The big and little of our leadership problems
Canadians are being bombarded daily with accusations and evidence of broken political, corporate and religious trust. We hear about politicians making ruthless power moves behind closed doors, CEOs defending corrupt use of company finances and pastors engaged in sexual trysts – all of them make us less likely to trust our leaders.
It’s easy to tut-tut at these very public breaches of confidence – until we recall how often we too have been a party to our own breakdowns of trust with spouses, family members, friends, neigh-bours and business partners. True, our more anonymous failures probably have far less public impact. But that doesn’t negate the fact we’ve all contributed, in a greater or lesser degree, to the cumulative degradation of trust.
I’m not saying those with greater numbers of people under their leadership shouldn’t be subject to greater expectation and scrutiny than others. Scripturally I’m convinced God does have higher expectations for leaders, teachers, public servants and even parents, all of whom have others entrusted to their care.
The question is: Is there anything we, the Church, can do in the face of vast erosion of trust in our leaders?
Jesus once said, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much" (Luke 16:10).
While Jesus’ proverb may be appropriately applied to anyone, Jesus’ teaching is explicitly directed to "his disciples" (Luke 16:1). That means we the community of Christ followers must take care to apply this formula first to ourselves. As we do this, the Church can begin to model its trustworthiness in our public contexts and with our own leaders. But if we fail, we only continue to be part of the bigger problem of the loss of public trust in leadership.
All of us, including aspiring leaders, would do well to ask how we’re doing on the little things.
The rule I derive from Jesus’ teaching is that future predictability of a leader’s trustworthiness is directly proportional to her or his trustworthiness with small things outside the public eye.
Massive breaches of trust rarely, if ever, happen overnight. On the contrary, public exposés of leadership failures capture only the dying gasps of relationships that had already started failing in the weeks, months and years before. What is big and public now most likely started out with something small and private then.
All of us, including aspiring leaders, would do well to ask how we’re doing on the little things. Like showing up on time at my dead-end job. Showing up for worship even when I’d rather not. Paying a loan by the date I’ve promised to pay. Claiming the tips I’ve earned on my taxes for which I have no T4. Doing what I’ve been told to do by our employer without having to be constantly prompted to do it. Giving a compliment to someone who’s earned it. And perhaps more importantly, living a chaste life when no one’s looking, keeping our marriage vows and/or not breaking our promises to attend our kids’ sports or arts event because we are "busy."
As for those of us entrusted to identify leaders, it means we need to start asking our leadership candidates a few more questions than what their philosophy of ministry is, how good they are at strategic planning, and whether they can raise money. It means asking them to talk frankly to us about their finances, their family life and yes, whether they actually claimed any undocumented income last year.
Asking such questions are, frankly, uncomfortable for us and for those we are seeking as leaders. But can we afford to ignore Jesus’ words here?
If we’re convinced we need a revival of leadership trust, then every one of us needs to pray, "God, help me to be faithful in the little things you’ve called me to today. Amen."
We shouldn’t expect God to entrust us with much tomorrow if we fail to do well with the little things He’s called us to do today.
David Guretzki of Ottawa is executive publisher of Faith Today and serves The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada as executive vice-president and resident theologian.