Leadership lessons

Photo by LHG Creative

For Dave Soleil, in this blogpost, leadership is a community action rather than a person. Soleil, like so many others, is critical of the traditional model of leadership which consists of a single heroic person that large groups of people follow.  Soleil describes this as the “find a parade and walk in front of it” model of leadership.

If leadership is identified with a particular person we are often left in a position of waiting on that leader (who we can also conveniently scapegoat). Soleil suggests that “if we see the visionary … as one of many pieces of a community-based leadership movement, we empower everyone in the community to contribute their gifts as a critical piece of the collective effort we call leadership.” Those gifts will include vision, co-ordination (of the collective effort), encouragement etc etc.

Leadership models forged in the heat of battle and industrial process have looked for control, but Meg Wheatley asks:

What if we stopped looking for control, and began, in earnest, to look for order? Order we will find in places we never thought to look before – all around us in nature’s living, dynamic systems. In fact, once we begin to look into nature with new eyes, the teachers are everywhere. (Leadership and the New Science, 1999, p25).

The flight of geese is one of nature’s stock supply teachers when it comes to leadership programmes. I have never heard the translation of Goosehonk, but my guess is that the question they are asking is not “who is the leader?” but “who is leading next?”.  Leadership is not something they leave to the next bird. There isn’t a goose who ducks the responsibility it shares with its whole community. Leadership is a community inter-action.

Football supporters

Tributes to Gary Speed

The tragic death of Gary Speed, has, according to Peter Kay, Chief Executive of the Sporting Chance Clinic, prompted other footballers to become conscious of help they need to cope with the issues of footballers’ lives. Kay saysFootballers suffer illness in exactly the same way as the rest of society. They can become more detached from the outside world because of the money they earn. They are as vulnerable as the next man. In the light of Gary Speed’s terribly sad death I hope players who recognise they have a problem will put their hands up to ask for help”.

The issues of footballers’ lives was explored on White Lines with reference to an article on Nigel Reo-Coker’s working week featured in Guardian Money. White Lines summarised the working week:

Monday: A “warm-down training session. You’d probably be out there on the pitch for and hour, an hour and a half.” This runs between 10.30 a.m. and 12 p.m., and is followed by lunch (“prepared by chefs”). After lunch, “the rest of the day is yours”. By 1 p.m., he’s gone.Tuesday: As for Monday.Wednesday: Day off.Thursday: As for Monday and Tuesday.Friday: A light training session, “an hour maximum”.

Entrance to castle at Castle Eden
The drive to Castle Eden

So much time. So much money. So much possible isolation. When Roy Keane was looking for a house for his family in the north-east while he was manager of Sunderland, the Sunday Sun ran an article suggesting that Castle Eden would be worth looking at. One look at the drive shows that there’s not much in the way of neighbours. The house looks the perfect fit for the Downton set, but Downton is anachronistic. The castle of former times would be home for a whole community. Now the castle has been nuked with the nuclear family being king of the castle in isolation from any supporting cast.

The idea that wealth is the cause of isolation is explored by Charles Dickens in Great Expectations and by Fitzgerald in the Great Gatsby. The gated communities of East Cheshire, home to many famous footballers, may be the envy of many, but they are gated communities (if they can be called “communities” defended against others, whether neighbour or prying reporter.

Castle Eden
Castle Eden

We isolate our footballing celebrities on such dangerously high perches. Football supporters cheer them on for their performance. But that support is only for the team. The team members are only cheered for their part in the team’s win. Then adrenalin buzz of turning it on for 40000 people must give such a high, but also be so scary with the knowledge that the winning streak has to end and the recognition of the risk of a slide down the divisions into oblivion.

What are we doing as football supporters? I would suggest that every sad footballing story (and there are so many) should encourage us to become footballer supporters recognising the complications of wealth, time and isolation. Many footballers and celebrities are able to take care of themselves, their time and their wealth. Many have set up charitable foundations, and many prepare themselves for careers beyond their playing days. But others are not so lucky.

Lessons on leadership from nature

“There is a simpler, finer way to organize human endeavor. I have declared this for many years and seen it to be true in many places. This simpler way is demonstrated to us in daily life, not the life we see on the news with its unending stories of human grief and horror, but what we feel when we experience a sense of life’s deep harmony, beauty, and power, of how we feel when we see people helping each other, when we feel creative, when we know we’re making a difference, when life feels purposeful.”
“Over many years of work all over the world, I’ve learned that if we organize in the same way that the rest of life does, we develop the skills we need: we become resilient, adaptive, aware, and creative. We enjoy working together. And life’s processes work everywhere, no matter the culture, group, or person, because these are basic dynamics shared by all living beings.”
“Western cultural views of how best to organize and lead (now the methods most used in the world) are contrary to what life teaches. Leaders use control and imposition rather than participative, self-organizing processes. They react to uncertainty and chaos by tightening already feeble controls, rather than engaging people’s best capacities to learn and adapt. In doing so, they only create more chaos. Leaders incite primitive emotions of fear, scarcity, and self-interest to get people to do their work, rather than the more noble human traits of cooperation, caring, and generosity. This has led to this difficult time, when nothing seems to work as we want it to, when too many of us feel frustrated, disengaged, and anxious.”
“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”
“To resolve most dysfunctional situations, the first thing to do is flood them with information.”

Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?

Having helped my son and his girlfriend into another new flat this weekend I have yet another new entry in my address book for him. It’s nothing new – this is my third son, and each of them has managed to collect what seems to be dozens of postcodes. Back in 1971 Carole King (it’s the 40th anniversary of the album “Tapestry) asked the question “doesn’t anybody stay in one place any more?”- just at the point when I was beginning my own wanderings through university and my first three postcodes in Sheffield.

The expectation is that we will keep moving and that if we can’t find work we will “get on our bikes” – or in the case of Ellesmere Port where I now live, “get on the canals” (there is an estate named after Wolverhampton that serves as a reminder of the migration from the West Midlands at the beginning of the 20th century). As we’ve gone on the pace of movement has increased – I find it strange, but laudable, to think of doctors and dentists serving the same community throughout their careers (often from the same room and chair).

Gerald Schlabach reflects on the Benedictine vow of stability – and recalls the wisdom of Scott Sanders in Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994). Sanders thinks that modern culture is wrong in implying that “the worst fate is to be trapped on a farm, in a village, in the sticks, in some dead-end job or unglamourous marriage or played-out game.” “People who root themselves in places are likelier to know and care for those places than are people who root themselves in ideas.”

When I visited a grieving family in a tiny farm labourer’s cottage and heard that the lady who had died had never slept any where else, and that she had never travelled further than the market 20 miles away I did think that “this person has never lived”. But maybe we spread ourselves too thin in a state that is not stable. She may not have gone far (how we love that phrase “you’ll go far”) but she may have lived deep.

Time for new stories

We have lost our local, communal stories and destroyed the places for their telling. Nor do we have a new compelling global story or communal places for its telling. The stories now endlessly drummed into us are not our stories. The are the stories those with escalating power and wealth tell to one another. Stories that incessantly pour into us through commercialisation of media and every other aspect of life. They are stories designed to arouse greed in the many to satisfy it in the few. They are stories that appeal to the worst, not the best in us. They are false stories. Deep inside, we no longer believe them. Neither do those who tell them, if the truth be known.

Dee Hock, 1999, Birth of the chaordic age, p.298f

Nothing but an idea

Any organisation … is nothing but an idea. All institutions are no more than a mental construct to which people are drawn in pursuit of common purpose; a conceptual embodiment of a very old, very powerful idea called community. All organisations can be no more than the moving force of the mind, heart and spirit of people, without which all assets are just so much inert mineral, chemical, or vegetable matter, by the law of entropy steadily decaying to a stable state.

Dee Hock, 1999. Birth of the chaordic age, p.119

Community and proximity

Community is not about profit. It is about benefit … When we attempt to monetize all value, we methodically disconnect people and destroy community.
The nonmonetary exchange of value is the most effective, constructive system ever devised. Evolution and nature have been perfecting it for thousands of millennia. It requires no currency, contracts, government, laws, courts, police, economists, lawyers, accountants. It does not require anointed or certified experts at all. It requires only ordinary, caring people.
True community requires proximity; continual, direct contact and interaction between the people, place, and things of which it is composed.

Dee Hock, 1999, Birth of the chaordic age, p.43

Surplus of meaning

a work of art in the Cheshire countryside

It has been good to be involved in the development of an Arts & Faith Network (for the Diocese of Chester), and to be “breathing space” at Stephen Broadbent’s studio yesterday with textile artists, stained glass artists, wordsmiths, dancers, painters, sculptors, actors, authors, poets, cooks, singers, preachers and “makers of pretty things”. Until yesterday the Network hadn’t been much more than an idea shared by a few people and it was difficult to put into words what it was about and what could happen. Now it has got legs, is on the road, and has its own story – “the day we met at Stephen and Lorraine’s, when our exploration of the interaction of arts and faith was facilitated by Simon Marsh with background percussion of water overflowing into a pond…..”

The (overflowing) River of Life
sculpture by Stephen Broadbent
at Warrington at the site of a terrorist bomb explosion
which killed two children.

There were so many good things, including a wonderful rendition of The Rose by Simon (spoken, not sung), and, we discovered a “surplus of meaning” as we joined our own creative endeavours to those of others. Surplus of meaning doesn’t mean that there is too much – rather, there is so much. The meaning of our insulation block sculptures co-mingled with the meaning given to them by others, with meaning pinned to meaning. Of course, Ricoeur was right. There is a surplus meaning as one meaning gives itself to another, transforming itself in the giving. Nothing we can do, or create can provide an adequate container for our meaning. Meaning is so abundant it has to overflow. It overflows into convivial and meaningful community, good times, great company.

There are, though, those in whom there is no sense of meaning – including some in this emerging network who described the meaninglessness of past experiences. Is this where art and faith come together, making sense when we are oppressively or depressively crushed?

Simon Marsh and Sarah Anderson have both posted on the Arts and Faith launch.

Ah Bisto! Conspiracy Theories of Pentecost and Community


People who breathe together, stay together. People who can smell one another create community. The person who holds his nose because he doesn’t like the air that he is breathing is excluding himself from that community.

Ivan Illich reminds us of an old German saying: ich kann Dich gut reichen, “I can smell you well”. It captures well an apect of openness we often miss. We have our eyes and ears open, but rarely do we talk about having our nose open. I can smell you well. For me that adds another sense to the story of the Good Samaritan. Did the victim in the ditch smell so badly that people could not tolerate his smell, and had to walk by on the other side, holding their nose against the stink. With nose open, the Good Samaritan had his arms free to manhandle the victim to safety and recovery.

There is a custom in Christian liturgy called the “kiss of peace“, or osculum pacis – only recovered relatively recently in the Church of England. These days the kiss of peace isn’t so much a kiss as a handshake – very British – but at least it’s touching. Apparently in some places, until the 3rd century, the kiss was “mouth to mouth”, and was a sharing and mingling of breath. John’s story of Pentecost reminds us that Jesus breathed on his disciples, saying “receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). They smelt each other well. They shared their breath in con-spiracy. The church formed conspiratorially to be a conspiracy. Illich writes:

“Peace as the commingling of soil and water sounds cute to my ears; but peace as the result of conspiratio exacts a demanding, today almost unimaginable, intimacy.”

Pax board, Early 16th century, in a frame from 19th century
16th century Pax Board from Budepest

The intimacy didn’t last as some regarded the practise as scandalous.  For example, Tertullian (in the third century) was rather worried about possible embarassment to “a decent matron”. The practice got well watered down. By the 13th century, the Catholic Church had substituted a pax board which the congregation kissed instead of kissing one another!

“Don’t imagine you can be friends with people you can’t smell.” That was the advice Illich was given. Friendships and communities develop amongst people who smell each other well, who can breathe in the air and the smell of their friends and neighbours, and who allow their own air and smell to be breathed by others. Friendships and communities are conspiracies – threatened in our de-odourised times of Lynx, Colgate and Ambi-pur where we struggle to smell anyone, or anything, well.

The playground cry “you stink, you stink” marks a cruel exclusion by those who won’t smell a person well – it is often accompanied with the gesture of the nose being held or up-turned. The person excluded has to find their friends who are prepared to smell. Above every friendship, every community, every conspiracy, there is a nose.

a thousand kisses deep


For lovers of Leonard Cohen, a “thousand kisses deep” is an amazing poem/song (song is here) measuring the relationship between lovers. What if it was used as a different sort of measure? Our knowledge of one another is superficially assessed within twenty seconds. Apparently – and worryingly – we are only right 70% of the time. 70% may sound first class but for the 30% misjudged, denied jobs, shut out that statistic can be disastrous.

Us clergy, ministers, community developers and planners come and go. Sensibly we audit our place before forming opinions – but the data is skewed by preconceptions and historic artefacts of superficial excavation. What if we went a thousand kisses deep?

Down into the passions, convictions, emotions of successive generation and regeneration we would go. On our cheeks the hot breath of passion and the tears of betrayal. Lips caressing disconsolate children, the embrace of neighbours in the face of disaster, the kiss for a bereaved friend for whom there are no words. Seamly and unseemly: love denied and love made – our findings from a thousand kisses deep. Mining, owning, knowing.

Ricky Yates helpfully reminds us of the great store we set by outward appearance, and our use of image consultants. We remember Hyacinth Bucket (Bouquet) in long-running TV comedy Keeping up Appearances. For her, attraction was but a surface veneer – with relationships barely a peck deep. But, as Ricky says, the Lord doesn’t look on the outside, but on the inside (Mark 7:15) – a thousand kisses deep, at least!