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Why Just Leadership?

Just Leadership or Justice based leadership is not just about the causes we support

It goes so much deeper than that

It’s not just about championing BLM or #MeToo or climate change or vaccine inequality.

It’s a radical revolution of the heart – a radical revolution of the heart of every leader that starts with you and it starts with me……

My story

I don’t know about you but all my attempts at leading and acting justly have been pretty inconsistent. Like many of my generation my challenge to tackle injustice started with LiveAid on 13th July 1985.

LiveAid was in response to a severe famine in Ethiopia – a famine that went on for three years and left 1.2 million people dead. Almost 200,000 children were orphaned. I was in my second year at University. Never before had I been exposed to the challenges of poverty and injustice in such a stark – and creative – way.

What followed for me were various attempts to live out Micah 6 v8. Over the years this has involved serving overseas in Asia as a missionary, raising funds for charities involved in alleviating poverty globally, serving on the board of the Micah Challenge, being UK CEO one of the largest global Christian Disaster Relief organisations and being chair of a mental health charity….

It’s taken me to South Sudan, Northern Iraq, Haiti, Mozambique, Sri Lanka and Liberia in the midst of Ebola, HIV and Aids, famine, war and natural disasters.

In all of this I have been making attempts to work for justice by tackling the emerging and evident signs and symptoms of injustice – poverty, abuse, corruption and exclusion.

If I’m honest though, it’s been during a pretty middle-class lifestyle in a nice neighbourhood with good holidays, beneficial rights, access to excellent healthcare and a decent pension provision. That coupled with my own unconscious biases and privilege - formed through years of being brought up in a mono-ethnic, mono-cultural (Welsh!) environment.

Inconsistent – yes, extremely. Scratching at the surfaces of injustice – absolutely. This has left me feeling that acting justly has been pretty much at the periphery rather than the heart of who I am as a leader.

More recently though my heart, mind and actions have been leaning towards something much more radical and lasting. What would it take for justice to be at the heart of everything I am and everything that I do? To live out and demonstrate justice in all of my leadership interactions? That’s what Just Leadership is all about.

1. Where do we start – with the Bible

The first stage is to see justice as who God is as well as what God does. It is the very nature of God’s character and being.

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” (Psalm 89:14). Justice is the foundation of God’s throne not an add on activity, or cause, but a deep buried in the ground cornerstone of all that God is.

The cornerstone that leads to steadfast love and faithfulness. The cornerstone that leads to the restoring of broken relationships. Our relationship with God first, then our relationship with ourselves, then our relationship with others and then our relationship with creation.

You see, our leadership can’t only be a leadership that does justice. It has to be a leadership that is just, that has steadfast love at its heart, that is generous, that is collaborative, that is present, that uses all its power for good.

Just leadership goes further than just tackling social injustice - it restores broken relationships between people and seeks to join in with God’s mission to reconcile all people to himself and to renew creation – it goes right to the heart of the way that we lead.

As Tom Wright put it:

In the power of the Spirit, we must name and shame the injustices that are still rampant, and work for their abolition. And we must take care that in our personal lives, and particularly in the lives of our churches themselves, injustice is rooted out as far and wide as can be done.

There are two steps here:

1. Join in with tacking the injustices ( that sounds great doesn’t it)

2. Root out injustice in our own lives, our relationships and our organisations (Maybe that’s a tiny bit more challenging)

Wright continues :

Only if we are doing this will it make any sense to preach and teach about God’s new creation, about the way in which Jesus’ resurrection resonates out into the renewal, the putting-right, of creation.”[ii]

Our very witness to the renewal God wants starts with a radical call to put justice at the heart of our leadership.

So how do we start do that? How do we start this radical revolution of the heart:

I’d like to suggest three movements that are necessary– three shifts in our leadership thinking

1. From “playing to strengths” to dealing with our shadow

2. From scarcity to abundance

3. From inclusion to co-creation

Firstly – move from “playing to strengths” to dealing with our shadow

You’re probably familiar with the work of Eric Berne on Transactional analysis and his approach to understanding our Ego’s and motivations. Berne lists five core motivators that are present in each of us to varying degrees – Being Perfect, Pleasing Otjers, Being Strong, Trying Harder, and Hurrying up and goes onto show that there is also a shadow or dark side to each one these motivators and drivers. When stretched, under stress or allowed to reign uncontrolled then:

Being Perfect can lead to being driven, being pedantic and being overly demanding.

Pleasing Others can lead to Inconsistency and Workaholism.

Being Strong can lead to Being Isolated, Being a Loner, a lack of vulnerability.

Try Harder can lead to being stressed and workaholism.

Hurry Up can lead to being overly focussed and overly demanding.

You see our leadership always has a shadow side, a dark side. Our strengths always expose our weaknesses – it’s like two sides of the same coin.

And it’s not our strengths that lead to the triumph of injustice in our lives and leadership, but our failure to deal with the dark side – to deal with the shadows.

The greatest need for leaders who want to put justice at their foundation is to deal with the shadows. To stop spending all our time developing our strengths and to recognise the undealt with dark side that casts a shadow over our lives and ministries.

And we do that by recognising that strengths and shadows are intimately interlinked.

For me, pleasing others has been a core motivation since my childhood. I was always “Mr goody two-shoes”, always trying to be the angel, the servant, the guy who put a smile on everyone’s faces.

Ultimately this led to many of my leadership failures. My very desire to show consideration for others, to act kindly to others and to serve others when driven to the extreme it became workaholism and a drive for affirmation from others that lead only to inconsistent behaviour (in trying to please everyone!).

As justice has broken into my heart and life I’ve had to learn to say NO and to be gracious and considerate to myself as well as to others. I’ve also had to learn to deal with rejection and to get my affirmation from an audience of one !

As I’ve done that I’ve found the courage to be different, to be more assertive on behalf of others, to find my authentic voice and to stop confusing others by inconsistent behaviours.

I’m learning to let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God, rather than being a chameleon who fits in with the latest opinion.

I’m slowly dealing with my shadow – what about you?

Secondly - Move from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset

The truth is that many of us have taken much more than we needed and left others hungry.

We have taken more food, more power, more privilege, more ownership and we have lived by the rules of scarcity.

We have prided ourselves on what we have achieved and what we own: “I made this, I own this… it’s mine.” We have believed that there is not enough to go around, not enough to share, not enough to be generous.

This has been well observed in young children who have had a difficult childhood – one where milk or food at a very young infant age is scarce. Whenever they then come in contact with the availability of food, they will hoard it as if there is nothing more coming. It takes years for the brain to switch to understand that there will be food tomorrow. Many of us have yet to make that switch.

Those who live in the grace of abundance, however, fundamentally recognize that everything we have comes from God. Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision understood this well when he chose the Dutch paraphrase of 1 Chronicles 29:14b as a key verse for that international relief and development organisation:

“All that we have comes from God, and we give it out of His hand”.

This transforms our thinking from “there’s not enough to go around” to “I can share”

From “reluctant to collaborate” to “vibrant partnership”.

From “promoting self” to “promoting others” and from “micromanaging” to “openness and trust”

Ultimately, generosity and seeking generous justice requires a giving of ourselves – an emptying of ourselves – a ‘kenosis’.

It’s an emptying of ourselves that is facilitated by an understanding of the abundance of God’s love and mercy for us and modelled in the generous giving of himself by Jesus:

“who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing…..

Philippians Ch2 v 6 – 7a

As Tim Keller again puts so well:

“It is the generosity of God, the freeness of his salvation that lays the foundation for the society of justice for all”[iii]

As Izwe Nkosi reflects in his Lectio 365 Devotions just after the brutal, unjustified and horrific murder or George Floyd by a white Police office in Minneapolis in May 2020 that:

“The way of Jesus means emptying myself of power, privilege and possessions again and again for the sake of the least, the last and the lost, trusting the Lord to replenish what I relinquish and raise me up in due course.”[iv]

As we truly seek Him who is abundant in grace and giving then we have everything that we need to be abundantly generous indeed.

To be justice focussed leaders we need to move from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset.

Thirdly Move from Inclusivity to Co-creation

‘It’s good for you to invite me to the table, but it is much better for you to invite me to the kitchen’ -Ghanaian proverb

Whether it is more representation on Boards, diversity in the workplace or having your voice heard in parliament, having a seat at the table has long been the clarion call of many justice movements. And rightly so. However, a generous justice agenda needs to go much further than this.

You see, the problem with “giving people a seat at the table” is that we still see it as OUR table. Welcome to OUR table to sit at it and eat OUR food that WE have designed, WE have created, WE have cooked.

Rather, generous justice requires an invitation into the kitchen. To dream and think about what ingredients we might use, what flavours and spices might add a richness to what we eat together. Co-creation is the watchword here and co-creation requires risk and courage. It also means doing the washing up together!

It’s been my delight over many years to have friends who have not only invited us to dinner, but who have modelled for us an open kitchen. Food preparation is shared – and fun – and messy - as is the eating of it and the clearing up.

One thing that this signals very powerfully is the willingness to give up power and control and privilege, which in turn requires a willingness to change direction, try something different and see the world through other people’s eyes.

It requires the willingness to change and to be changed. Tackling injustice with generosity will cause systems to be changed and chains to be broken – and some of those chains will be the chains that bind US. Chains of narcissism and greed, chains of unconscious bias and narrow-mindedness.

We not only need to see the world through others eyes we need everyone to participate in creating a new future

Ultimately, we must strive for the vision that Blaise Pascal so beautifully articulated:

“Justice and Power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just”[v]

And our goal – the Glory of God

I hope you’ve been inspired by this article to make the shifts from “strengths” to “dealing with shadows” from scarcity to abundance, and from inclusion to co-creation.

There is no doubt that we will all need to be continually reminded to be hopeful and patient as we pursue these leadership shifts which demand our intentional focus and energy.

There is so much more we could say, and I’ve only just touched the edges of this subject today. Look out for our book Just Leadership.

As we end though, let’s remind ourselves of why we seek for justice, why we want to be just leaders.

We care about justice because justice is who God is as well as what God does. – Justice is the foundation of God’s throne not an add on activity.

AND We care about justice because Jesus does.

And because of that we long for God’s inbreaking justice. As NT Wright puts it:

“the whole point of the Gospels is that the coming of God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven is precisely not the imposition of an alien and dehumanizing tyranny, but rather the confrontation of alien and dehumanizing tyrannies with the news of a God-the God recognized in Jesus-who is radically different from them all, and whose inbreaking justice aims at rescuing and restoring genuine humanness.”[vi]

And we know that when that inbreaking justice comes then there is wholeness and healing and mercy and grace and a righting of wrongs. There is a shalom and a flourishing. There is a sense of being WE rather than being me. There is a coming of the Kingdom of God.

I desire more than anything that the beauty of God’s love and justice will become more visible in our world, that God’s inbreaking justice will be evident in our lives, in our families, in our communities, in our organisations and in the world for the glory of the God who we love and serve. That’s Just Leadership.

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