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Leadership Day 2020


Leadership Day 2020
"Servant Leadership - A willing heart and a kind spirit"

Keynote Address

By the Most Rev Timothy Costelloe SDB
Archbishop of Perth

Our Lady of Mount Carmel School (Hilton)
Friday 11 September 2020


Download the full text in PDF

I think for the adults here in the room, servant leadership is a kind of a two-word phrase that we hear a lot about, particularly in the Catholic Church, we always talk about servant leaders,

but maybe for you who are a bit younger, it comes as something that you don't hear every day of the week, and therefore it's something that you will understand better than we adults do, as a combination of two words that you normally wouldn't put together. I'm not sure that we think of servers as leaders, and sometimes I don't think we even think of leaders as servants, we think of leaders as the people who are in charge, the people who call the shots, the people who make all the decisions, the people who tell us what to do – and in a certain sense, that's sometimes true.

But in our Christian understanding of things – and of course, we're all here as part of the Christian family – in our Christian understanding of things, being a leader and being a servant absolutely go together, you can't have one without the other. And that's very different to the way that lots of other people would understand leadership – they wouldn't think of leadership as service, they would think of it more as being served by others. If I'm the leader, then it's your job to look after me. If I'm the leader, that it's your job to do what I tell you. If I’m the leader, it's my job to make the decisions and your job to put them all into practice.

So, I really wanted to get you all to think about the fact that being a leader and being a servant don't naturally fit together. And the world in which we live doesn't often give us great examples of leaders who are servants. You might think about some of the leaders who you know, I don't mean the teachers in your schools, but in the wider society. The leaders aren’t always the people who are notable because they great servants of everybody.

So where does this idea of servant leadership come from?

For us as Christians, we understand that it comes from Jesus himself. To be a Christian, it's about belonging to a Church, it's about having teachings that the Church believes that we commit ourselves to, it's about having rules and regulations that we follow about all those things. But before it's about any of those things, being a Christian is about recognising Jesus as our leader. When we recognise Jesus as our leader, another way of saying that is that we're recognising Jesus as the model that we're going to try and follow. He's not the only person that we might think about as a model that we want to follow and I'm sure all of you have lots of people – might be your parents or other relatives, it might be your teachers, it might be your sporting heroes – it could be all sorts of people that you look to as models that you'd like to follow.

But for us, when we're looking at all these other people that we have and that we think we'd like to follow, one of the things that we do as Christians is to ask: how close is the way they exercise leadership to the way Jesus exercised his leadership? And often, the answer will be very close. And I'm sure in the case of your school principals and your teachers, that is the case, that if you looked at your teachers and your principals, and you looked at the example of Jesus, you'd see so many things in common, and that's fantastic. And it would be true of your families, your parents, hopefully true of each other – but it's not always the case.

So the first thing that I wanted to suggest to you is that you might think about the people who you instinctively look to as models to follow and just spend a bit of time thinking about how close the way this person exercises his or her leadership is with the way Jesus exercised his leadership. I want to talk to you about the leadership of Jesus by using a couple of examples from the Gospel. But I really want you to bear in mind that Jesus lived a long time ago, some 2000 years ago, a long way from Australia, the life that he lived, the culture he lived, in the society he grew up in, was very different to ours. So, when we talk about following Jesus as our leader, we don't mean imitating exactly everything he did.

Following someone isn't so much about doing what they did. Following someone, as a leader, is about working out what was going on in their mind and in their heart, and then seeing how that can translate it to my mind and into my heart.

Following Jesus as our leader and modelling our way of being the leader the way Jesus was a leader, is about having a look at his mind and his heart and translating that into your situation and the circumstances in which you find yourself.

One of the great difficulties of a leader is that he or she is often having people put pressure on them to make a certain decision, and you can feel too much pressure to go along with it because you're worried about what will people think if you don't agree with them, but I think one of the things I've learnt as a leader is that in this age, you really can't please everybody. I'm sure your teachers and your principals will probably say much the same thing. There are times when you've got a tough decision to make, and no matter what decision you make, someone's going to be unhappy. And so, in the end, it can be a bit of a freedom for you. “I can't please everyone, so what I'll do is place myself by doing the thing that, in my conscience, I really believe is the right thing to do.”

Leadership is about being in touch with your mind and your heart and your conscience and having the courage to make the best decision you can. Not for your own self, not for the good of everybody else, even though you know some people won't like the decision you take.

I want to remind you of a story from the Gospel that you'll all know, and just invite you to think about it in terms of the way Jesus reacts. Because as I said earlier, if we're going to look to Jesus as the leader whose example we want to follow as leaders, we need to look at the way he acts and try and work out why he acts the way he acts.

The story that I wanted to recall for you is the story of the Zacchaeus. Everybody hates him, he's got no friends in the town, he's got no respect, and he's doing the wrong thing. Jesus is the leader, so everyone expects he's going to tell him to get his act together and start doing the right thing, everyone's waiting to see what Jesus will say to Zacchaeus.

Jesus sees Zacchaeus up in the tree, he looks up to him and he says to Zacchaeus: “come down out of that tree, because I want to come to your place for dinner tonight”. That's an extraordinary thing for Jesus to do – and everybody in the town would have been a bit disappointed, because they are expecting Jesus to scold Zacchaeus and to tell him to start doing the right thing. Jesus doesn't do any of that.

What Jesus does, because he's got this kind of mind and heart, he can see the real problem with Zacchaeus, which is that he is lonely, isolated, persecuted, despised, and rejected. He needs someone to be a friend. So, Jesus decides he's going to be that someone. And what happens in the story, even without Jesus saying anything to Zacchaeus about what he's doing wrong, Zacchaeus comes down from the tree, and straightaway says: “Lord, if I cheated anyone, I am going to pay them back 10 times over”. In other words, just the fact of Jesus being able to see to the bottom half of Zacchaeus, turned Zacchaeus around.

I just want you to think about what that might say about the style of leadership of Jesus, because leaders ultimately are about people who are engaged with relating to caught up with other people in order to help everybody live a better life.

I really think it's worthwhile thinking about the kind of heart that Jesus must have had, that could enable him to respond in that way to Zacchaeus. I think a servant leader – as opposed to an aggressive leader, or a demanding leader, or an unreasonable leader, or related – is really all about himself rather than everybody else.

A servant leader will always try to understand the people he's leading, so that he can find a way to touch their heart and help them to move forward a little bit. We could think about a lot of other examples in the Gospels of Jesus and the way he deals with Zacchaeus.

Your role as a leader is to find a way to touch someone's heart, so that that person can begin to be the best person they can possibly be. And I've got no doubt that that's exactly the kind of leadership you experience every day in your schools, from your principals, from your teachers, at home, and many other places as well.

*Transcribed by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Perth Communications Office.