23 October 2011

The Kiwi Leadership Crisis

by Dr Rod Thompson

Aotearoa New Zealand is crying out for leaders who lead well. The problem however, is that there seems to be a vacuum of good leadership. The vacuum is often filled by pragmatists, by dullness, by knee-jerk reactionism and by unconsidered improvisation.

An Auckland University Business School professor recently presented research that finds Kiwi bosses to be “strikingly bad.” An article (Sunday Star Times, 7/8/11) reported her as saying that, “New Zealand’s management scores are not good – in fact they might be the most significant reason for losing so many people to Australia – and it’s time we accepted that fact and did something about it.”

Moreover, in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, the Pike River Mine tragedy and the current Rena disaster unfolding in the Bay of Plenty, commentators have repeatedly lamented a poverty of leadership. Regarding the Rena disaster, a Papamoa resident is quoted as saying: “There’s no leadership going on here ... it’s appalling.” (NZ Herald, 11/10/11).

Perhaps we expect too much of leaders. Or perhaps we are living in impoverished cultures that are too preoccupied with amusements and triviality for leaders of substance to be formed and readied when unexpected tragedies shake life. Perhaps this is a bigger issue than just expecting more of individuals caught in the midst of disasters and the glare of the media. Perhaps it’s a community and cultural issue as well.

Whatever the reasons, we need to do better. The most helpful description of leadership that I know comes from Max De Pree. He has stated: “The first job of a leader is to define reality, the last to say thank you and, in between, to be a debtor and a servant.”

What does it take to name reality? Might I suggest the following. First, attentiveness – a rare commodity it seems in cultural times often characterised as distracted and unfocused. Secondly, wisdom – the sort of wisdom that is forged over time and developed through perseverance and practice. Thirdly, courage – the sort of courage that is both kind and firm, shaped by costly love and real hope.

The Laidlaw College community must embody such characteristics. And by God’s grace we will raise up leaders of substance, formed and ready to give leadership in the ordinary and extreme events of life.

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