leadership #1: dealing in hope

“A leader is a dealer in hope.” (Napoleon Bonaparte)

I’ve just kicked off an 8 week block as a student again, joining in a course on religious leadership with Trinity Theological College.  Each monday afternoon 16 of us will gather to reflect on leadership and the church.  I’m planning on a short weekly reflection to capture some of my thoughts as we amble through the topic.

“Why are we offering this course? Why are we in the church so interested in the topic of leadership at the moment?

Those were a couple of what seemed like simple questions posed by Aaron, our lecturer, to kick off some conversation.  A long while later and with no sign of the energy in the room abating as we batted various ideas about, he had to reign things in so we could move on.

It’s a good question. Why are we so interested in this topic?

I can’t help but wonder if it’s got to do with the state in which the church finds itself (the church in general, in Australia in particular).  I don’t think it’s going too far to say that the church is in a period of lostness, a period in which it is experiencing irrelevance in terms of its relationship with the wider world.

For an institution, and a community who have for generations been at the heart of their communities, held positions of significance and influence, and mostly had to just be there and keep ticking the boxes of regular worship and social opportunity…this current experience is somehow bewildering.

Over the last 40 years we’ve seen a constant stream of correctives in the life of the church, new ways to be who we are, to go about what we do – new ways to organise, to proclaim, to connect and engage – all at least partly driven by this sense of disconnect and irrelevance.

And so I wonder if leadership has become the newest ‘fix-it’ idea.

If everything is broken, we need somebody to tell us how to fix it.

If Napolean Bonaparte is right, and a leader is a dealer in hope, that’s what we’re desperately searching for in the church today.

Somebody to tell us it’s all going to be ok, to lay out a grand narrative that we’ll all immediately recognise and pursue together. We don’t so much want someone to tell us what to do and how to do it, as we want someone to restore hope.

The second interesting reflection from yesterday’s conversation was to think about the concept of leadership and its development over the years. We tracked briefly through a study charting changing understandings of leadership in line with broader cultural changes.

And so in times when industrialisation was the big focus for our society, our understanding of leadership was more akin to what we might today describe as management – good systems, focus on efficiency and production or task orientation.

Later came the move to decentralised power, to an emphasis on teams and flat structures, orientation for leadership was around establishing and achieving group goals.

And now? How is the information revolution changing our concepts of what makes leadership special? How is the messy move in our society from modernity to post-modernity, and in our churches from Christendom to post-Christendom changing how we define leadership?

I think we come right back to the very questions we asked at the start – why a focus on leadership? In 2013 I think we’re looking for leaders who deal in hope, to paint a grand vision (and preferably one that fits with our own preciously held world view) and inspire us to action.

And so alongside Bonaparte, I place my other favourite leadership quote:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”  Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Hope, courage, imagination….the new currency of leadership.

Either that or I’m totally wrong and what we really want is for someone to tell us everything will be ok….and help us feel safe.

And finally for today, just because, here’s a few of my previous ponderings on leadership and related topics. And a fun video not so much about leadership as it is about followership:


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