I started a new job this week. I’ve gone back to work I used to do in the Council working with Councillors and supporting work at a neighbourhood level. Local problems are often too complex for any one service to fix. However when you draw together all the different people involved and all their knowledge and resources you can find ways to start to address things. Five years ago before cuts and restructuring I managed one of seven teams doing this. Now I am managing the whole city wide approach.
The bad day I referred to in a blog a few weeks back (1) was a day where I got myself in a tizzy thinking I hadn’t been shortlisted for interview. I knew what a big opportunity this was but the way I reacted was a wake up call. I wasn’t trusting God with it. I sent out some texts requesting prayer and I got one response that smacked me between the eyes. ‘It’s not about you’ said the text, ‘You are simply putting yourself at God’s disposal. If he wants you there the job is already yours’. The message was clear – God has you and he has this.
That shifted my perspective and I was able to go into the interview praying – ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done’ and gallantly giving God permission to make sure the right person got appointed regardless of whether it was me. I knew I had to go and do my best, to offer what I had and to trust God with the outcome.
The blessing in this, beyond getting the job, is to have that shifted perspective to know that whilst I need to work hard and be energetic, diligent and creative I don’t go in with the performance pressure of thinking I need to be an unreal, perfect version of myself.
This pressure to perform and to fulfil some kind of image of what a leader is was painfully demonstrated by the BBC documentary ‘School’ recently. Episode 3 followed efforts by the leadership of Marlwood School to get themselves out of Special Measures. Marlwood is in Almondsbury just outside Bristol. My niece is a pupil there.
The school received two Ofsted visits in 3 months and tried desperately to do enough to convince them it was not inadequate. My wife left teaching 9 months ago and my son is a year 11 (5th year) student so none of what I saw was unexpected. There were the pep talk assemblies and the demoralising teaching observations. At the end it wasn’t enough and we saw the choked Headteacher walk into the staffroom to announce he was quitting. One of the interviewees was an articulate year 10 (4th year) student. He recalled that he and the Head had started at the school at the same time. He remembered the Head making a promise that in three years the school would be rated by Oftsed as outstanding.
I felt sorry for the Head but it chimed with the (albeit edited) picture the programme had presented. There was an element of delusion amongst the senior management that it you wanted to improve hard enough it would happen. Meanwhile my wife winced at the poor classroom management on display suggesting that some practical measures to change things were not in place.
The promise of ‘outstanding in three years’ caused me to wonder how much the Head had been playing the role of what he thought a Head should be. He of course could not make that promise. He didn’t get to determine the school’s rating. What he could have promised was that he would do everything he could to make the school outstanding – that might sound like semantics but it was a promise he could have delivered that would have had to be focussed on taking practical steps.
I go into my new job knowing I have weaknesses and will make mistakes. I am confident that as I do what I can we will make progress. In our culture this awareness of weakness and fallibility can be seen as a deficit, I want to suggest it can actually be our biggest strength.
At the moment ‘The Apprentice’ is back on TV. Unlike previous seasons, we haven’t watched any of it but I can confidently predict a few things. There will be some posh people and there will be some rough diamonds. There will be lots of power dressing and preening. Most of all there will be people talking themselves up and looking to point the finger when things descend into farce.
The show is a walking advert for hubris. It is a modern parable. People big themselves up and then crash and burn.
The antidote to pride is humility. This isn’t about putting ourselves down but seeing things as they are – none of us are the finished article, we will make mistakes, we need the help of others to live healthy, balanced lives – you can’t watch your own back.
The Apostle Paul speaks in the book of 2 Corinthians (2) of having a ‘thorn in the flesh’. This was something that troubled him. He asked God to take it away. Instead God said that his grace would be sufficient, more than that his power would be made perfect in Paul’s weakness.
God was saying that the thorn, the place of weakness would cause Paul to reach out to him. And as he reached out to him, he would find that God had what he needed. In reaching beyond his own limited resources, he would be tapping into God’s.
The world’s performance culture is built on a lie. The lie is that we have to be able to do it all and do it all by ourselves. Weakness is not allowed. Weakness is our enemy. It’s this lie that burns people out, ends careers and has hideously disfigured our education system.
Jesus says the truth sets us free. The truth is that he made us full of ability and potential but not to operate as a one man band. It’s not all about us. When we bring what we have and offer it up, God can do something wonderful with it. And when we fail, as we will, he can change us and teach us and transform that weakness into an opportunity for growth. Imagine that for a model in the workplace, in the home and in community.
(2) 2 Corinthians 12:9