The ethical challenge facing the leader

Opening up the anxiety that the leader carries on behalf of the organisation is opening up second order/systemic/‘Kierkegaard’ anxiety …

This is Kierkegaard’s ‘concept of anxiety’ (Princeton University Press, 1980), in which freedom appears before itself as a possibility. This opening up means that “… whoever is educated by possibility remains with anxiety; he does not permit himself to be deceived by its countless falsifications and accurately remembers the past… for him, anxiety becomes a serving spirit that against its will leads him where he wishes to go.” (p159)

… anxiety that puts the leader’s very being into question (as well as that of the organisation). Through being able to bear this anxiety, the leader is able to enable the organisation to bear it. We can understand more of what this means if we consider what happens when the priest or rabbi is in the leadership role.

The role of the priest is defined in relation to the carrying out of sacred rituals, and the rabbi is often seen similarly, a role with which s/he may collude as a defence against anxiety. However, in the pastoral role, the priest or rabbi is drawn away, to an extent, from this towards the asymmetric demands of his or her flock/community. The priest or rabbi therefore has to face up to and struggle with his or her own personal relation to anxiety. (Sermons may provide the priest or rabbi with a means of sharing this process of self-revelation through which these tensions may be worked through).

The avoidance of this struggle colludes with the wish of the flock/community to displace their anxieties onto the priest’s or rabbi’s institutional structure, and a church hierarchy or religious orthodoxy may wish to draw its strength from reinforcing this collusion. But the pastoral role demands more than this insofar as it encounters asymmetric demands from members of the flock/community that call the very formation of the organisation into question.

The traditional approach to organisational role consultation is to consider the relationship between person, role and system. For a role ‘at the edge’, there is therefore a fourth consideration in the nature of the primary risk implicit in the current formation of person-role-system, in which the consideration of primary risk involves questioning the performativity of the organisation’s relation to the demand. (See Boxer & Eigen 2008, Asymmetric Leadership: supporting a CEO’s response to turbulence, in Campbell & Huffington (eds) Organizations Connected: A Handbook of Systemic Consultation, Karnac, London).

What then is the ethical challenge facing the leader in seeking to repair the world? And what particular form does this challenge take for the religious leader?

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