Parables of Leadership: Jack’s Litter

The word that summed up Jack’s day was ‘LITTER’.\n\nHe was sitting in bed in the dark. His wife was asleep beside him and he had only his own mind to explore. As he rummaged around in his day’s thoughts he noticed all the discarded wrappers that had packed his best ideas and that now lay like litter cluttering up his inner world.\n\nIt was just like his office, he thought. Or his car. Or his computer – especially his computer, where the litter had proliferated to such an extent that he could no longer keep track of all the folders and sub-folders and and favourites and websites and images and snippets of word and sound and clips and software.\n\nHe had so much litter that he realised he had lost all the good ideas that had been inside the wrappers.

Maths Textbooks and Thrillers

When I was at school maths textbooks were designed to allow the student mathematician to progress in a systematic and orderly way from one concept to another, and from one subject to another. The necessities of the subject demanded that if prose were needed it would be sparse and clear, sufficient and subservient to the requirements of logic and concept, and most importantly, formatted under Section Headings to guide the student forward.\n\nIn contrast to maths textbooks, American crime thrillers – my favourite genre – use no Section Headings (generally) and more prose, but they are equally effective at keeping the reader locked into a specific place in the story. As in maths, one thing follows another, but unlike maths, the signposts can be more subtle and yet there nonetheless.\n\nThe contrast between maths textbooks and American crime thrillers came to mind as I was skimming through some leadership books in the bookshop on Paddington Station. Leadership books often deal with process, in a narrative of sorts, and yet they fail reach the effectiveness of either a simple maths textbook or an elegant crime thriller.\n\nWhy are leadership textbooks so ineffective? Perhaps it’s because they fall between the two camps of logic and story that they manage to do neither efficiently. Which is, by the way, a parable of much leadership practice.\n\nPerhaps it’s because leadership is best caught from others not taught from books.


If you see a one-man-band consultant in business it’s a fair and reasonable questions to ask, where are his weaknesses.\n\nSome areas must be fuzzy. Administration perhaps? Finance? Communication?\n\nAnd what’s fuzzy in their consultancy will be fuzzy in your organisation.\n\nSo beware.\n\nHowever, when it comes to church leadership, we love one-man-band leaders.\n\nThey save us so much effort and responsibility and so …\n\nWe may say they are multi-talented.\n\nWe may say look at how they can do anything they are given to do.\n\nWe may say how well they face difficult situations.\n\nWe may even say that this is obviously the anointing of God.\n\nBut beware.\n\nNo-one can do it all. Some areas must be fuzzy.\n\nAnd what’s fuzzy in their character will be fuzzy in your church.\n\nWhere’s the fuzziness? Where’s YOUR fuzziness?\n\nAnd who knows?

Mentoring from the Best in the World

A recent discussion on where to get advice on a particular church ministry raised this question:\n\n“Should we go to the people recognised as ‘best in the world’ for advice?”\n\nThe general consensus was yes, why not, there’s nothing to loose. Go to the top. Polish the gift. (Stroke the ego?)\n\nHowever, by not letting those around us be involved in our ministry we are failing in our duty to create a context of accountability within which we minister and we fail to build into others the experience and ability to offer a balanced critique of ministry.\n\nPerhaps we should consider forsaking personal mentoring from the best in the world, and instead accept slower personal progress but look to grow the best possible mentoring network around us.\n\nWhich route would result in more lasting and effective influence in the parish?

Parables of Leadership: Successful Don

Don is a great businessman with a deep need for inner meaning and security.\n\nFor great businessman read millionaire. For meaning and security read wisdom and groundedness.\n\nDon walks across the corridor to my office a couple of times each week to talk, to reflect out loud. Which is fine by Jack, because Jack is a great listener and a good spiritual director.\n\nDon stays for about half an hour, sometimes longer. They talk, or rather, Don talks, energetically for most of the time. Jack offers his reflections. Don learns. Don is encouraged. Filled up. Refreshed.\n\nWhen Don leaves Jack turns back to his computer and is overwhelmed by his need for inner meaning and security. More correctly, he’s overwhelmed by his need for money. Cash. The need to survive presses in on Jack.\n\nJack’s broke. hack has no work. And no money.\n\nJack wonders again: where can he go to get help with that?

Graveyard Shift

The afternoon sessions at a conference are called the Graveyard Shift for good reason. The participants are comatose or worse, depending on whether it’s a weekend conference and this is the second day following a late night. The proliferation of zombie films are based almost entirely on actual scenes from corporate weekend conferences.\n\nThe afternoon speaker has two options.\n\nJazz It Up. Or. Call It Off.\n\nThere’s no middle ground. Even audience participation isn’t enough to overcome the lolling heads and dribbling delegates.\n\nSo when the after-lunch  speaker slowed the pace down to give the people more time to take in each bullet point on the enormous PowerPoint presentation what was most surprising was that he didn’t notice that he had lost his crowd in the head lolling, dribbling, comatose, zombies before him.\n\nOr worse, he did, but either didn’t have the skills to change the outcome, or the desire to, or was too lazy to bother.

Parables of Leadership: Performing Sally

Sally loved performing and felt she was most fully on task when standing in front of a group of trainees (who all seemed to be getting younger!).\n\nThese opportunities to perform were coming less often, which was such a shame in Sally’s view because she had all these teaching materials photocopied from the Leadership Training book she had written in the 80s.\n\nStill, “hope springs eternal” she thought as she switched on her computer for her weekly check of emails.

Parables of Leadership: Visionary Jane

Jane was all about ideas. The team around her marvelled at how many ideas she could have between one week’s meeting and the next. “I want what she’s having!” Jane was always out in front of the team – in vision, in effort, in energy, in inspiration (after all, a rolling stone gathers no moss). The team admired Jane. They only talked behind her back because she was so far ahead of them that she couldn’t hear them.

Parables of Leadership – Choreography

Samantha was agent for John … on commission … and John was ready to sell. Jim arrived early to buy but Samantha was late to the meeting … to control … Which left John on his own with Jim. Jim got a great deal. John wasn’t over the moon, but it was done. Samantha lost her commission. Decisions are made by those who turn up. On time.