a christian perspective on the world today

What makes a good leader?

It seems that a day can’t go by without another scandal being uncovered in Australia’s highest form of government.

Since a former Liberal staffer came forward in mid-February alleging that she was sexually assaulted in Parliament House, a steady stream of misconduct allegations have become public knowledge. The allegations have not discriminated based on political status or prominence, with everybody from state members and staffers, to the former attorney general being accused of various misdeeds. Unsurprisingly, the allegations have led to public outcry and calls for the current Liberal government to further investigate the matters, most notably when an estimated 110,000 people took place in the Women’s March 4 Justice event to protest the government’s response to the allegations.

Unfortunately, while specifics of these allegations are both shocking and sickening, revelations that the actions of those involved in our political system show a lack of integrity or morals are hardly surprising.

Politicians practicing poor behaviour 

Looking back one can see many recent examples of politicians past and present behaving in a way inconsistent with their position and claimed morals. Former Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, for example, spent years campaigning against gay marriage in order to defend what he labelled ‘traditional marriage’. . . only for it to later come out that he had been having an affair unbeknownst to his wife, whom he left for his mistress once she got pregnant. The ensuing scandal ended with Joyce resigning his position as leader of the National Party and moving to the back bench of the Australian House of Representatives. The disconnect between his words and his actions are not exactly the type of leadership qualities you’d expect in a great leader.

Or how about the current Premier of NSW Gladys Berejiklian, who not only had an undeclared relationship with a fellow state MP who resigned in a corruption scandal, but also admitted her government had been ‘pork-barrelling’ (a process where a government will allocate grants and funds to key electoral areas in order to lock in their votes, instead of allocating based on merit or need) in the leadup to the last NSW state election. Berejiklian defended this by pointing to examples in other elections, and while she may be correct in stating it occurs elsewhere this merely serves to highlight the lengths that many politicians will go to in order to maintain their grip on power. Not to mention the way she worked to pass the buck is not the type of attitude an effective leader needs.

It’s not even a problem unique to Australia. One merely needs to look over the pond towards America where Donald Trump recently became the first president to be impeached (and acquitted) twice due to his actions in office, or to the current Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo who is embroiled in sexual misconduct allegations of his own. Then there’s the recent creep of authoritarianism in countries all around the globe – countries where leaders are using political power to crack down on those who disagree or oppose the people in power

But despite this well-established pattern of politicians behaving badly, watching the response from the government over these recent allegations, it is hard not to be reminded that there is a severe disconnect between the ideals and morals espoused by those in power and the actions which they have taken to deal with these issues. From the former Liberal staffer’s boss calling her a “lying cow” when hearing about the details of her allegations to the Prime Minister’s lacklustre communication skills displayed when responding to criticisms of the government’s response, it seems like the government is more concerned with protecting their colleagues than listening to those that elected them.

Wikimedia Commons

The State of Leadership

When put together, the responses paint an overwhelmingly negative picture of the government. This was echoed in a recent poll from YouGov showing that three quarters of surveyed women believe that parliament does not treat women and men equally, and only one in 10 believing that it is a safe place for young women to work.

Looking at the many, recent examples of corruption and misconduct across the world one can’t help but despair at the climate that has been fostered by those in positions of authority. Those who are leading seem incapable of listening to the voices of the people who have elected them or taking any action which is not motivated by the accumulation and control of political power.

Even more frustrating is the gap between the espoused morals of these leaders, and their actions on the issues they currently face. In his maiden speech to parliament the current Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison stated that he “derive[s] the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others.”

So what would this look like? What would a true leader who draws on the Bible, who acts in accordance with the ideals of scripture outlined for those who are called to a leadership role, look like? For many, the best leaders are those that act with integrity, respect for others, and a regard for justice. While leadership styles, skill sets and what kind of leader someone is may vary, an effective leader is often seen as having self-awareness, understanding what is expected of their role and knowing how to act accordingly. This is true of the Christianity as well, where the Bible describes to us how we as leaders should act.

A Biblical Leader

This is important for all of us – not just those in power. Many of us are leaders or role models in our day-to-day lives, or at the very least have somebody who relies on us for something.  And while much discussion is centred on the ways our political leaders may be failing us now, the leadership skills described in the Bible can apply to us all; be that setting a good example to our children, becoming a better leader at work or enhancing our communication skills for when we interact with others. With that in mind, below are some Bible verses which highlight the qualities of a good leader.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4, NIV)

Leaders in parliament are elected by the people in order to advocate for them and pass laws on their behalf. Unfortunately, these recent scandals show that politicians can too often fall out of touch with their constituents, preferring to close ranks and defend their colleagues instead of enacting the change that those who elected them are asking for. Mrs Berejikilian’s defence of ‘pork barrelling’ is just one example which highlights this – admitting that her government allocated funds not where they were most needed, but instead where it would be most beneficial for her party.

While parliament often seems to prioritise the interests of those in power, the Bible states that good leadership focuses on the interests of others. Successful leaders should listen to those that elected them and work to help them achieve their interests . . . to the point where they hold them in higher esteem than they do themselves. This idea is echoed in the words of Jesus who states, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26, NIV).

“For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers” (Proverbs 11:14, NIV).

A leader should also listen to the guidance of those who he holds as council, with those in their inner circle being held to a similar standard. Unfortunately, this is yet another area where we see parliament often falling short. Many of the recent allegations of sexual misconduct in parliament were directed at staffers and advisers, as well as parliamentary members. Looking further back, we see elected officials from the One Nation party taking advice from controversial US gun rights group the NRA, Berejiklian having a relationship with corrupt colleague or former Labor senator Sam Dastyari resigning due to his ties to Chinese companies and government affecting his politics.

In contrast to these examples, a biblical leader should surround themselves with those who can help guide them when their own judgement fails. They should also, as the next verse will highlight, be unafraid to hold them to account.

“King Solomon and the Iron worker”, by Christian Schussle. Wikimedia Commons.

“Blessed is the land whose king is of noble birth and whose princes eat at a proper time— for strength and not for drunkenness” (Ecclessiastes 10:17, NIV).

In this verse, commonly attributed to King Solomon, the author speaks of the importance for national leaders to show restraint. While verse 16 chastises those who indulge while in power, this verse blesses those wise enough to keep their focus on cultivating strength for a nation.

Interestingly, this verse also ties the actions of those under the leader (princes) to the leader themselves (the king). Unlike the prime minister whose responses recently have highlighted that these allegations are a matter for the individual, or Berejiklian’s defence of pork barreling as something which her advisers did, effective leadership requires a leader who must be unafraid to take action in order to ensure that their team members or subordinates act with proper decorum.

“In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8, NIV).

A good leader is a good communicator. Successful leaders should think before they speak, lest their words be turned against them. Unfortunately, this is one area where politicians are consistently seen to fall short. From the disconnect in Barnaby Joyce’s comments on marriage and his actions to the prime minister attempting to silence a journalist by repeating false claims regarding misconduct at their workplace, there are many examples this being one of the leadership traits that elected officials often lack.

Politicians are often criticised for being more talk than action, but it is equally true that the talk they provide is often used to attack and belittle rather than productively build. In one instance, a former senator David Leyonhjelm was successfully sued for defamation by another senator over comments he made about her in the press. In their ruling the judge found that Leyonhjelm had “acted with malice and intended to publicly shame” their colleague. Hardly what one would expect an elected official to do.

The Bible speaks about the dangers of misspeaking. James 3 discusses the power of our words, describing the tongue as “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8, NIV) and urging us to not use it to curse. The same chapter calls us to show our wisdom and understanding by “deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13, NIV). Rather than speaking mistruths and attacking others in order to silence dissent, strong leadership requires good communication skills—being able listen and respond honestly instead of speaking defensively and making a bigger problem.

These verses are far from the only passages in the Bible that can help us understand what a leader may look like according to God. They do paint a picture of what a leader who truly follows the word laid out by God may look like. We can see from these verses that a leader should be someone with integrity and restraint. They should put themselves beneath those who they are called to lead and take responsibility for those that work under them. They should seek guidance and listen to both those around them, and beneath them. And they should make sure that their actions work to glorify God and their fellow man, instead of their own achievements and actions.

Ryan Stanton is a graduate journalist who lives in Sydney, Australia. He is currently pursuing his PhD.

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