WHAT IS YOUR PREFERRED STYLE OF LEADERSHIP?
‘Leadership’ is a much discussed topic today, not only in politics but also in the corporate world. Management trainers at business schools discuss concepts such as Servant Leadership, Transformational Leadership, Visionary Leadership, and Shepherd Leadership. Most of these terminologies have their origins in Christian background.
On the other hand, some research findings have suggested that to be a CEO or an MD in some multinationals of the globe one has to be a heartless go-getter, almost bordering the behavior of a psychopath. They are merely profit-oriented, and care less for human beings.
The feast of today is an occasion to pause and reflect about our own leadership styles. We may not be CEOs or top-brass politicians, but most of us might have a sort of charge over some others. You might be prompt to deny that claim. After all, you might be only an employee and not an employer. But remember, if you are a parent you are exercising certain authority over your children. As a teacher, I exercise authority over my students. As a pastor, I have a leadership role too among the people I serve. And today, Jesus invites us all to ask ourselves what is our leadership style.
In 1925, Pope Pius XI introduced the feast of Christ the King as a warning against the totalitarian leaders that were cropping up in the early part of the 20th century. It was a statement against the situation of Europe between the two World Wars. Today, the feast invites us to do a soul-searching of our own leadership style.
In the first reading of today, the Lord God is disappointed with the leaders that he had appointed (Ezek 34:2). Hence he declares, “I myself will look after and tend my sheep.
As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark” (Ezek 34:11-12).
Any leadership role that we are invited to take up is a privilege that we have been granted by God himself. As a parent, you have been privileged with the responsibility to guide your children. As a teacher, I have been invited to be a shepherd of my students. As a doctor, you have been privileged to care for your patients. When we do not responsibly take up that privilege, the Lord God might have to take over that task himself! When our leadership is enmeshed with selfish interests of any kind, then the Lord might tell us: “Woe to you… who feed themselves! Are not shepherds meant to feed a flock?” (Ezek 34:2).
True shepherds, on the other hand, have the good of the sheep always in their heart and mind. They go in search of the lost ones. They are willing to endanger risks for their sheep. They are ready even to lay down their life for their sheep (Jn 10).
Related to the type of leadership that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, promises us in John 10 is the Servant Leadership. Jesus himself demonstrated the servant model of leadership in a very concrete way when he washed the feet of his disciples in preparation for the Last Supper (Jn 13). He made himself a slave.
Some of us might be familiar with the Taizé community of France. It was started by Brother Roger soon after the Second World War as a symbol of unity, simplicity and silence. People started coming to Taizé to pray together with the community of the brother. Today, during the summer months, as many as 5000 people, mostly youth, gather in that little village for the weekly prayer and fellowship. The present prior of the community is Brother Alois. He is a well-known global figure, having to represent the community in public functions, and annually having private audiences with the Pope, Archbishop of Canterbury and the Patriarchs of the Eastern Churches.
Not long ago, Brother Alois was in Africa visiting their little community. After the prayer and lunch together with Brother Alois and some young people, it was time to take leave by the guests. One of the youngster wanted to say good-bye to Brother Alois. When he went looking for him, he found him washing with cold water the plastic plates and cups that they used for their lunch. He was in the company with two others young people doing the dishes. The young man couldn’t just leave. He too had to put his hand into the cold water. The youngster was challenged by example of Brother Alois’ servant –leadership. This was Christian discipleship at its best.
Whether it is the shepherd model or the servant style of leadership that we adopt, there comes a time when we are expected to make clear decisions between good and evil. This is the central theme of the gospel reading of today. The Son of Man is presented as the king who sits in judgement at the end of time, like a shepherd who separates the goats from the sheep (Mt 25:31-46; see also Ezek 34:22). Despite the image of pomp and formality that is drawn by the gospel parable of today, what is the central criterion of judgement of the king: Charity! “In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).
It may be easier to think of ourselves as leaders sitting in the throne of judgement. But it might be more meaningful to ask ourselves: how is Jesus going to judge us on our leadership roles? I suppose, his criterion of judgement would be the same: “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).
On this day, Christ the King invites me to exercise my leadership role in charity and fairness, in humility and service, like a shepherd who is willing to take risks for the sheep.
Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.