To lead in hard times

By Elizabeth Zivanov

Some time ago, I was conversing online with a friend and made the comment, “A weak leader is much more dangerous than no leader.” The focus of the discussion was on the current resident of Lambeth Palace. Responding to her questioning, I said that with no leadership we have at least the possibility that an effective leader may emerge; with a weak leader, we have an even stronger possibility that the Communion will be led into chaos and destruction.

Rowan Williams is a weak leader. Such diverse figures as Jesus Christ, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Peter Akinola are all effective leaders. What distinguishes effective leaders is the level of passion and compassion that tempers their leadership: effective leaders can be harsh or compassionate, gentle or dictatorial, but they attract a strong following. Surely Rowan Williams has tried to be an effective leader; one cannot doubt his commitment to the Anglican Communion. However, like so many in our church, he lacks both experience and training that might prepare him for leadership on this global platform. Nor does he does appear to have innate abilities. In church-talk, we might say the Archbishop lacks the gift – the charism – of effective leadership. Is it in the best interests of the Communion, then, that he continue as Archbishop of Canterbury?

Effective leaders are clear. They have identified their priorities, and they communicate them with clarity and from a position of strength. One does not need to have legislated authority to be a strong leader, but one must have the ability to speak from a place of inner strength and confidence. Those who are on the receiving end of this style of leadership know implicitly that the effective leader is well-grounded and solid in her or his role as a leader. The effective leader works to ensure that all understand the leader’s expectations and communications. Few would question where Peter Akinola’s priorities and passions lie. As she moves more fully into her role as Presiding Bishop, we are learning about Katharine Jefferts Schori’s priorities and passions. Of course, there is no question that the sentiments of the Messiah are grounded in grace, compassion, and the Two Great Commandments. But for what does Rowan Williams stand? We thought we knew when he was appointed Archbishop. Conservatives decried his priorities, and liberals lauded them. But in the past four years, he has voiced no real clarity around issues like sexuality and human rights, instead continuing to focus on a unity that he has yet to define. Had he spoken clearly on any side of these issues, the Communion probably would be in a stronger place today. Instead, his statements have become ever fuzzier, pleasing no one and leading to nothing but increased discord.

Effective leaders are consistent. Their decisions may be made on a situational basis, but their essential values are clear and inform their styles of leadership, even as they are growing into that leadership. There is little concern with ambiguity when dealing with an effective leader, because ambiguity is replaced by consistency. There is consistency in Peter Akinola’s statements. I doubt any of us wonder where he stands on certain issues. Similarly, we are learning where Katharine Jefferts Schori stands on issues, even as she came into her office supporting the consecration of Gene Robinson and the blessings of unions in her diocese. We know Jesus is consistent — certainly paradoxical and challenging, but definitely consistent in his expectations of his followers. But where does the Archbishop of Canterbury stand? We thought he was supportive of the listening process and the full inclusion of non-heterosexuals and women in all levels of the Church. But since taking office, his actions and words have belied his “former” theology. He speaks on one hand of morality and Christian values, but on the other hand excludes those with a certain sexual orientation and those who are not of the male gender. He refuses to speak out against those in the church who support violence against certain sectors of humanity. He approves/supports communiqués delivering ultimata to the US province, while ignoring the same issues in Canada and England. He applauds the human rights work of saints like Wilberforce (who helped to end slavery), but stands silent in the face of egregious human rights violations in Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

Effective leaders are confident. Their confidence is communicated through words, tone of voice, and non-verbal cues. Confidence doesn’t mean one is always right; a confident leader knows that she or he is not the end-all and be-all. But confident leaders speak with self-assurance and with a level of inner strength – sometimes with a quiet, non-anxious presence and sometimes in harsh dictates. But their confidence is rarely questioned. We see strong examples of this confidence in Jesus, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Peter Akinola. All three speak from a core of internal strength – Jesus and Jefferts Schori often as the non-anxious presence, Akinola more harshly and bluntly. But there is no question of their self-confidence or of their commitment to a vision. Rowan Williams has yet to demonstrate the confidence needed to guide the Communion through its current crisis. He seems easily swayed by those who exhibit a harsh strength and threaten in some way his ability (or lack thereof) to maintain unity.

Effective leaders are effective communicators. They understand the necessity of timely and regular communications with those who heed them. They do not ignore sub-groups who make up their followers. Rather they recognize them; they have on-going exchanges with them; they treat them with respect and in ways that ensure the ongoing life of the group. Effective leaders know which forms of communication are their strongest, and they rely on those forms. Effective leaders know the expectations and needs of their group, and communicate accordingly. There might be some question about the manner in which Jesus, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Peter Akinola manifest effective communications. But there can be no question that they effectively communicate their messages. On the other hand, there are still many questions about what the Archbishop of Canterbury is trying to communicate and to whom he is communicating. Certainly he has failed miserably in reaching out to all sides of difficult issues in the Communion. Although he speaks about the listening process, he has failed to include +Gene Robinson or any gay/lesbian person in the dialogue; he has failed to incarnate the listening process in the Communion. Jesus could listen to and even dine with tax collectors and adulterers and other sinners; apparently, the Archbishop dare not do so.

Many of the essentials of leadership include a level of mutuality. Granted, the styles of leadership among Jesus, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Peter Akinola are very different, but they all depend on some level of mutuality for their effectiveness. They must exercise such mutuality as leaders, even though the way in which they relate to their groups differs greatly. We don’t really know who Rowan “is mutual with.” We sometimes hear about his close advisors, but they are rarely identified. We watch as he assigns the primates authority that was never theirs, let alone his to assign, perhaps so he doesn’t have to make difficult decisions. But are there leadership qualities that he possesses that support his continued functioning in the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury? Or has he abdicated leadership to the strongest and loudest voices among the primates? The answers to these questions are crucial to the ability – perceived or actual – of Rowan Williams to effectively lead the Communion through its current divisions into a place of reconciliation, even if that means the Anglican Communion as we have known it for the past five centuries no longer exists.

The Rev. Liz Zivanov is rector of St. Clement’s Church in Honolulu, Hawai`i, a deputy to General Convention 2006, and president of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Hawai`i. She is chronicling her present sabbatical at Stopping by the Woods.

Image (detail) “Holy Silence”, Iconography, by Betsy Porter

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