The nature of leadership

As South Africa faces the end of an era, Zimbabwe faces elections, and many countries face political change, we might pause to consider what makes for a Christian model of leadership.

All societies have had populist orators, charlatans and all sorts of clever people, who were able to twist situations to their favour.  Such people, we hope, end up in the dustbins of history.  What we need are leaders who are able to think of the bigger picture before their own personal ambitions.  We also need citizens who are aware of their obligations to the nation before their privileges.  Selflessness is a virtue that heals, builds and binds.

Hopefully, our admiration of great leaders emanates from our yearning to be men and women for others.  Setting our priorities right by establishing principles before personal ambitions is necessary if we are to dream of leaving a mark in this world.  When we look at what lies ahead there are always conflicts to face which will often test the commitment we have to our vision.  On the one hand, these struggles can be helpful in keeping us alert to the challenges that we face – and so will sharpen and strengthen our vision.  On the other hand, they can be negative if we see them as mere impediments that stifle our goals and lead us into pessimism and the loss of our core values.

To follow our principles, we need to hold to the idea of seeking the best outcome for everyone concerned.  It can be very harmful to look at conflicts as just about winning or losing because the common good is sometimes not on the side of victory.   We may seem to win when we are strong but wrong; victory in such cases is short-lived.  If, however, we seem to lose even when we are right, we can be consoled by the fact there is a just resolution for everything in time.  We will always win, ultimately, if we remain humble, keep our thinking straight and take care to avoid resentment.  Our level of integrity is put to the test by the way we encounter conflict.

We should not be surprised that the world is full of conflicts.  Millions of people have conditioned themselves into selfish ways of thinking and behaving that are bound to cause conflict.  Much harm is done by people who are absolutely sure they are right at all times.  Such people are usually insecure with any form of dialogue that can promote healthy and constructive criticism.  What they are set on hearing is an affirmation of their right-ness.

As Christians we cannot expect to be excluded from these conflicts simply because we have been baptized.  We do, however, have a means of dealing with such conflicts effectively when we respond according to our basic principles.  This makes us privileged people, in a way, but it is good to know that any person can have the same privileges by following the right principles.

We can regard the conflicts that we face as an opportunity to learn and to grow, no matter how unpleasant they may be.  Setting principles that will guide us is the only way that can make integrity attainable.

Fr Gilbert Banda SJ

Fr Gilbert Banda SJ is interested in Ignatian Spirituality.

g.banda@jesuitinstitute.org.za @gilbertbanda
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