I have chosen to reflect on ‘Jeopardy: the Danger of Playing it Safe on the Path of Success’ by Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones (the Black Farmer). Emmanuel-Jones who was born in Jamaica and brought up in Birmingham, asks the central question whether it is more important ‘to be or to belong?’. He writes, ‘If your focus is on the need to belong, if you are a member of the tribe or part of the group, then it is much harder to actually take the strides you need towards success… By contrast, someone who is willing to be has one of the greatest assets in life, and that is focus.’
I have always felt in terms of leadership that an important characteristic is to ‘be’ clear about who you are, willing to stand on your own convictions – whether your decision is popular or unconventional, to have a clear focus. This value was instilled into me from my childhood with my Dad always insisting that it was better for me to go right even if all of my friends were going left. I have been reflecting on the issues of integrity and values more because of the number of funerals that I have been attending recently. As the Windrush generation is passing, I am struck by the tributes made to men and women who planted churches, stood up to racism, retained a humility of spirit but also demonstrated a humble determination in the face of adversity and most importantly, lived what they preached. Proverbs 11:3 says ‘The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.’
It is interesting at a time when populist politics seems to be on the rise that we see more politicians seeming to disregard women’s rights, minorities and refugees – pointing to an imperative that seems to suggest that actually it is more important for leaders today to ‘belong’ – appeal to the popular masses, pay less attention to moral values or personal integrity because those issues really do not win votes. Within this context I am regularly asking myself whether the attitude to ‘be’ in leadership is still relevant. Does it matter what your values are if the reality means you would never be elected?
As leaders our values should mean something, and unless we are clear about who we are and comfortable with our own transparency, eventually we will be found out!
I applaud Emmanuel-Jones for being prepared to go against the grain. If you are thinking about life in leadership and grappling with whether ‘to be or to belong’, I would encourage you to ask yourself these questions:
1. Does it matter for me to be or to belong? Explain why.
2. Are you living the life you really want, or one that others want for you? Provide objective evidence.
3. What are your core values and the red lines that you are not prepared to cross?
Reverend Cassius Francis
Rev Cassius Francis is a minister with the Wesleyan Holiness Church, leading its church planting programme Oxygen Network. www.oxygennetwork.co.uk