from Signs of the Times No. 73 - April 2019
Despite its title, this short book has little to offer from fashionable mindfulness techniques - instead, it seeks to draw out a range of themes from the heart of the Christian gospel in terms of their relevance for leaders, managers and those who work in teams. In recent decades, the Church has placed huge emphasis on developing practical skills of leadership, especially in relation to its senior personnel, but also in the formation of its future clergy, which has become a significantly more managerial and less theological process. But this book has a wider focus beyond leadership roles within the church - indeed, 'the church' is hardly mentioned.
The author is a widely published executive mentor/leadership coach who worked for many years at a high Government level in the Civil Service. His emphasis is on ways in which the development of personal Christian character and values can both affect and guide the direction of our individual working lives in all public, private and voluntary business organizations. The aim is to bring out the best of individual people in the workplace (though I missed examples from the shop-floor or the Trade Unions).
The book has a simple structure, taking ten biblical themes and ten individual characteristics or virtues, and relating them to the personal needs of those in leadership roles or with leadership responsibilities. These points are developed under three related perspectives - emotional, rational and practical. Each brief section follows the same format, mixing wide-ranging but random Biblical quotations and references with generalized advice, positive examples, discussion of problematic issues and further points for reflection, and concluding with a brief consideration of an actual issue involving some personally named individual. Some observations are more challenging than others - personal vulnerability, for example, draws out a telling quote from Henri Nouwen p.30).
I looked in vain for some notion of what ‘leadership' is, as there is no discussion or theological critique of the workplace organization or system itself. Terms such as ‘leader’ and ‘manager’ (and even ‘boss’) were at times used interchangeably. If leaders are simply those who rise to the top of a system, how can leaders do so from below? Succession planning? Ambition? Talent? And how does change management work? I sensed that an entrepreneurial preoccupation with order, control and authority was here taken for granted at the expense of more daring themes also at the heart of the Christian gospel - prophecy, improvisation, mutuality. Or 'kingdom of heaven', perhaps best translated as 'the way God does things'.
Trevor Pitt is the retired Principal of NEOC (1991-2010), Canon Emeritus of Newcastle, Anglican Priest & Methodist Presbyter for Hamsterley LEP, Co. Durham.