manipulation by the people involved, it was deemed that God, who is sovereign overall watches over and supervises the process so that whatever the outcome is it is his outcome, there can be no dissatisfaction because there was no-one–else involved but God himself. And there was no grumbling recorded at the outcome.  Peter had demonstrated leadership well learnt and well implemented, he had accepted the role Jesus had groomed him for and remembered much more than he thought he had learnt.  The community also stepped up and participated in discerning God’s will and Matthais became a member of the leadership group. But he already was – leadership isn’t individual, it is communal – the community leads and endorses those who lead and he was apart of that community.  The danger in our age is that we do in fact get the leaders, and the society we deserve, because we fail to see and fulfill our leadership role. Peter and that first Christian community reminds us that if we want a different world we must lead in the one we see around us today. As Gandhi said, ‘Be (or lead) the change you want see in the world’. It is up to you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.