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29 August 2012

A failure of public leadership

A failure of public leadership

We need leaders who will act with integrity, but who also have vision, and who pursue the right goals in the right way.

First it was the politicians and their tendency to embellish their expenses claims. Then it was the journalists and their sometimes illegal and certainly unethical pursuit of a good story. And now the bankers, some of whom have been caught manipulating the interest rates to make their borrowing more affordable.

Is all of this just a coincidence? Or are these somehow connected? What is notable is that these multiple exposures of wrongdoing all seem to have hit the headlines because in each area the practices uncovered were frequently considered normal. For politicians, an extension of their salary; for journalists, part of the necessary process to inform the public; and for bankers, well … for more profits. Taken together, these unethical and often criminal activities have eroded trust between the public and key institutions in society. 

Us and them

These important and powerful institutions have gone about their business without sufficient regard for the impact on wider society, and in turn the man on the street is now sceptical of their motives and cynical about their means of operating. As a result, the governed and those governing are now very much disconnected, and an ‘us and them’ attitude is very much in evidence. 

As the ‘blame game’ continues it is clear that the situation is not just the actions of an individual behaving in a rogue manner, nor is it acceptable to simply brand a particular problem as an isolated incident. Even describing a strand of society as institutionally corrupt is perhaps still understating the problem. At the root of this crisis is a failure of public leadership. 

It seems that for many years good leadership has been increasingly absent from society. This means that organisations, institutions, and even whole cultures have been pointed in, or led in, the wrong direction. So the casting of blame and commissioning of inquiries can only go so far in rectifying the problem. What society needs – what the country needs – in politics, economics and the media, is good leadership. 

Maybe it is clichéd or old fashioned to expect honesty and character to be a foundation of public leadership. It should go without saying that people in public positions of responsibility should behave in an upright manner. But maybe that’s the problem. Maybe we haven’t been saying it enough. We need leaders who will act with integrity, but who also have vision, and who pursue the right goals in the right way. 

Lately, the ends have been used to justify the means, such as pursuing stories or creating wealth. We need a culture of public leadership in which those in whom we put our trust to govern for us are honest and reliable. Historically the Bible has proved to be a deep resource for cultivating and grounding our leaders, and the Church has a role to once again shape a new public ethic. This means that Christians have a responsibility, not only to teach about good leadership, but to create good leaders. 

However, the Church also has a problem. When leadership is mentioned in church it usually refers to either working in an area of church life or being packed off to Bible college, and then returning a few years later to work in church life. This is all good and necessary stuff, but the leadership that we need to renew our society is about far more than this. There isn’t an iota of the world that God does not seek to make new – for His glory and our healing. The people of God are those who are called to partner in that work. This means that the task of raising up leaders needs to be a priority for the Church. This culture of leadership should not be restricted to serving the congregation through preaching, teaching or worship leading. It needs to include the development of public leaders – in politics, the media and the economy – both locally and nationally. 

Danny WebsterHistorically, the Church has been a great place for discovering, growing and releasing people with a passion for a world better than it is now. If we want to address our crisis of public leadership and see God’s light shine in the darkest of places, then it is the responsibility of us all to take the lead.

Daniel Webster is the Alliance’s parliamentary officer

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