Monday, 11 May 2009

hit the ground kneeling (5)

I spent a very enjoyable time a couple of Saturday mornings ago with some other twits on Twitter. We ended up in a conversation comprised of quotes from The Italian Job. There was one particular quote which stuck in my mind:
Charlie Croker (Michael Caine): It's a very difficult job and the only way to get through it is we all work together as a team. And that means you do everything I say.

The quote seems to sum up many people's approach to leadership and team working, not least in the church. The ideal leader is often presented as a charismatic, dynamic person who others are willing to follow or at least expected to follow. For a long time ordination training bought in to this understanding of leadership; the clergy person as the omnicompetent leader doing everything. Team working and collaboration were given lip service but often meant little more than the vicar having a few helpers who did what s/he said. My heart sinks every time I hear someone exploring a vocation to ministry utter the words ‘well the vicar needs a bit of help’. I hear it far too often and it is sadly sometimes perpetuated by clergy.

This style of leadership reflects an unhealthy symbiotic relationship between clergy and congregations. The vicar is affirmed in their sense of worth, purpose and need to be in charge and the congregation can sit back and let him or her get on with it and if it all goes wrong they have someone to blame. For those interested W. R. Bion has some very interesting inights into this type of behaviour in his work on Experiences in Groups.

Stephen Cottrell calls for a different approach to leadership. In Spoiling The Broth the fifth chapter in his book Hit The Ground Kneeling, +Stephen’s vision of Christian leadership ‘is one that is always drawing more people in, helping them discover their gifts, and constantly expanding and sharing leadership.’

However, this approach to leadership is not an easy option. It involves being prepared to take risks:
If we have decided that the only worthwhile goal of our enterprise is success, then it follows that the biggest enemy is failure. But if our goal is to enable each member of the organisation or community to discover their part within the whole – that is, if we hope to be successful and fruitful, but don’t turn it into an idol to which everything else must submit – then it is OK to fail; it is OK to make mistakes; it is OK to take risks.’

Leadership committed to working with others also recognises that everyone has gifts and a part to play. It celebrates the contribution that others make to the whole instead of seeing them as a threat. ‘The cherishing of the gifts of others – even if they outshine us in their own areas – is a vital gift of leadership.’

To return to the film with which I began this post; The Italian Job ends (spoiler alert) with Charlie and his gang in a coach balanced precariously over the edge of a cliff. The gold bullion they have stolen is at one end of the coach and they are all at the other end. No one can move because it will disturb the balance of the coach. How are they going to get out of this dilemma without loosing the gold or their lives? Well it might be that one of the gang has a brilliant idea but the question is this: will s/he have the confidence to share their idea and even if they did would Charlie listen or is he the only one allowed to say ‘Hang on lads; I’ve got a great idea’.

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