They say of the greatest leaders “we did it without her/him”. They also say that of some pretty dire leaders as well.
Being interviewed the other week by a colleague for their doctorate research on “moral leadership”; the final question was, “How would you like to be remembered”. I didn’t expect the question and it left me flummoxed. I’m not sure I want to be; I’m pretty confident I won’t be. Once you’ve left people have to move on. New leaders are appointed and new pupils, teachers and support staff join the school who never worked with you and never knew you.
My thought was, “it was never about me any way”. It was about the children, young people and communities who I was called to serve. I form a link in a chain that stretches back at St. Mary’s for over a century and will hopefully stretch for centuries to come. My stewardship of the school for fourteen years, which has now ceased, as I have moved to lead the Trust, is for only a short period of the school’s history.
During fourteen years I enjoyed the cut and thrust of leading a thriving 11-18 school with over 1200 pupils and 150 staff. The constant knocks on the door asking “are you busy?” were part of the daily routine; I miss it, it was exhausting. There was an immediacy about much of the work I did and the decisions that needed taking, alongside some time set aside for longer term thinking.
Much of my current role lacks an immediacy, decisions are long term; incrementally adding to and developing the schools’ culture. It’s not cut and thrust and the 1:1 interaction with many different staff in a day, or an hour, is less prevalent. I’ve become wall paper not your feature wall type but more the magnolia painted anaglypta. Moving into the background leaves space for others to grow whilst your presence, undiminished but not as prominent, remains. It feels very odd but somehow it also feels very right.
Leaving a legacy in some ways is important: it hopefully means you’ve done a good job, you have made a positive contribution, provided foundations on which others can build and have left something which is of value. The greatest value is in the relationships. The position is unimportant; it is the person that counts. Acts of kindness, creating opportunities to grow or simply being there matter most.
Here’s one of my favourite prayers by way of a reflection for the day because “it helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view”:
Archbishop Oscar Romero Prayer: A Step Along The Way
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.