Category Archives: Questions

Crying over spilled leadership?

Last Friday afternoon I found myself, like numbers of my fellow Australians, glued to my phone, waiting and watching for the results of the latest Liberal party leadership spill. Waiting to find out who our Prime Minister was.

The flurry of social media polls and memes. The speculation and rumours. Then the results, the announcements, the reactions, the counter reactions, and the counter-counter reactions.

Now it’s a week later and  … it feels like nothing much has changed.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful to live in a country where we can have a sudden and unexpected change of political leaders without shots fired or bombs detonated, without mass protests or prison sentences. I recognise that throughout history and across the world, that is a pretty privileged position to be in.

I’m also frustrated that many of the policy decisions that disturb and outrage me remain unexamined regardless of who is in charge.

But I can’t help feeling like the change of leadership itself should matter more. That the very fact of who leads us should somehow be more significant in its influence and impact upon us.

Sure, for the political die-hards the conversation has continued. And amongst that group there have been plenty of ongoing discussions about the roles of gender and faith in political leadership, not to mention the leaking of several disparaging stories about various contenders. But most other people I have talked to have already moved on. Nothing to see here. More of the same. Whatever.

Perhaps it just shows how disconnected our political leaders are from most people’s everyday lives. Or perhaps it demonstrates our own apathy and lack of engagement in the electoral process. Maybe it demonstrates the lack of diversity amongst those who rise to the top in our system such that they become barely distinguishable from one another to many.

But as someone interested in leadership and influence more broadly, I wonder whether it also has something to say about our understanding of leadership itself.

Is there something to learn here?

If we’re honest, most of us in leadership roles like to think that who we are and what we do really matters. That people would notice if we were gone. Perhaps even that things would fall apart without us. It is disheartening to feel that we might be but cogs in a machine that will continue to turn unabated regardless of whether it is us or someone else in the position of influence and power.

And perhaps if we too were offered the opportunity for greater significance and prestige in leadership we might be tempted to do whatever it takes to grasp hold of it.

But is that what leadership is really all about? Is leadership really about us at all?

Some of the commentary on the events of the past week has pointed to a deeper concern. The bipartisan chord struck by Senator Richard di Natale’s fiery speech suggests that maybe many are actually looking for a different kind of leadership. That in the midst of crises and trials, we are looking for leaders who put their service to the people they represent above their own interests and ambitions. For a kind of leadership that empties itself and seeks the good of the community first and foremost.

This kind of leadership appears to be much harder to come by. Not just because we don’t often see it in our political leaders, but because I know myself how much I struggle to embody it. And how often we can be tempted to disregard it.

But it is the kind of leadership that has been demonstrated to have a different kind of power: the power to truly transform lives and through those lives to change the world for good.

Jesus of Nazareth said to his followers, “You know that the rulers of the nations lord power over them and their high officials wield authority over them. It is not to be like this among you. Rather, the one who wants to become great among you is to be your servant and the one who wants to be first among you is to be your slave, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

And when His followers have taken those words to heart and followed His example to lead by serving, when the church has been at its best, lives, communities, and nations have been transformed. This is the model of leadership many are crying for.

So whether the political conversation simmers down for a while or boils over again soon, as I reflect and think out loud about my responses, my question today is this: How can I let the dissatisfaction I am feeling with our national leaders challenge me as to what kind of leader I am and want to be?

Can we be thinking about how leadership might be ‘spilled’ in a different kind of way, in the pouring out of ourselves for the benefit of others? Or in other words,

What does it look like for me to lead by serving?
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Would you like a selfie stick with that?

I can’t remember what it used to be.

I know that when I was in Europe a few years ago, there was something that everyone on the streets was hawking, the latest tourist must have, an item whose name became a cry that you would hear over and over as you walked past, as they tried to sell it to you.

I can’t remember what it used to be, but I know what it is now. Walking around heavy tourist traffic areas in cities like Rome, Lisbon, and Barcelona the last few weeks, there are two words that you hear on constant repeat, every few metres or so:

“Selfie Stick?” “Selfie Stick?”

It’s the street vendors’ current offering of choice, and therefore I assume the current tourist must-have. No matter where you are, for 5€, you can buy your very own phone holder on a stick so that you can more easily take photos of yourself in front of the various monuments and views to your heart’s content.

Walking inside busy sites like the Colosseum or St Peter’s Square, you only need to look in the air to see the results: hundreds of hands holding up hundreds of sticks with hundreds of phones attached.

The selfie sticks are everywhere. And I hate to be that person, but I have to say, I just don’t get it. Or maybe, I just don’t like it.

I think I’m allergic to selfies.*

Why do I think I’m allergic to selfies? There are a few reasons, to be sure. I don’t love many photos of myself at the best of times, so why would I want to take more of them? More to the point, I figure that I and my friends already know what I look like, so I want to get out of the way so that I can capture the amazing sites that I am privileged to be visiting and that I may not get to see again.

And being the kind of person I am, I also wonder what the seeming obsession with selfie sticks says about some bigger questions like why we take photos, and perhaps even why we travel.

If I take a photo of an ancient building, or a beautiful natural landscape, what is my intention? To capture the beauty of what I have seen? To preserve it? To remember it? To be able to show it to you so you can share in my wonder and admiration?

If I take a photo of the same monument or landscape with me in front of it, what is my intention? To have proof that I went there (and, perhaps, that you didn’t)?

When I share with you a photo I took of a beautiful city or an impressive work of art, I hope that I am inviting you to share my own sense of wonder and admiration, to see something of what I saw and to feel something of what I felt.

When I show you a photo of me in front of that same beauty, I don’t think I am communicating the same thing. Rather than “Look at this!” it appears to say “Look at me” or, “Look where I went!”

It seems to me that the focus has shifted from me inviting you to share an appreciation for what I saw, to me inviting you to appreciate me for having gone and seen it.

(There’s a reason selfie sticks have been dubbed “wands of Narcissus“.)

I’m also thinking that this can feed into a sense that travelling is about making sure you tick places off “the list” – that it’s about the fact of having been there and being able to say you went there, rather than about what you experience and learn while there.

Perhaps one reason this bothers me is because I do recognise that temptation within myself. Particularly when travelling somewhere like Europe where there are so many beautiful places and so many famous sites, it is all too easy to slip into the ‘tick off the list’ mentality. To lose the wonder and joy at being there in the moment, to miss out on what there might be to learn from what is being seen and experienced.

I know that I am incredibly privileged to be able to do the travel I have done. And I don’t want to take that for granted, nor allow it to become merely some kind of symbol of status or accomplishment. I travel because I want to take in beauty and history and art and culture, and I want to be changed by it and have my life and work shaped by it. I love knowing that the world is a big place, a diverse place, and that I am but one tiny part of it. I love being challenged, provoked, and stretched by experiencing more of the world and its people and I pray that that is what I can share with others – whether through stories, insights, or photos. But, no thank you, Mr. Street Vendor, I don’t think I need a selfie stick to do that.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre: aren't you glad my head isn't blocking that beautiful view?
Vernazza, Cinque Terre: aren’t you glad my head isn’t blocking that incredible view?

* Caveat: Okay, I do think that selfies can have a place. Particularly when they are used to capture a shared memory between a group of people who experience an event or place together. I have a handful of selfies from my recent trip and all but one of them are of me with people I met on the trip, which is a lovely way to record and remember our interactions. The other one? It’s of me looking up in an art gallery: taken when I was aiming to capture the beautifully painted ceiling and accidentally turned the iphone camera around!

 

What do you do when you realise you’re not living out what you say you value?

My friend Sarah wrote a great post last week called “When the exceptions to your routines become the rule” and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It’s well worth a read!

Her key point is that our lives can change and without realising it we find there is a disconnect between our ideas about the way we routinely live and the reality. And it has challenged me to consider where this might be true in my own life.

For example, I think of myself as a person who is always on time to things. But my life is currently a whole lot busier than it has been in previous years, and that perspective I have of myself is no longer entirely true. My Book Club friends could attest to this as for some reason they bear the brunt of it – I’m nearly always late (although come to think of so are many of them – perhaps we should change our meeting time!)

More significantly, I like to think of myself as a person who responds to communication from others promptly. I value good communication highly and try to work towards “inbox zero”. But between juggling four email addresses, text messages, and Facebook messages, I have to admit that things fall through the cracks sometimes. The reality is that I am not always as on top of my communications as I would like to think I am. And this means that other people probably don’t see me the same way I see myself.

Apparently my brother-in-law believes emails should responded to within the day. If that is the  expectation then I fail it regularly, particularly when it’s a reply that will take more than a minute or two. And when I mentioned this whole issue to one of my closest friends this week, she said, “Yes, you take ages to respond to text messages.” Ouch! But thanks for the reality check.

So what do we do when we recognise that we are not meeting our own expectations? Do we adjust our expectations or our reality?

Do I need to admit to myself that although I would like to be a person who is on time and replies to others in a timely manner, I’m just not? Or do I need to ask myself whether (and why) I still value promptness and then think about how I can re-establish it in my daily practices?

Sarah’s advice is this:

“A deliberate life that honours what matters to us most means constant recalibration of our routines.”

When I slow down and think about it, I have to say that I do value promptness. Not for its own sake, but because I value the people to whom I show it. I value their time, their commitment, their engagement with me. And it’s when I lose sight of that and focus more on myself (how busy I am or how stressed I am) that I overlook the message I am sending to them by my behaviour.

So perhaps this post functions as a confession. I do not live up to my own desire to be a person who demonstrates how much I value others in the way I respond to them.

It also functions as an apology. Friends, I’m sorry if I have dishonoured you or undervalued your time by not responding to you as you needed me to. Please forgive me.

It also functions as an attempt to make myself more accountable. I recognise that I need friends who are willing to call me out and remind me when I’m not living out what I say I value.

And maybe this post can also function as a reminder to some of you, that busyness can be one of the biggest hindrances to good relationships and true community.  And that it’s worth letting someone challenge you to rethink your own practices and habits so that you might be honest with yourself and make sure that you haven’t overlooked what you truly value due to a false sense of your own experience.