The media has made a feast these last weeks of what was seen as indulgent travels of the Speaker of the House, Bronwyn Bishop. Extravagant flights in choppers or planes to Party fundraisers or social events had the press hounds baying for blood. More recently they have turned their attention to former Labor minister, Tony Burke, for similar indulgences.
The ever-measured Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, often a source of wise analysis of vexed questions, made a good distinction this week. Referring to the exorbitant flights of Ms Bishop, and whether or not such so-called “entitlements” could be justified, he said he did not like the word “entitlements” because “we are not entitled to anything”. He said entitlements were expenses that should be spent with caution and be accounted for. Accountability in leadership.
I am rather confident that the fifty-four young men who will soon cross this stage to be appointed to various offices, and the other twenty-two boarding leaders to be announced, understand that distinction. Confident they will not see leadership in terms of entitlements or (to employ that great Australianism) as ‘perks’. No. Their leadership will be accountable to you here who have put them forward for consideration. They will be accountable to different members of staff from whom they have delegated responsibilities. They will be accountable to this College whose ambassadors they will be.
In our tradition, our Jesuit way of relating to the world, to others and to God is commonly called ‘a spirituality of service’. Ignatius himself could hardly write a brief letter or pen a page in a book without speaking of serving or service. It was his cherished way to find and serve God – to serve God by serving others.
Ignatius, of course, had Jesus as his model. Of all the possibilities open to him as Messiah, Jesus himself chose to be, what is termed these days, a servant leader. He chose the more humble, though not the weaker, way. He chose to do the will of his Father, not his own. Jesus was a man of the people. He was to lead by putting his gifts, his talents, even his life, at the service of others. Jesus’ leadership does not serve him, it was not for self-interest, not for self-gain, never self-centred. It was for God, and it was for others.
True leadership is not about power-grabbing. It is not about bossing others and lording it over them. It is not about claiming and enjoying privilege or entitlements. True leadership is working alongside others. It is even putting oneself last. Many times Jesus demonstrated this. The most powerful way was at Calvary. There he emptied himself. He literally poured out his life, as Paul says, like a slave.
In the Spiritual Exercises, St Ignatius writes about the strategy of the Evil Spirit, that selfish spirit frequently at work in our lives. This spirit employs a simple strategy, in three sequential steps: from coveting riches (and boasting, “This is mine”), to seeking honour (and boasting, “Look at me”), to wallowing in pride (and boasting, “I am this“ or “I am that”). “By these three steps,” Ignatius says, “the Enemy of our human nature leads to all other vices.” If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the worst of the world’s leaders today.
This was exactly the temptation Jesus faced as a potential leader. But he rejected it. His leadership was not going to be about status, power and pride. It was to be a servant leadership. In his life, Jesus always communicated his message in word and in gesture. There is a wonderful story told in the Gospels (Matt 20) about the mother of two of the disciples, James and John. She approaches Jesus and asks him to give her two good boys front row seats in the Kingdom to come. Jesus rightly says those places are not for him to allot. Then the other disciples get rather annoyed at this greedy pushiness, so they begin to grumble. Jesus told them they were not to lead in the way they see the rulers about them. Rather, they are to be like himself “who has come, not to be served but to serve, and to give his life to redeem many”.
Serving and giving your life. Jesus graphically demonstrated this model of leadership when he washed the feet of his disciples at their final meal together. He showed that an authentic leader is servant of all. Just consider that model for a moment: God stooped down to wash the stinking, sweaty, grimy feet of his followers. It is an extraordinary demonstration.
Jesus thereby offers a model of leadership for us — especially in our school community, whether in class, in a team, as House leader or Prefect, as School Captain – or even as Principal or Rector. It is a call to be outwardly focussed, to be other-focussed, to be God-focussed. Later in this Assembly we will appoint a number of school leaders for the coming year.
Their appointment is not a reward for achievement, but an invitation to a deeper commitment.
Their appointment is not a chance to grab power and position, nor to clutch titles and entitlements, but to give away freely and generously of their time and their talents.
Their appointment is not to see, in a particular badge or a tie, a sign of elite status, but rather a symbol of real service.
Jesus once said to his ambitious disciples, “Here am I among you, as one who serves.” I hope this will soon become something of a personal motto for each of our new College leaders in the roles they assume today. “Here am I among you, as one who serves.” Not simply a slogan, but a principle displayed in the doing.