Thursday, 16 April 2009

hit the ground kneeling (4)

One of the most striking features of the banking crisis of the last year and more is the fact that so many organisations lost sight of their primary purpose. Building Societies demutualised, chased the high dividends of risky investments and made disastrous acquisitions. They forgot that they were established as mutual societies offering savings and loans to the local communities where they were located. Sadly those same local communities have borne a great deal of the pain of failure in massive redundancies. These companies were betrayed by the hubris of the leaders entrusted with their management who lost focus on what the businesses were all about.

Stating The Obvious is the fourth chapter in Stephen Cottrell’s book Hit the Ground Kneeling:
It is not necessarily the dazzling brilliant insight that marks out the best leaders, but the ability to do the very thing that so many people wearily tell us we mustn’t do: state the obvious.

It is the task of leadership to articulate vision and endlessly recall the community or organisation to its fundamental purpose and values.

A simple test for a Parochial Church Council is to ask it to draw up a mission statement. That sounds like the sort of management speak that Cottrell seeks to debunk, but if a church can’t have a mission statement then we really are in trouble. What is the vision for which the local church exists and how do the activities and practices of the church serve that vision? Does the way the worship space is laid out communicate what the church is about? Does the budget reflect the church’s priorities and values? Would an outsider encountering the church, both building and people, know what the purpose of the church is? The role of the Christian leader is to raise these questions and to work with the church in discovering or recovering its vision. And to work with others in identifying the appropriate ways forwards in order to realise that vision.

Values are also crucial for Cottrell and again the leader has a key role to play:
These values, which define and shape how we do our business, are principles that the community needs to discern together, so that they are truly a shared manifesto. The job of the leader is to articulate and embody both the vision and the values so that they are transparent in the life that person leads and are also the foundation of everything else that happens.

There is a great deal of cynicism about those serving as leaders in public life. People are rightly suspicious of those who purport to espouse certain values and ideals but who seem to be prepared to employ some pretty disreputable methods in order to achieve their goals. I happen to think that most of our leaders serving in public office and those seeking public office genuinely do so for the right reasons, but sometimes their actions contradict their lofty ideals; they don’t embody their values and therefore their statements are in danger of coming across as mere propaganda.

Lesslie Newbigin in his brilliant book The Gospel in a Pluralist Society warns of the problem the church faces in people being suspicious of anyone speaking public truth; people treating what is said as little more than propaganda. We must ensure that the values that we declare and live out really do accord with our vision. Newbigin calls this The Congregation as the Hermeneutic of the Gospel:
I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.


Tony Whatmough said...

on the otherhand the Dunfirlim Nuildimg Society was also a mutual

Philip Ritchie said...

Tony, thanks for the comment. I was using the demutualised building societies as an example but I think my general point stands for many building socs and other financial institutions as well including Dunfermline (who I think got in trouble over exposure to bad loans in the commercial property sector). Did the leaders of these organisations lose sight of their primary vision and purpose? I think the evidence suggest they did and we are now seeing the consequence of this.