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One of the things I've been asked to think about recently as part of the 'discernment process' is leadership, what it's for and how it works, particularly in a church context.

While I still need to do a bit more thinking about specific examples from my own experience, I've been reading a surprisingly useful book by Stephen Cottrell (Bp of Reading), Hit the Ground Kneeling: Seeing leadership differently. I have to admit that I probably wouldn't have read this if I hadn't been told to, because it has a hideous purple and orange cover, and is endorsed by Jeremy Vine and some management consultant and writer I've never heard of (though I'm told that the Sisters of the local contemplative convent think highly of it. I found this more encouraging, though I suspect Jeremy Vine would shift more units).

This just goes to show that reading lists have their uses, because the nuns are right; it's probably the most helpful thing I've read on the subject.* Cottrell came up with the title in a moment of frustration when another member of a committee shortlisting applicants for a parish said - as is predictable at such meetings - "What we want is someone who can hit the ground running."

Rather than merely cross off another square on his Bullshit Bingo board, Cottrell found himself thinking, no actually, maybe we don't. Because someone who charges into a situation, convinced that only he can save things, but without actually having a deep knowledge of the people and issues involved is unlikely to do much good: the best you can hope for is short-term success which becomes unsustainable - and people who get impatient with you once you stop being shiny and new.

The book is structured around a series of reversed management cliches/ proverbs. I was most struck by "Re-inventing the Wheel", in which Cottrell argues that one should resist the temptation to buy in a solution - however good it is, it will never belong to people as much as one they've worked out for themselves. Which is not to say that you can't use outside ideas as inspiration, indeed you should, but that leadership is more about encouraging people to find their own way forward than in telling them what to do (or asking them to vote on which of a series of pre-packaged solutions they'd like). This may, of course, also involve encouraging people to look again at the vision that originally brought them together - I think this is probably particularly relevant to voluntary and religious groups.

The other point which I need to remember is that, as a general principle, you should only do the things that only you can do. Doing other people's jobs for them isn't service or unselfishness, it's denying them the chance to do their job, offer their service, and it's making them less than they could be.

"Leadership" is, I must admit, not a topic I've ever thought much about, as is probably obvious. Thoughts?

* Though I must confess that I haven't read many books on leadership, and while much of the stuff by B-P was useful, if dated in tone, I shouldn't have been surprised that "Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun" was not.


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