Pastoral Letter from Mark Venn
In the early 1980’s I was sent on an Introduction to Management course by my employers. One question a course tutor asked was, “What is the main thing you look for in a good manager?” My response was “integrity”, for which a dictionary definition would typically be a combination of “honesty with steadfastness to moral principles”. Other course members listed things like honesty, kindness and empathy. After a little discussion the tutor elicited a second list, namely the abilities a good manager would have, such as effective communication, involving staff in decisions, setting realistic targets, and providing and allocating appropriate resources. The tutor’s claim was that the second list was by far the more important. The first list consists of personal characteristics (which cannot be changed), while the second is of skills; skills are things which can be taught and learned.
I started writing this piece during the week which saw Boris Johnson’s resignation as Leader of the Conservative Party. I do not intend here to take any position on his resignation, or indeed rehearse his strengths and weaknesses, beyond noting that in any catalogue of his attributes, “integrity” may not head the list. Additionally, it should be remembered that in all of us, including politicians, there is a mixture of both positive and negative characteristics. Individuals are much more nuanced than social media would often have us believe.
It is also the case that the combination of characteristics and skill set will affect a person’s suitability for a particular role. For example, a highly charismatic but disorganised person may well inspire people but would struggle in a role that requires great attention to detail. It is my experience, including in some religious circles, that I have often come across many lovely individuals but who are just in the wrong job. St Paul writing in the New Testament often talks of different gifts and how all should work together. Knowing one’s own gifts, or strengths and limitations, should help us assess our suitability for a particular role. Unfortunately, our characters often blind us to a possible unsuitability, especially if a role appeals to our pride!
I have often thought of the management course tutor’s view, considering him wrong on two counts. Yes, skills can be taught and learned by someone with a mind to do so, but such skills are likely to be flawed if the underlying character of the person has deficiencies. A manager may “communicate effectively”, but if such a person lacks honesty, the message is not likely to be consistent. Secondly, I believe it is possible for characters to change; a well-known example from fiction that devotees of Jane Austen will recall, is the change in character of Mr Darcy. Any character changes though are likely to stem from some catalyst or event (such as rejection by Elizabeth Bennett).
Following Christ will inevitably lead to character change. When Paul wrote to the Galatian church, he mentioned the “fruit of the Spirit” - love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. As gardeners know, if a plant is healthy (and the weather allows!) its fruit will be produced - it is inevitable. Similarly, as we follow Christ, then our lives will show the fruit of the Spirit. Our characters will continue to change and refine the more we keep our focus on Christ, growing closer to Him.
There is a final thought as we await the outcome of the leadership election. I have sometimes used in services the Parliamentary Prayer. This dates from the time of Charles II and was said at the start of each sitting, until abolished twenty years ago. The Prayer asks that God grant to all in authority, particularly Members of Parliament:
“… the guidance of your Spirit. May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind…”
May we pray that our future Prime Minister is characterised by integrity and strives for this ideal.