Pro-Choice or Pro-Options: On Leadership

Great leaders make tough choices and, in so doing, commit themselves to courses of action that can bring praise but also excoriation.

Much of the culture surrounding Christianity at the moment militates against the kind of commitment that making a choice, rather than merely having a choice, demands.  The language of conversation, so popular in certain quarters, has a certain open-ended quality to it. Once upon a time, arguments and debates were designed for the express purpose of reaching a conclusion, of deciding which, if any, of two or more positions was the best or the strongest or the most true.  Conversation has more of a `I’ll hear what you say; you hear what I say and we can all agree to differ while remaining friends’ feel.

 

Recently, a friend quoted John Kennedy to me: `To lead is to choose.’ It is not a quotation that I have been able to verify, but whether Kennedy said it or not, it is surely a piece of brilliant insight into the nature of leadership. One of the luxuries of having no power or influence is surely the fact that one never has to make any significant choices.  Sure, one can choose to support this leader or that leader, to argue for this side or that side of an issue; but because such support and such arguments are hypothetical and insignificant, because the responsibility for the decision or the policy lies in the hands of somebody else, then if it all goes horribly wrong, one always has the option of walking away while telling onlookers. `It was nothing to do with me.’ The leader has no such luxury: ultimate he not only has to support one side of an argument but he has to act consistent with that; and once he does so, his ability to walk away unscathed if it all goes down the pan is reduced to zero.

The Kennedy quotation reminded me of another comment from Washington, not this time for a politician but from Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptsist Church.  Several times over the years I have heard Mark fulminate against what he sees as the `cult of options’ which is so important for young people today.  In essence, the cult of options is the desire to keep all life options open, of not making commitments that close down possibilities in the future.  Arguably, this is a function of a consumer society where choice is exalted as a virtue; and it is perhaps particularly ingrained in America where even the education system allows for options to be kept open even to university level. In Britain, at least in my day, you limited your academic subjects to three at the age of sixteen, and thus the fundamental choice – arts or sciences – was made very early on.  Against this cult of options, Mark argues strongly for committing oneself early to particular things and thus cutting off the temptation to choose and to drift and to drift and to choose throughout life.

Combining the thought of Kennedy and that of Mark, however, raises a key question: if it is true that this generation is addicted to the cult of choice and of keeping all options open, is it not the case that this generation is ill-equipped to hold any position of leadership? If part of the essence of leadership is to choose, to decide, to commit to a course of action or a policy and thereby close off other possibilities, then surely those who are incapable or unwilling to do so are likely to prove disastrous in positions of leadership?

Certainly, much of the culture surrounding Christianity at the moment militates against the kind of commitment that making a choice, rather than merely having a choice, demands.  The language of conversation, so popular in certain quarters, has a certain open-ended quality to it. Once upon a time, arguments and debates were designed for the express purpose of reaching a conclusion, of deciding which, if any, of two or more positions was the best or the strongest or the most true.  Conversation has more of a `I’ll hear what you say; you hear what I say and we can all agree to differ while remaining friends’ feel.

This perhaps connects to what is now generally recognized as the extended adolescence of many young people today. In the UK, a journalist recently lamented the increasingly common habit of middle aged men walking round with their jeans half way down their backside, showing off their designer underwear in imitation of their teenage sons.  In my day, the only middle aged men who did so were workers on building sites, and they generally were not sporting Calvin Klein boxers but rather revealing too much pallid flesh and cleavage.  Nowadays, any emotionally stunted thirty-something apparently feels free so to do and thinks it makes him cool, though what his teenage kids might think about the significance of dad’s sartorial style is another matter.  My own kids cringe when I sport my tee shirt from a recent `Who’ concert; if I walked round showing off my tidy widies, they would die of embarrassment.

Read More