leadership FAIL?

Perhaps the most spectacular leadership FAIL in recent times came to light in the days preceding Kevin Rudd being ousted as PM.

With his 2020 Summit and Power-Sharing Is Tops vibe, Rudd talked a great game when it came to ‘servant leadership’ — which is the distinctive shape Jesus both commends and models for Christian leaders (see Mark 10.35-45).

Rudd was all about what they call ‘power-with’ as opposed to ‘power-over’: listening, empathy, developing shared goals and working together to achieve them. All the good stuff. And (apparently) naturally enough, he took a widely consultative, ‘suggestion box’ type approach to this. Or at least that’s where the rhetoric was.

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But in the days leading up to Gillard’s ascension, it was revealed that the reality may have been quite different. According to the headlines, Rudd was widely resented — and that at least some of that resentment was due to the gap many of his cabinet members felt between the rhetoric and their sense that the so-called Gang of Four called all the shots.

In my experience, that’s one of the big dangers with the ‘suggestion box’ approach. Decisions need to be made. Stuff needs to happen. And so we’re rarely allowed enough time to move from the consultative stance to genuinely collaborative action.

Does that mean that those of us who long to be servant leaders are we forever doomed to either ineffectiveness or hypocrisy?

This is the point at which I’m supposed to produce a rabbit out of my hat. But I wonder if maybe need to just dwell on the problem for a while. If Jesus is anything to go by then the approach he commends — and lays the foundation for — isn’t all that effective: he marches up to Jerusalem … to be executed as a criminal.

Maybe we just need to embrace this. To renounce the relentless pursuit of effectiveness — and ‘getting things done’. I think we need a new — and distinctively Christian — vision of leadership. One in which worldly failure may actually be the path to success.

This isn’t all I have to say, though. Because I do have a hunch that there may be better ways that the ‘suggestion box’ approach to promote genuine consultation and collaboration. But that’s for the next post…

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4 comments

  1. “Maybe we just need to embrace this. To renounce the relentless pursuit of effectiveness — and ‘getting things done’. I think we need a new — and distinctively Christian — vision of leadership. One in which worldly failure may actually be the path to success.”

    Is that kind of leadership is an effective way to run a country?

    Is there a difference in how servant-leadership looks like for e.g. a PM, a project manager, a church leader, a visionary?

    Is servant-leadership synonymous with collaboration?

    1. Great questions, Jack! You’re way ahead of me — especially on the last question.

      Although, I do still want to pause here. I know from my own experience that I tend to brush off the challenge that Jesus’ own approach to leadership — which was apparently spectacularly ineffective. But I suspect I do this because I’m in a frantic rush to look (and feel) like I’m doing something or making a difference. At the very least, those things are God’s to give not mine to take — by following some carefully crafted strategy or whatever.

  2. Well, I’m not ahead of you in thoughts… I didn’t say I had an answer to any of those questions! Lol.

    Although, I am nervous about describing Jesus’ leadership as ineffective, as that’s strictly from a worldly point of view. And that’s where most of my questions are springing from — the differences between spiritual and earthly/practical leadership (and their syntheses).

    So you make a great point there: “I’m in a frantic rush to look (and feel) like I’m doing something or making a difference. At the very least, those things are God’s to give not mine to take — by following some carefully crafted strategy”

    I reckon that’s where the answers must lie. Dependence on God must fit somehow into leadership, and must somehow radically change it…

    Anyway, looking forward to your next post 🙂

  3. Chris, I’m reading your leadership stuff backwards…

    I wonder whether that tension is solved by your ‘Jesus dimension’ and different function category.

    So, knowing your function clearly…will push you to make decisions and letting the J dimension to frame the check box aspect will enable you to collaborate with people so as to achieve the functional goals.

    In other words, only when you know your function as a leader is to be a leader to the people God has given in your care, to equip them for serving God, perhaps only then you will be able to collaborate and also make decisions.

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