Sometimes you hear bells ringing all the while through reading a book. There was so many chimes in Finding Your Leadership Style by Keith Lamdin – so many “just so” moments”, so many reminders of other reading – and I so agreed with the direction of Keith Lamdin’s travel.
Two women staffing a train tea trolley lead Lamdin’s book. While passengers on a delayed train were getting upset about missing their connections these “trolley assistants read the emotional climate of the passengers on the train and knew that they needed to stay calm”. They led in that moment offering “something different from those more familiar teachings about leadership, vision and motivation”. Their example demands a second look at “leadership” and suggests that leadership is for all types, leadership is not something special and that all of us have natural ability to lead others – though some make better leaders than others. Lamdin writes:
“leadership, like love, is a natural human capacity and that what makes Christian leaders distinctive is their seeking to live as disciples of Jesus. Discipleship informs our discontent, colours and shapes our vision and strategic purpose, and fuels our courage.”
That discontent, vision and courage is what calls people into leadership.
Lamdin describes six leadership styles: monarch, warrior, servant, elder, contemplative and prophet. They fall into one of two categories: the politics of salvation or the politics of revelation (h/t Gordon Lawrence for that).
Monarchy exists where one person is in charge. If the buck stops anywhere it stops with the monarch. Lamdin suggests that monarchy and hierarchy can’t be justified from Jesus’ teaching. He says that there is nothing hierarchical about a priest’s walk alongside others in the territory of the holy (Countryman’s language) but “the moment that a priest is appointed and installed as a rector, vicar or priest in charge, he or she is bound into the hierarchy”.
A lot of leadership thinking has taken place within earshot of battle and this has given rise to the warrior category. So, for example, early British writing on leadership was shaped by experience of leadership in World War 2. “They” (for example, Bion and Adair) “developed ideas about officer selection, and the language of strategic objectives, missions, leadership development and battle plans seemed to transfer easily enough into the post-war world of reconstruction.” I remember a time when the Diocese of Chester was led by a Major and a Wing-Commander – not only officers, but also gentlemen – and there was a special room at diocesan HQ marked “hierarchy” with a capital H! This tone of leadership is reinforced by the “heroic warrior paradigm” that is the basis of much of Christian formation (for example, Joshua, Gideon, David, and even Jesus).
The monarch and the warrior belong to the “politics of salvation”. Lawrence understands “politics” as “the sense of influence of one person or party over another”. The politics of salvation is demonstrated through the “isms” – communism, fascism, capitalism and democracy. “The preoccupation of the politics of salvation is with change – that is, others holding power impose it from the outside on individuals and systems”.
The monarchs and warriors within our systems are easily identified and they have their place. In certain contexts they are the right styles of leadership. So, Lamdin comments, “the monarch provides safety and stability and organisational effectiveness” and “many great changes in social welfare and charitable work are fuelled by this sense of energy, vision and sacrifice. Where the enemy can be constructed and named, whether it is slavery, child poverty, capitalism or socialism, Christianity or Islam, then the energies of the warrior leader are released”.
I would suggest that there is a problem in any organisation that organises itself around these two models of leadership because they are only particularly suitable for certain contexts (where there needs to be a rule and where there’s a battle). Lives which become just that are dysfunctional and organisations that become just that are abusive and xenophobic.
These are also male models of leadership. In a paternalistic and patronizing culture the likelihood is that the monarch is going to be male (and does monarchy thrive in cultures that aren’t paternal and patronizing?). Sport is prominent in our culture. So much of the talk within sport is fighting talk (defence/attack, fighting relegation etc etc) that it isn’t surprising that we have so many “warriors”.
Was Jesus not spending time with those who’d had more than enough of monarchs and warriors? He spends his time with those the monarchy cast out and he challenged the very essence of enmity by teaching his disciples to love their enemies. Was he not saying that we’ve had enough? Does he not expose the limitations (and suffering) of the monarchs and warriors, indicating other ways that deepen and transform community? Lamdin writes: “Jesus finds himself in a religious culture which should be liberating but which is stifled by regulation and political compromise. He sets himself against the establishment and seeks to overturn it with his capacity bot to heal people and to teach them about his understanding of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”.
The politics of revelation is the landscape from which the trolley assistants emerge. Their leadership takes people (eg Lamdin) by surprise. Their leadership is a revelation. For Lawrence, “the politics of revelation is preoccupied with the conditions and resources for the exercise of transformation that come from inside the person or system, and are brought about through the people revealing what may be the truth of their situation to themselves and taking authority to act on their interpretation”.
The move from one politics to the other is, according to Lawrence, a paradigm shift. It is a shift which allows us to notice a wider range of leadership, to allow the emotionally intelligent trolley ladies to lead us and to recast our organisation for more than battle and an imposed rule.
Lamdin recognises the servant, the elder, the contemplative and the prophet. Of servant-leaders, Steven Covey writes:
“It has generally been my experience that the very top people of truly great organisations are servant-leaders. They are the most humble, the most reverent, the most open, the most teachable, the most respectful, the most caring and the most determined.”
They lead by relationships, not by coercion or domination, guiding people, not driving them.
The elder is the source of wisdom in many communities (though in western society the elder is often redundant). The elder is the consultant belonging to the wisdom tradition represented so well by Jesus through his parables. Here there is no interpretation imposed from outside. Lamdin writes beautifully about this:
“Every time you are faced with something that puzzles you and you discuss it with friends and in the end come to your own decision, you are exercising your freedom and your responsibility. You are more fully inhabiting the world that God has given us in which to work out what it means to be made in God’s image. Every time you do what you are told without thinking, you opt out of the calling that the early stories of Genesis seem to indicate God has imagined for us all.”
The contemplative secures the place of the important and the priority for “prayer, meditation and contemplation” in a world that is at it 24/7.
Lamdin’s comments on the prophet are inspired by Arbuckle’s work on leadership, which Lamdin refers to as the “only book on leadership which is about dissent”. Gerry Arbuckle suggests that the “healthy future of any organisation is to be found not only in the leadership of the hierarchy but also in the leadership that emerges in dissatisfaction and dissents, and in the conflicts between them” It is the prophet who raises the voice of the poor and needy, “a voice that cries for justice, an end to evil abuse of power and the redistribution of wealth”.
Where is there monarchy and where are the warriors in my organisation? Are they strictly necessary in these circumstances?
Should we build a whole leadership industry around them?
Do the politics of salvation shape our pedagogy and church? What would they look like if they didn’t?
And where are the servants, elders, contemplatives and prophets through whom our souls really rejoice?