JOHN MENADUE. Failed Leadership in Church and State!

From my experience and observation good leadership is about creating disequilibrium and a process to galvanise the group to change. Without disequilibrium there will be no worthwhile change.  

We have an unfortunate habit of thinking that if only we could change our leaders we could solve our problems. Yet it is clear that after disposing of our PM’s one after the other we are no better off. Changing Popes by itself is unlikely to help much because the problems with bishops and clericalism are so deep seated in the Catholic Church.

From my experience and observation good leadership is about creating disequilibrium and a process to galvanise the group to change. Without disequilibrium there will be no worthwhile change.

Leadership is a set of activities in which the group – small or large, corporate, government .religious or social, is persuaded to make necessary but difficult changes. It is about asking the hard questions and pursuing them until a resolution is found. It requires disequilibrium to force us outside our comfort zone. Change and reform does not occur in comfort zones. Vested interests whether in a political party or church will invariably oppose change and seek to keep us comfortable in the status quo.

Good leaders guide the process and do not stipulate the result in advance. The test of good leadership is to achieve a difficult outcome in which the group can in the end claim ‘we did it ourselves’, i.e. it wasn’t imposed by a strong or charismatic leader. Ownership by the group of the problem and the solution is essential.

Leadership is not the same as authority or position which are usually bestowed . Authority is designed to keep the organization on an even keel and to observe the ceremonial. Authority figures like the group to be comfortable.

Anyone can exercise leadership in any group and at any level, if they are prepared to keep asking and focusing on the hard questions and possible solutions.

Leadership is also not the same as charisma. Some charismatic people like Bin Laden, were clearly mad. Obama’s problem may have been that he was too charismatic. Winston Churchill was certainly charismatic but rejected in 1945 as being unsuitable for post war reconstruction. Clem Atlee who replaced him was regarded by many as dull and boring .But he got things done and was described by many historians as Britain’s most successful post WW2 Prime Minister. Ben Chifley was not charismatic. . He was regarded as genuine.

Leadership is particularly necessary when we accept that it will be very hard to change strongly entrenched attitudes and self interest such as on climate change or the preservation of property values by property owners at the expense of non property owners. It is then when we have to adapt, and undergo painful change; even changes in our privileges and lifestyle .That is when leadership is essential.

Compromised leadership and avoiding change takes many forms;

  • don’t discuss the issue and delay;
  • change the subject;
  • deny the problem like climate change;
  • keep busy on the detail ;
  • define the problem as a technical one, e.g. ‘clean’ coal;
  • change the ‘leader’ and hope for an easy solution.

Management and leadership are different.. Management is about coping with complexity whilst maintaining equilibrium within the organisation .In contrast leaders promote disequilibrium as Gough Whitlam showed. He was almost expelled from the ALP for creating disequilibrium. Without it the ALP would not have changed. Bill Shorten shows no sign of creating disequilibrium.

In summary let me describe what I see as the features of good leadership

  • Help the group clarify the problem – e.g. climate change, and budget repair.
  • Describe the values and vision that must be pursued e.g. protection of the planet
  • Keep out of the detail and listen.
  • Don’t attempt to solve the group’s problem or make decisions ahead of the group.
  • To secure change, create disequilibrium – people don’t change in comfort zones,.
  • Identify the opponents and their vested interests. Some of these are in the media and not interested in discussion.
  • Don’t rush it. Don’t raise expectations you can’t meet.
  • Use allies and supporters rather than placate opponents.
  • Ensure that people around you are direct, honest and trustworthy rather than a small group of people who agree with you.
  • Be self-aware of your own strengths and weaknesses and the need for assistance. Admit you don’t have all the answers.
  • Passion and energy.
  • Good leaders have a broad range of interests and knowledge – not just politics, business and religion but familiar with the world of ideas, philosophy and history.
  • Integrate public and private values. A lack of integrity becomes very obvious. We will tolerate mistakes by leaders but not phoniness.

Lao Tzu

As for the best leaders, people do not notice their existence … when the best leaders’ work is done, the people say “we did it ourselves”’

That is what ‘adaptive leadership’ is about as Ronald Heifetz at John F Kennedy School at Harvard University described it– encouraging the group to focus on the hard questions and encourage it to find solutions.


John Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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5 Responses to JOHN MENADUE. Failed Leadership in Church and State!

  1. Avatar George Allen says:

    The Australian Catholic Church is at the cross-roads. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse publishes its report in December. Five of our Bishops have expressed sorrow at their failures to stop such abuse. They are failed managers and may not have the capacity or the willingness to be true leaders. It is now up to the laity to be the Church leaders. I suggest you start now by creating disequilibrium. Please inform the Australian Catholic Bishops of your attitudes to issues such as compulsory celibacy, female clergy, the pontifical secret that has stopped Bishops from reporting paedophiles to the civil authorities, artificial contraception, the seal of confession when serious criminal acts are confessed, the importing of foreign Priests to Australia, the lack of performance reviews of Priests by their parishioners, the huge problems associated with clericalism, the authoratian structure of the Church, the lack of clerical leadership in tackling climate change like the Pope wants us to, the lingering accoutrements of the Roman Court including the wearing of expensive vestments, the use of incense, bowing to the celebrant, etc. Where is the ‘barefoot Son of Man’ who had ‘nowhere to lay his head’ in all this?

  2. Avatar Bruce says:

    Without leadership, at whatever level, the result is chaos. The world may not be where we want it to be but one thing it is definitely not is in a state of chaos. It may appear chaotic, but it is more organised, more interactive than ever before. By inference then someone has been leading the world.
    I would like to point out one man who lead the world to where it is. His name was Milton Friedman. Like a Nazarene his ideas changed the world. In both cases they were preacher men, the Nazarene in the dry dusty semi desert of Palestine, Friedman in the dry dusty corridors of an Ivy League University. The Nazarene left most of his work to his disciples, the two most prominent were Peter and Paul. They spread his ideas from simple walking distance Palestine to the whole world.
    Friedman, a simple academic had two prominent disciples, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Like Peter and Paul, Maggie and Ronnie are now dead, but there are many who have followed.
    It is Friedman’s ideas of consumption aligned with an unrestrained capitalism that have changed our once service oriented public owned enterprises into a means to make money.
    To me, Milt, Ronnie and Maggie are the enemy, they are not my leaders. But they are the most effective leaders of the late twentieth century. They destroyed the credibility of their opposition; Keynes, the USSR and the British Trade Unions respectively.
    For the Nazarene, his most effective disciple was Paul. Paul was the ultimate fifth columnist. A Roman citizen he infiltrated the power of the day, the Roman Empire. He had his arguments with Peter and his lot who saw themselves as Jews first: he had a far greater vision which won the day.
    Friedman, unlike Jesus, actually wrote about his ideas. It took Jesus nearly two thousand years to reach the far corners of the earth. It took Friedman a few decades.
    Milt had a few advantages though. He lived in an age of fast travel and even faster dissemination of ideas. Instead of recruiting poor fishermen he recruited the powerful and the wealthy.
    Now the power of Friedman’s leadership can be measured by many yardsticks, but I will mention just a few.
    His opponents have embraced his ideas; China, the former USSR, the US Democratic Party and the British and Australian Labour movements.
    Most people have never heard of him.
    The majority of people in the world have actually benefitted by the implementation of his ideas.
    Every major economy in the world operates under Friedman economics.
    Just as the leadership of others in history have ultimately lead to disaster I believe that free market capitalism will do the same.
    The words of Paul Keating an echo of Jack Lang ring true for all leaders,
    “We all get carried out in the end.”
    Just because we vehemently disagree with them does not mean they are not good leaders. Whether leadership has failed or succeeded often depends on your point of view.

  3. A good summary of the field. My only clarifying comment is to suggest one word change. In the sentence, ‘From my experience and observation good leadership is about creating disequilibrium and a process to galvanise the group to change.’ I would substitute the word ‘creating’ with the word ‘locating’. The turbulence already exists.
    Having made this precocious observation, I found the article offered me clarity. I am not in formal leadership, but I deal with people who wrestle this elephant each day. I will share this link.

  4. Avatar Jim KABLE says:

    “Listen, Liberal: or what ever happened to the party of the people?” Published a year ago – by Thomas FRANK of Wichita, Kansas – speaking this week at the Adelaide Writers Festival – explaining why the Democrats in some senses handed the recent presidential election to Trump! And so many parallels from what he said – to the dearth of leadership we have here on the local scene.

  5. Avatar Lynne Newington says:

    Failed leadership in both church and state can lead to two options, in state start your own political party as Cory Bernardi, in church either walk out or start your own religion, in the end the taxpayers still pay……

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