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,