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Lessons in leadership with Sir Alex

Or… ‘what the Church can teach Manchester United about choosing their leaders’

And so Easter Sunday passed this year with a hostile crowd and a vaunted leader sacrificed, but it wasn’t at Calvary and it may take a lot longer than three days to sort out (h/t David Keen). The inevitable finally took place as David Moyes was sacked as manager of Manchester United.

Moyes & Ferguson win-loss records in their first 30 games were near identical and Moyes was slightly better.

Regular readers will know that I’m not a fan of Manchester United so I have now football axe to grind here.

I am tempted to write about the fact that he wasn’t given enough time (see the photo right for all you need to know about the need to be patient).

I’m also tempted to write about how Moyes was set-up to fail because he inherited an ageing squad well past its best. A squad that had been propped up last year by world-class players in the twilight of their careers (Scholes & Giggs, and to a certain degree also Van Persie). Fergie hadn’t left him very much.

But what I’d like to write about is how I could see all this coming a mile off because it looked very, very familiar to me from the world of the Church. Specifically, what happens when one Vicar leaves and their replacement is chosen. So, here are a couple of quick lessons on what the Church could have taught Manchester United.

The Vicar has no voice in choosing their replacement

When a Vicar leaves a parish (whether by retirement or by moving on to a new role), they have absolutely no say in who replaces them. Once they have left, there is always an ‘interregnum‘ (space between two reigns) and then the people of the parish are asked what they would like to see in their new leader. The comments of people like the Bishop and other overseers are also fed in, in case they are aware of some strategic things that may not be known at local level. But the one person who gets absolutely no say in the matter is the outgoing Vicar.

What does this guard against? Well, firstly, it’s very hard to be objective about your parishes when you leave. You may be tempted to try and justify your work or even cover up mistakes or failures. You may not have a good sense of what they need now, and (of course) it’s hard to be honest about your weaknesses and allow space for a new leader who may be gifted in those areas. There is also that temptation in human beings to choose their successor by finding someone not quite as good as we are, so that it makes us look all the better when they fail.

What you definitely don’t want is for the outgoing Vicar to choose a carbon-copy of themselves as their pre-anointed successor. That pays no attention to the way in which the parish has changed and grown in the intervening years since that outgoing Vicar was first appointed. The people have changed, society has changed, the local culture will have grown and evolved. You need an appointment now that reflects the Church as it is, now how it used to be.

It also means the new Vicar has slightly more freedom to be his own man or woman. If you’ve been chosen to be a carbon-copy of the last leader, what chance do you have to be yourself? If you divert from their well-established model, people aren’t going to like it and you’re going to get unnecessary flack.

The outgoing Vicar is not seen or heard from again

Now this is a tricky bit because it doesn’t always work out this way. But there is an unwritten rule amongst Clergy that you never, ever go back and that when you leave a Parish, you very definitely stay out of the new Vicar’s way. For many Clergy keeping this unwritten rule is easy. Their new parish or retirement residence may be some considerable distance away from the old parish. Indeed, there is an unwritten understanding that (if you are retiring) you put some serious geographical distance between you and the parish in which you served (although there are sometimes very good reasons for wanting to be more local).

Why? Because anytime you turn up, it has the potential to undermine the new Vicar. They may be very talented, very strong as a leader. They may not mind your presence at all (although they might). But if anyone has a grievance or a problem with the new leadership, seeing the old Vicar in the congregation can be an opportunity for the aggrieved to stick the boot in. If a new initiative is announced, some may look at the old Vicar and see if he or she is in agreement. It never works. It always undermines.

Now, of course the Church makes mistakes. There’s plenty of bad decisions out there with the wrong people in the wrong places. But these ways of doing things in Church circles are used because, over the years, considerable wisdom has built up through countless situations. Many, many times we’ve learnt that its far better to move on and not look back. It’s the new Vicar’s ship now, not yours. You need to butt out for the good of their leadership, for the good of the community you led and also for your own good too. Move on.

QED

So perhaps you can see why I thought this was always doomed. One working-class Glaswegian with red hair anoints another working-class Glaswegian with red hair. It seems that the fans, the players, the Board don’t have much of a chance to comment or consider what Man United need in the 21st century. The Board give Sir Alex far too much latitude in making the choice. The old Manager joins the board and goes to watch every game. Every time a goal is conceded, the television cameras don’t cut to the new manager, they cut to the old one.

Sir Alex, if you truly care about Manchester United, you need to disappear. Don’t get involved in the choice of the next manager. Don’t comment on who you would like to see replace David Moyes. Become a sleeping member of the Board (or better still resign your membership). Don’t turn up to games and very definitely don’t comment publicly on anything to do with the club. Only then can you give the new Manager a fighting chance to lead.

Easter Parable: The Beam of Light

Happy Easter everyone!

With thanks to the children of St Mary’s & St Michael’s Church who helped me put together this Space Ranger parable entitled ‘The Beam of Light’. It was told on Easter Sunday 2014 at both churches for an all-age audience in place of a sermon. If you like it and it’s useful to you for future years at Easter time, feel free to use or adapt, because I’m sure you can improve it! The good bits are the kids’ work, the bits you can improve are obviously mine.

An artist's impression of a Beam of Light shooting into the sky

This morning I would like to tell you a story.

This is the story of a Space Ranger whose name is Captain Steve. He has a spaceship called the Eternal Sunrise that can travel the universe. He shoots from planet to planet, and quest to quest, a hero to the galaxy and a friend to all.

One day, as Captain Steve was journeying a thousand million light years from planet Earth, he noticed Read more

Trendy Vicars look like Neo!

A photo of Keanu Reeves as Neo in the Matrix

The Daily Mail isn’t prone to running ridiculous stories about Trendy Vicars, at least not since they last did it a month ago. It does slightly boggle the mind, however, to think that the Daily Mail thought the best way to greet Christmas was with a ridiculous story about Trendy Vicars and what they choose to wear in church.

“Never mind the Cassocks” they say, “vicars could soon be conducting services in shell-suits, shorts or even football shirts under radical plans to overturn centuries of Church tradition.”

“The Horror” says the nation. “Typical” says Mr Angry of Tunbridge Wells. “Pile of garbage, Daily Mail” says anyone with an ounce of common sense.

Read more

Remembering that this isn’t a game

A photo of two red dice rolling.

In all that follows, I want to underline and emphasise what is always true of posts on this blog. These opinions are my own personal opinions, and do not represent the views of my Bishop, diocese or other colleagues. Any alignment with their own views is purely coincidental.

In the last couple of days, I have been trying very hard to process devastating news.

Since 2011 when I arrived in my current parish, I have been championing Kings Hill’s need for an extra primary school. Kings Hill very obviously needed the extra school places and local people felt that the Local Authority wasn’t listening. Just as I arrived, a Free School bid had been unsuccessful but the pressure in the community was beginning to mount. Read more

The Genesis of a Non-Story

A screen grab of the headline from the Mail on Sunday

The other day I received an email from the Comms Unit at Church House. A journalist from the Mail on Sunday had been to church (at All Souls, Langham Place for a family event) and was intrigued to see the church used projector screens and also had flat screens on pillars. She wanted to write an article about its use in church.

The journalist spoke to the Comms Unit. The Comms Unit spoke to Publishing. Spotting the chance for a bit of free promotion, the staff at CHP talked about the days of Visual Liturgy, their current work and the (relatively less complex) development of a couple of new iPad apps to help clergy with the lectionary. Finally, they said, if she wanted to know about projection, she really needed to talk to me. Read more

A contemporary Advent parable

A photo of Paddy and the girls from ITV show Take Me Out

The girls were ready, Paddy had the TV studio audience to their usual fever pitch but as the lift descended, some of the girls were already making up their mind.

No pounding dance track, no rappers promising steamy nights of passion or singing of male bravado. Instead, the haunting voice of Enya singing ‘O Come o come Emmanuel.’

The audience were momentarily silenced, not quite sure what to make of it all. Read more

The discrepancy between Diocesan and General Synods

Fairness

The list of who voted yes and no in the debate on women bishops (opens PDF) has now been published. Electronic voting systems have their plus points and their negatives, I guess.

The Head of Communications for the CofE has encouraged everyone to “love your enemies” as they look through the list.

I certainly think it is important that people don’t vilify or criticise those who chose to vote ‘no’. That doesn’t help anyone.

I would, however, like to use it to illustrate something of the Read more

Where did it go wrong? Structural issues have done us

A photo of tears, frustration and disappointment at General Synod today

I appreciate that, in the rarified bubble that clergy can sometimes inhabit, it probably feels like the entire world will have noticed tonight that the Church of England has failed at the final hurdle to pass legislation to enable women to enter the ranks of Bishops.

I’m sure the reality is that lots of people aren’t paying the blindest bit of notice.

I’m not going to comment on the why’s and wherefore’s of those in favour and those against. My task now, like all of us in the church, is to Read more

Bringing the cloud of witnesses close (cloud christianity)

A word cloud of famous Christian leaders and saints

Tomorrow is All Saints Day, a day to remember and honour all those who put their faith in Christ and have gone before us into glory.

As a result, it seems the perfect time to develop some ideas that I first put forward at the recent Christian New Media Conference. The more I think about the Communion of the Saints, the more I think that the Internet is opening up new dimensions theologically for that Communion. Check this out from Hebrews… Read more

Reflections from #cnmac12

Christian New Media Conference badge

On Saturday, I travelled up to Kings College, London to participate in (what was apparently) the sixth third annual Christian New Media Conference (the awards night has been running much longer).

I signed up to attend months ago, pretty much as soon as tickets were available, and as it turned out I ended up going as a contributor, leading a seminar on ancient-future lessons and what the Tradition of the church has to say to us today. Read more