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13 July 2018

Southgate and Trump: leadership in an age of extremes

Southgate and Trump: leadership in an age of extremes

PA Wire

Danny Webster is advocacy and media manager at the Evangelical Alliance.

England's football manager Gareth Southgate will don his waistcoat one more time in this World Cup when England take to the stage against Belgium on Saturday to decide who comes third at the World Cup. It's not the finale he would have wanted and as performances exceeded expectations, not the one many started to believe was possible. 

Over the past four weeks we have seen how one man can bring hope, instil unity and encourage passion. With a trademark humility, Gareth has helped England reconnect with its football team, and has even won friends from around the rest of the UK! I'm not a football fan, but I sat on the edge of my seat willing them to find the net one more time as minutes of extra time ticked off the clock on Wednesday evening and then watched as, with characteristic compassion, Gareth took time to hug each of his players as they stood stunned, or lay prostrate, exhausted, on the grass of the Luzhniki Stadium.
 
In marked contrast, and just as the country was recovering from hopes being dashed, US President Donald Trump began his visit to the UK and a blimp depicting him as a baby flew across Westminster. Newspapers even published guides to the best viewing spots. Protest is a vital part of a functioning democracy, but an inflatable effigy seems to sink to the immaturity many criticise and does nothing to improve our political discourse. While Southgate has been lauded for bringing out the best in people, Trump's visit, and his leadership in general, seems to bring out the worst.

A newspaper ran an explosive interview which happened to be published just as dessert was being served to Trump, May and a host of business leaders at Blenheim Palace. Trump's use of a newspaper interview to criticise his host, her handling of Brexit, his allying with the former foreign secretary and his seeming insistence on fracturing international relationships is an unusual approach to diplomacy.

Leadership is frequently an overused term and an underused practice. In the wake of the Brexit-related resignations from the cabinet this week, the idea was mooted that a highly successful leader – Gareth – could step into the shoes of the departing foreign secretary. Gareth's ability to draw together a team with one goal is suggested to be a skill that might be lacking in our current political leadership.

Do we have a single model of leadership that we can look to as our inspiration and draw parallels with? Can we say that as we follow Jesus He should be the source of our leadership?

Well yes, and no. Sorry to disappoint you there. We can't use Jesus as a paint-by-numbers template, because leadership looks different in each context, in the particular time and place and purpose where someone leads. Jesus didn't manage a football team, nor was He a showbiz superstar or property mogul. Neither did he run for office or try to negotiate Britain's exit from the EU.

Leadership is not always about achievement; even in losing in the semi-finals of the World Cup, many will view this England team as winners. Good leadership is not about getting stuff done, if we do not pay attention to the value of what we are getting done. The recent outcry over US immigration policy is a case in point: just because children are being efficiently separated from their parents at the US border, does not mean the policy is an outcome of good leadership.

And this is where Jesus does provide an example for us to follow through His leadership. While He didn't occupy a formal position, He clearly was a leader. And it was in His death – the ultimate loss – that the greatest victory was won.

We want leaders who are humble, who hold success and failure lightly, but are committed to the purpose set before them. As Luke 18:14 reminds us: "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

We want leaders who listen to others and who learn, both from others and their own experience. As Jesus teaches in Mark 4:24-25: "'Consider carefully what you hear,' he continued. 'With the measure you use, it will be measured to your and more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.'"

We want leaders who serve, and servants who lead. A Jesus model of leadership doesn't divide the two – in the places where we might metaphorically wash people's feet, we are taking the lead.

"Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you" (John 13:14-15).


Are you or anyone you know keen to develop people and transform places through Christ-like leadership? If so, find out more about the Evangelical Alliance's Public Leadership programme. We are currently recruiting participants for our year-long training courses in England and Scotland. Find out more here.