Sunday 4 November 2007

Sustainable Servant Leadership

There's a lot of leadership literature out there, but religious houses have come far closer to the holy grail of long term sustainability whilst coping with change than any secular institution. The abbot is the hub of the Benedictine wheel, and leadership is about far more than just turning the handle of a machine. Abbots are responsible for setting the tone of the whole house, enacting its life in a way that puts discipleship first, and ordering everything so as simultaneously to support the weak and inspire the strong. Benedictine Leadership is about discipled passion as well as pastoral care. Its aim is to order everything so that the strong have something to inspire them, whilst the weak have nothing to fear — radically inspiring and, simultaneously, radically anti-abusive.
How do you find such leaders? You discern with ruthless clarity the person best gifted for the job, regardless of politics, achievements or even seniority in the community. Equal opportunities? Unanimous election is ideal, but the rule envisages times selection is better done by a subgroup (“no matter how small”) of the best selectors on behalf of the whole community, to prevent the most corrupt simply choosing someone to suit their own ends and purposes.

Finally the cardinal selection factors for the abbot are about character more than competence — As a matter of prime importance, Christian communities need protection from bullies and egotists, who give the game away by their anger, refusal to listen, and ruthlessness in pursuing their own petty causes. Goodness and wisdom come first. Benedict clearly teaches (RB 64: 16) the need to avoid those, however able, who are stirrers, obsessionals, pig headed zealots, suspicious of others’ motives or cynics — quite a list to ponder and struggle against within us as well as among us!

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