Tag Archive: Leadership


AMDG

In an age of weak leadership, perhaps it shouldn’t be seen as a surprise that the UK seems a little bit obsessed with Winston Churchill at the moment.  Whether it be the scary future of Brexit or just the nostalgic wallowing in a glorious past, or a bit of both – this monumental and heroic character’s history is being rewritten and reinterpreted again and again.  At the weekend I enjoyed seeing the latest effort – ‘The Darkest Hour‘ – the Oscar-nominated work of Joe Wright (Atonement). I don’t think I watched a film that has so little action and is so dialogue-driven, yet also so absorbing.  Obviously, the stakes are high, its 1940 and Britain is alone in standing up to Hitler.  Churchill has just been elected leader and it is his toughest year – everything looks lost, a German invasion imminent and monumental pressure is put on him to enter some negotiations with Herr Hitler.  The film is cleverly ambiguous, Halifax & Chamberlain are given a fair showing in the film and peace talks seem very reasonable. To qualify as a ‘just-war’ it needs to be a war of last-resort and Thomists and just-war theorists may quibble about who was right, but I think the wonderful line of Churchill, ‘ You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth‘ wins the day.

For me its a great study in leadership – Churchill standing at the dispatch box, with his Tory peers sitting in silence behind him, seething in passive aggression.  In their eyes his failure in the Dardanelles in the First World War and his flip-flopping to the Liberals is unforgivable. When leaders are ‘stress tested’ like this, its make or break time.  Its at times like this when a leader finds out who has ‘got their back’.  The two outstanding supports for Churchill, as portrayed by the film, are his wife Clement and King George VI.  A turning point is when the King, suspicious of Churchill at first, eventually says to him that he has his unequivocal support as he was the only man who when elected as leader struck fear in the heart of Hitler.

There is something lonely about authentic leadership – having to make key decisions that have big impacts/effects on people and living with the consequences.  There is a powerful image of the leader who is edging out onto the ice with everyone cheering them on from the sidelines. This support is flattering but of no use when you fall through the ice and there’s no one there to pull you out!  Ronald Heifetz in his very interesting book on ‘Adaptive Leadership’ has a lot of wisdom to share  –

 

Don’t do it alone – Sounds easy and obvious, but we have seen over and over again how people who are trying to do the right thing end out on a limb all alone. It is not only lonely out there; it is dangerous.  Those who see your good works as a threat will find you a much easier target if you are out there by yourself …. your opponents will do whatever it takes to make you vulnerable…. a much more subtle danger comes from your friends, you enjoy the plaudits that comes from being on the front line… but they say to themselves, ‘if the ice is strong enough we will follow him’, they clap harder as you inch your way across the frozen lake so you think they are right behind you, but when you look back you see them still onshore, wiating to see what happens… to keep you motivated they say things like ‘you are indespensible‘ …. which makes you feel good all over… Want to hear it again? Just inch out further onto the ice…. to avoid making this mistake, when someone tells you how wonderful you are, listen for that little voice inside yourself that says ‘I know I am terrific, but I’m not that terrific’

AMDG

Definition of afterglow

1a glow remaining where a light has disappeared
2a pleasant effect or feeling that lingers after something is done, experienced, or achieved
      ” basking in the afterglow of success”

We all have experienced ‘the afterglow’ of a sunset when the sun has dipped below the horizon and the sky lights up in vivid colours.  Equally after a great experience, a wedding or a party we might bask in the afterglow of friendship and love.  If you are football fan like me, you might experience the afterglow of your team’s success, winning a trophy or an exciting game (like beating Man City 3-2, or Tottenham’s 2-0 victory over Utd).  St Ignatius also had a helpful insight about the afterglow of a religious experience.  Occasionally, or perhaps more frequently in life we might have a direct experience of God, which Ignatius calls ‘Consolation without Cause’.  There is also a type of ‘spiritual afterglow’ after this type of experience. Often we are so gripped by it that we start making plans for the future, getting married,  changing career direction,  or maybe start developing a project and imagining all the good it’s going to do….  Ignatius wisely warns us to be careful and to test these plans with someone wise who knows us, or if we are lucky enough –  a spiritual director.  He specifically mentions this in his rules for discernment of the second week. Here is David Flemings contemporary translation:

Eighth Rule.  When a consolation experience in our life comes directly from God there can be no deception in it.  Although a delight and a peace will be found in such an experience, a spiritual person should be very careful to distinguish the actual moment of this consolation-in-God from the following, the afterglow which may be exhilirating and joyful for some period of time. It is in this second period of time that we begin to reason out plans or to make resolutions that cannot be attributed as directly to God as the initial experience which is non-conceptual in nature. Because human reasoning and other influences are now coming into the total picture of this consolation period, a vey careful process of discerning the good and evil spirits should be undertaken, according to the previous guidelines, before any resolution or plan of action is adopted.

Decisions and projects that are formed in the afterglow can overstep the evidence of the experience of consolation. Over time they can lead to frustration, to losing motivation and momentum (often seen in Founders Syndrome).  It can also be spiritually undermining and leading us to doubting the original and genuine experience from God.  It can even more poisonous in that we begin to mistrust God in any future experiences. There are obvious parallels in political power often described as hubris e.g.  Tony Blair and Iraq, David Cameron and the Brexit referendum. Both successful leaders, effecting change until they reached too far.  If only they had an Ignatian Director accompanying them!

AMDG

Clayton M Christensen, in 1995, coined the phrase disruptive technology.  These are innovations often produced by an outsider which changes the market, or the way we do things. So for instance in academia, whose currency is the transmission of knowledge – Wikipedia is a disruptive technology, open source, peer-edited,  free access to knowledge, which led to the demise of many traditional encyclopedias that were being produced.  You can think of many other examples digital photography and the demise of Kodak, Uber challenging the taxi industry, Amazon and bookshops, Netflix and the film industry etc.  Christensen as a Mormon comes from a tradition that encourages the innovation of outsiders.

The Gospels of Jesus Christ are meant to be disruptive – this is an outsider the religious power system built around the Temple in Jerusalem.  Whoever is benefitting from the status-quo and the so-called reforming Pharisees.  There are many stories in the Gospels, that haven’t lost their ability to disrupt our complacency…. ideologies can rise and fall, Corbynism will come and go…. but the Gospels seem to have an incredible longevity, perpetually fresh. The poor man at the rich man’s gate (Luke 16) feels very contemporary especially if you have had to pick your way through one of the tented shanty towns that are growing up in some of our towns and cities to get to mass to hear it.    But if we are honest in modern urban life we are developing more sophisticated coping mechanisms to insulate us against feeling uncomfortable.

Pope Francis is a disruptive leader – he is not uncomfortable with the poor, and aware of the isolating danger of wealth he is constantly challenging us to have a deep attentiveness to the poor.  When he was Archbishop in Buenos Aires he would spend his ‘time off’ famously drinking matte with the people in the many slums in the capital city, whereas the wealthy denizens of  Buenos Aires northern suburbs felt snubbed when he showed no interest in attending the receptions, dinner parties, book launches that a bishop would be expected to frequent.  His disruptive leadership would explain why the fiercest critics and resistance is found within the church. As Austen Ivereigh pointed out in some of the ‘disruption’ a fine line has been crossed between disagreement and dissent .  It should be no surprise those who he rattles the most are comfortable with the status quo, on the other hand, Francis is always searching for the lost sheep.  In contrast to Pope Francis, Forbes argues persuasively that Donald Trump leadership is not as a dedicated disruptor but more likely a creator of chaos.