Ian Blair: Faith in a very public square: Faith, leadership and transformation.
What can we do collectively and individually to bolster the confidence out there that we have in the expression of our faith and not be beaten down by secularism and scientism?
“Who do the people say I am? Simon Peter replied: “You are the Christ”
For Lord Blair that is the bravest statement imaginable and brought him into talking about how he came to his own faith.
He had been flirting with religion for 10 to 15 years so he decided to take his detective mind to it and read the gospels and the Acts of Apostles to ask: what is this thing called faith.
“I would really like to believe in the miracles; the Virgin birth, water into wine. I would love to believe that Jesus’ life fulfilled the prophesies of the Old Testament and I would really really love to believe in the healing.
“But with my detective head on there is absolutely NO proof of any of that. But yet it could persuade a group of people to preach in a public square about something we know is absolutely impossible: that someone rose from the dead.
The detective in me says: something happened. Those 11 men went out to preach the gospel and died one by one for doing so.
That’s what detectives call circumstantial evidence.
This is a kind of faith. This is who I am.
“I want to talk to you about the nature of leadership in the public realm. You are all leaders of community; you are all leaders in community. That can be a very exposing place.
I have lived in a time to see police and policing became a very public place. Politics and policing does not mix.
Tony Blair stole policing as a subject from the Conservatives with his talk of tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime making the Labour Party the party of law and order in Britain and stealing the whole issue from under Michael
Howard’s nose. What happened was a full frontal battle about who could be the toughest. The politics of policing became raw, and there’s no rawer place than the Metropolitan Commissioner especially when you have two different political persuasions at play – a Labour Government and a Conservative mayor.
The 7/7 bombings; the death of John Charles Menezes; Cash for Honours; the very public arrest of shadow minister for immigration, Damien Green.
That is a very public square. Every word you say has resonance somewhere and can be twisted, taken out of context, misunderstood.
And then in the summer of 2011 something extraordinary happened. Phone hacking had been around as a story for some time, celebrities, MPs, footballers had all complained about it but then came Milly Dowler and there was a huge shift in the moral compass of the country. Phone hacking became a national disaster.
I remember I was with the Archbishop of Canterbury and his wife, Jane talking about the difficulty of doing your job in the face of an ongoing relentless running public commentary. It was the day after The Sun ran his picture with the headline: What a Burkah and some shocking statements about Rowan. I remember him saying that the most difficult thing about being the Archbishop of Canterbury was having to be reminded every day that there were 13 people in the room.
The sense of betrayal; the difficulty of public life - you need to draw strength from each other and increasingly when you are under pressure you need a mental network you can rely on to be there alongside you.
There’s no such thing as any kind of special leadership in any kind of organisation – church, military – there’s just leadership.
You can teach people leadership and they need to develop leadership skills but they also need to develop professional skills to go with that.
Any fool can tell someone they have been successful but bad news is different; and to do it electronically you are an imbecile; you should always do bad news face to face.
Leadership reminds me of that Roger McGough poem: I want to be the leader …what shall we do now.
I’ve worked for someone like that.
This is different from transactional leadership - if you are a good leader, then you can inspire others to have confidence in you and confidence in themselves. Transactional leadership is about getting the parish share up, making sure the organist turns up on time. But transformational leadership empowers people to do things that maybe they wouldn’t necessarily have the confidence to do.
It’s about the values of your organisation. Your own personal values. And you must display those values in how you behave and instruct. You have to embody visually and verbally the values of your profession. It’s about doing right things not just doing things right.
There are 53,000 people working in the Met and one of the first questions I wanted to know was what kind of organisation do they want to belong to. I asked 5,000 people what they thought of the Met. Many of them said they were afraid to admit they worked as a police officer. But out of that survey we came up with key principles for the organisation that would make us happy to go home and tell our friends about: trust; respect; learning; and working as a team.
I’m not too sure about the word charismatic- but what is it that makes people follow rather than lead? Concentrating on following rather than leading gives a different fixture.
“Followship” – you hear me and try and understand what I am saying; you are given the maximum opportunity to make your own contribution and even if you disagree with what I am saying me, you know that I say it with care and compassion.
Let’s talk about difficult people – we all have difficult people.
Look at what happened at St Paul’s. I don’t think they said enough about who they were, what they as an organisation stood for. Sometimes the only way to lead is to be directive. And in a Christian world there has to be a plan b or a plan c. We have to exist in a world of compromise and negotiation. We have to have a sense of doing the right thing and inverting the view of the organisation sometimes. As leaders we have to be dealers in hope as Napoleon Bonaparte said, and have the resilience against the naysayers.
We all work really long hours; we all have far too many things on our plate, we don’t properly observe a work:life balance – sometimes you have to look after yourself.
So how to deal with the difficult people:
First of all check it’s not you!
Demonstrably give them time so you can never be accused of not listening to them
Check out you are not alone in struggling with this person and make some allegiances
Then- in a neutral place- confront them with the fact things are not working and you can’t work this way and see if together you can find a different, better route.
Difficult people can make it miserable for you and everyone else in your ministry – do not absorb the pressure.
Secular dogma is in itself restricted – it just doesn’t get the centuries of wisdom behind the main faith – people have been thinking about these things for some time.
Christian news is usually someone turning up in a dog collar and saying NO.
Compare that with the image of a bearded learned man reading the Koran and you can see what I mean.
What can we, dwellers in the public realm, do collectively and individually to bolster the confidence out there that we have in the expression of our faith and not be beaten down by secularism and scientism?
Let’s remind ourselves that more people go to church on Sundays than go to football matches on Saturdays.
Let’s discuss and share our faith in confidence.
Lord Ian Blair speaking to a Bishop's Day for clergy.