Looking Like a Leader

I once heard it said that if you want to look like a leader then make small decisions loudly. Consider a couple of examples. Firstly, you’re standing behind someone in a queue at a fast food outlet. It takes some time to get to the front of the line and inevitably the person before you waits until that moment to decide what it is they would like to order. Or consider driving behind someone into a car park with hundreds of empty spaces. Spoilt for choice the driver in front ends up unable to decide which of the many free spots is best for them, thus delaying everyone behind them. In both of these not so imaginary situations it can be frustrating to be forced to bear the consequences of their indecision. 

“Just make a decision!”

Alternatively, consider the person who, when out for lunch with her family, immediately knows exactly her order and even goes so far as to suggest what others at the table should have as well, all without even opening the menu. Whist overbearing, somewhat annoying and pretentious, at the same time we are left with an impression that this person knows how to make a decision. Since they know how to make a firm decision on a small thing—like what to have for lunch, or where to park their car—then they must be able to make a firm decision on big things. 

They must be a leader.

Or are they?

Donald Trump is a student of this School of Leadership and indeed one who is taking this theory to a whole new level. When asked a question about anything Trump always has a decision and he always makes it loudly. Very loudly! He can come out and say that Muslims should be registered on a database, wear some sort of identification, and that thousands of Muslims were cheering loudly just across the river from the World Trade Centres whilst they were collapsing. Given that he makes these statements so confidently and so loudly, his word becomes treated as fact by his followers. No matter how much evidence flies in the face of such statements, how illogical it would be for this to actually happen, or how scarily similar his suggested databases and IDs are to pre-World War II Nazi Germany, as long as he states it loudly and confidently it is believed to be the necessary decisiveness of a leader by his (mostly white, middle class) supporters. 

“Making small decisions loudly” is relatively harmless when it comes to choosing between the salmon or the steak, and the implications on other people are next to nothing. Applying this theory to issues of national and international interest are downright dangerous, though. It scares me to think that this man could have the final call on whether or not to launch the world’s largest collection of nuclear weapons. The reality is there is much more to leadership than decisiveness. We desperately need leaders with far more substance than this. 

Consider the scenario recorded in John 8. Jesus appears in the Temple precinct and sits down to teach; the normal posture for teaching at the time. A woman caught in adultery is brought before him (not the man, of course). The dignity of due process is too much for this woman. Here is an opportunity to “kill two birds with one stone” (a really bad choice of metaphors, I know). The religious leaders try to trap Jesus into saying or doing something incriminating and so use this woman as a means to that end. 

The woman is made to stand.

Jesus sits, but then he bends down and writes in the sand. 

This is a really unusual posture, and indeed it is a disarming one. The religious leaders, armed with their clever questions, and larger numbers, would have come prepared to arrest Jesus. This means being physically on edge and prepared to take down a violent dissident if needs be. 

Yet Jesus stoops down and writes. What he writes is unimportant, for this is a nonviolent, nonaggressive act of refusal and disengagement.

The barrage of questions continues. He “straightens up.” He is not standing, but sitting upright on the ground. They are still looking down to him. He is still in a position of weakness. He says to all present: 
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
He stoops down once again.

In both the words that he says, and the posture from which he says it, Jesus puts both himself, and the woman, at risk of great physical harm. He doesn’t stand and “shirtfront” the men, defending the woman like a Marvel Superhero might; he knows her actions are indefensible (as are the man’s involved as well, we should note). Nor does he simply throw her to the lions; an act which would have earned him favour with the religious elite and brought him into the popular fold. Rather, he leads from below. He takes on the nonviolent posture of a servant, and he risks his life in doing so. 

Yet the act of servility on behalf of the woman confronts the would be attackers, not from in front of them, but from within them. They are forced to turn away from her sinfulness and look closely at their own. Starting with the oldest first, they all walk away until none is left but Jesus and the woman. She is standing. He remains on the ground. 

He “straightens up” once again, though still remaining on the ground. 

“Where are they? Has no one condemned you?…. Go and leave your life of sin”

When it comes to leadership I’m reminded here of the famous quote from Rosalynn Carter
“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”
It is clear that Jesus was, indeed, the leader present in this very confronting situation. At his direction everyone followed. He led them to a place that the religious leaders did NOT want to go. This was not the “popular vote.” Yet it was the right decision. The compassionate decision. The grace-filled decision of a great leader.

If you want to look like a leader, make small decisions loudly. 

If you want to be a leader, then lead like Christ:
“Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6-11)

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