30 October, 2012

A View of the "Dark Side"

Barry Gittins, a writer, researcher and a real ‘handyman’ with the pen, has commented on the visit of a prominent leader & theologian who visited Melbourne recently. Read his Blog then check out some questions for follow up – or make up your own for a group discussion!

View Dr Burke's full articles here:
Frederick Coutts Lecture 2012.pdf
The Dark Side of Leadership Australia.doc

A View of the "Dark Side"

Salvationist and academic Dr Don Burke* spoke at The Salvation Army’s Australia Southern territorial headquarters in Melbourne on 2 August on ‘Joseph and the Dark Side of Leadership’. The discussion and subsequent private discussions with cabinet members were largely based on his reflections on the Genesis accounts of Joseph, the Jewish patriarch who rose to hold executive power in Egypt (second only to Pharoah).

Stating that people’s levels of surprise and the sense of betrayal at the failures of leaders reveal ‘our childish desire for flawless heroes and leaders who don’t do bad things’, Dr Burke acknowledged that ‘leaders great and small often succumb to the temptations offered by power’.

In an era of increasing medical and psychological understanding of how human beings interact, how brain chemistry functions, and how even altruism can actually be a selfish pursuit (as strange as that sounds), Dr Burke said we need a mature expectation of leaders in society. However, he suggested that disillusionment with fallen leaders – and in particular church leaders, who display the ‘foibles of the frocked’ – can function as a wake-up call for positive engagement with issues of: accountability and transparency; self-knowledge and humility; and a cognisance that power can and is abused.

‘It’s not good enough to simply parrot pious platitudes about servant leadership and “being like Jesus”,’ he said.

Dr Burke called on his audience to recognise the creative tension ‘between the implicit good [of creation] and the fallen state of the world’, suggesting the answer to the cognitive dissonance is found in the quality of grace. ‘Even our most difficult decisions are covered in some way by God’s grace,’ he said.
‘The illusion is that “pure leadership” is possible. We must lead with humility and recognise the limitations of our virtue, while possessing the confidence that ‘grace is available to us to forgive our sin and mitigate its impact on victims’.
In leadership, or the exercise of power, Dr Burke suggested that the reality of collateral damage was inevitable. People can and do get hurt by conscious choices of leaders. Hierarchical structures, he acknowledged, also have the potential to do harm inadvertently, but said that the same potential is present in all organisational structures.

As well as calling for leaders to pursue humility and reflective self-knowledge, Dr Burke said one of the solutions is to have a series of checks and balances available to the leader, which takes desire, time and diligence. If leaders do not consider the impact of their choices then they, whether they are acting in a familial, political, religious or business setting, they run dangerously close to adhering to the Machiavellian maxim that ‘the ends justify the means’.

Questioned about the place of holiness in the mix of human dynamics, Dr Burke said there could be a danger of people cloaking themselves with a ‘holiness ‘ mantle that justified their actions. ‘Holiness doesn’t prevent us from making mistakes or hurting people,’ he said.

Pointing our Old and New Testament examples of human fallibility and the abuse of power, such as St Paul telling detractors among the Galatians to ‘go castrate themselves’, Dr Burke said that ‘except for Jesus, even the best of people have had that ambiguity’ when it came to the human tasks of exercising leadership roles and using power.

Dr Burke PhD is president of Booth University College in Winnipeg, Canada. He espouses, through faculty and students, the following needs: ‘To think deeply in a world that reduces complex issues to trite slogans; to believe intensely in a world that longs for something in which to believe; to become agents of hope in a world too often filled with despair; to promote social justice in a world where too many live in poverty or on the periphery of society; and to proclaim mercy in a world that too often is driven by a desire for revenge.’
To Ponder / Discuss:

• What do we / you ‘expect’ from leaders? (Church, community, politicians etc).
• How may the phrase ‘servant leadership’ become a pious platitude?
• In what way is ‘pure leadership’ an illusion?
• Whether a leader or not, how do we deal with the issues of accountability, self-knowledge, humility, understanding of power abuse in our own lives?

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