DECISIVENESS BUT FLEXIBILITY IN LEADERSHIP


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JER 31:1-7; JER 31:10-12, 13; MT 15:21-28  ]

There are leaders and there are leaders.  Not all leaders are the same.  Leaders exercise different kinds of leadership.  The scripture readings today invite us to reflect on what kind of leadership we exert in leading those under our charge.  Leadership not only happens in organizations, in Church, in schools and in the corporate and political world.  Leadership begins in our own family, how we form our children and lead them to grow to their fullest potential.

There is a kind of leadership where the leader acts like a pastor.  He is always available.  Anyone who wants help, a listening ear or advice, he is there to assist.  He is on his feet all the time, attending to one matter after another.  He is always on the move.  He is a good man.  Most people like him.  He is a good doer.  But that is not leadership.  He has no vision to offer to the community that he leads.  He has no strategy, no plans and no goals.  He lives one day at a time, from moment-to-moment, responding to whatever challenges that come by.  He is just waiting for things to happen. The organization he leads might seem alive, full of activities, but it is going nowhere.

There is another kind of leadership that is one of maintenance.  The leader assumes office but does not want to rock the boat.  He seeks to maintain the status quo so that no one will get hurt.  He is afraid to offend people or inconvenience himself.  He has no new plans or goals to offer to his organization.  He is not seeking to move the organization forward but just hopes that it will not collapse under him.  He simply carries on what was done before.  He will not make changes unless forced to by circumstances.  Otherwise, he will not take new initiatives.  He is a keeper of traditions. He feels safe in this kind of leadership.  But under such kind of maintenance leadership, the organization will surely die in time to come.  Nothing remains stagnant in life.

The third kind of leadership is one where there is a great degree of flexibility.  This kind of leader has no goals or strategy.  He is more a coordinator.  He has no principles, no clarity of thought and no mind of his own.  He has no stand, no position of his own but depends on who speaks the loudest.  He gathers people together and seeks to forge a consensus.  He is more a mediator and a peacemaker.  He goes where the wind blows.  Those who speak the loudest control him.  He is a Yes man.  He is a pleaser.  He is afraid to hurt anyone because he has a soft and a kind heart.  He is afraid to disagree with anyone.  He is ambivalent and equivocal and prevaricates in his words.  Such a leader sends different signals to everyone causing much misunderstanding and division as there is no consistency or principles that can provide stability and direction.  The people under such leadership never know what the leader stands for or believes in.  He is not a leader but is led by the sheep.

Finally, there is the type of leadership with clear goals and direction.  Such leaders have a clear vision and specific strategies to accomplish their goals.  They are focused, passionate and aggressive.  They are very determined to achieve their goals. They are ambitious and often intolerant of fools.  They get things done efficiently. They push people along and harness their skills and resources to achieve the goals.  However, because they are so focused on the goals, they will not let anything or anyone hamper or hinder them from attaining the set objectives.   They can become inflexible and dictatorial.  They are often legalistic as everything must go according to the rules that have been set out.  There is no room for compromise.  They often lack compassion for the weaker members of their team.  They have no qualms about cutting them off if they cannot contribute effectively to the vision and the fulfillment of their plans.  They can be ruthless, insensitive and unbending to the existential circumstances.

When we reflect on today’s scripture readings, we read of the leadership that God displays.  On one hand, God is certainly very focused in His plans.  God knows what He is doing.  He would not allow His plans be derailed by the sins of men.  Through Jeremiah, the Lord said, “I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, they shall be my people.  I have loved you with an everlasting love, so I am constant in my affection for you.”  God had His plans for Israel and the rest of humanity.  He is determined to make us His people and Him as our God.  He has never given up that vision or that hope He has for humanity. “I build you once more; you shall be rebuilt, virgin of Israel. Adorned once more, and with your tambourines, you will go out dancing gaily. You will plant vineyards once more on the mountains of Samaria.”

So too in the gospel, we see that Jesus very focused in His mission.  He was clear that He was called to be the light of the nations by first bringing back His people to the covenant.  His strategy was therefore to call His people to repentance so that, once converted, they could in turn reach out to the nations and announce the Good News of God’s mercy and love.  This explains why Jesus stayed within Palestine in His ministry and only occasionally strayed a little outside of Palestine.  Occasionally, He would respond to the requests of non-Jews seeking help, like the Centurion whose servant was at the point of death.  Nevertheless, He was very clear that His mission was towards His people.

So when a Canaanite woman from the district of Tyre and Sidon came to Jesus for help, Jesus ignored her.  She started shouting, “’Sir, Son of David, take pity on me.  My daughter is tormented by a devil.’  But he answered her not a word.”  Jesus did not want to be distracted in His mission.  If He were to heal her daughter, word would go round; He might then be overwhelmed by people outside Palestine and non-Jews seeking healing.  Jesus explained why He was not helping when He said to her “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.”

In contrast, the disciples were people without principles.  They were prepared to cave in just because they were embarrassed and annoyed at the persistent shouting of the woman.  Note what they said to the Lord, “Give her what she wants because she is shouting after us.”  They were pleading with Jesus to answer her request, not because they felt for her or cared for her daughter who was under the attack of the Evil One, but so as to get rid of her so that she would not be a nuisance to them.  They are like the leaders I mentioned earlier, without any sense of mission and direction. They would just react to the situation and seek to get out of it when they can; and if they cannot, they would compromise and find the best solution so that they will not be disturbed.  When we act in this manner, it is more for our selfish interest than caring for our people.

We too can also learn from the woman. She was persistent in her pleas.  Having managed to get the attention of Jesus, she argued with the Lord and sought to persuade Him why He should act for her daughter.  She was focused on what she wanted.  She did not give in easily to failure or to rejection.  She knew what she wanted and she was confident that the Lord would not be unreasonable and lacking compassion.

The great thing about this story is that both our Lord and the woman showed great flexibility in spite of remaining firm in their principles, their vision and mission.  At no time did Jesus compromise just for His own convenience, but He acted in accordance with the principles guiding His mission.  The rationale was simple.  When the Lord replied, “’It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.’  She retorted, ‘Ah, yes, sir, but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.’”  Both the Lord and the woman were flexible.  Both remained faithful to their principles and respected each other’s principles.  Nevertheless, they were also willing to make adjustments so long as the principle is clear. The woman did not fight for the full rights and privileges given to the Jews.  She accepted what the Lord could give to her in a limited capacity.

This flexibility gained her the healing for her daughter.  The Lord said to her, “’Women, you have great faith.  Let your wish be granted.’  And from that moment her daughter was well again.”  If she had insisted on the full privileges, she would have got nothing.  In life, therefore, we need to pray for prudence in making decisions.  Like Jesus, we must stay focused on our principles but we must know when to break them for the greater good without surrendering our principles.  This was how Jesus acted in His ministry with regard to the laws, particularly the Sabbath laws and those dealing with traditions involving cleanliness.  This is the kind of faith that we must cultivate if we are to find true liberation as a Christian.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved


Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
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