Enlightened and Courageous Leadership
The two books I focus on this week are written in the spirit of The Danger of a Single Story. In the 19-minute Ted Talk, rated as one of the 25 most popular of all time, Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie cautions about the folly of building a worldview on the basis of a single narrative. Prior to joining Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in 2000, I had a worldview that was steeped in a cultural interpretation of scripture. For example, I believed that one cannot be a follower of Jesus while consuming alcoholic beverages. Then in 2001, I had a culture shock when my western missionary friends, whose spirituality I deeply respected, invited me to join them for dinner at a local restaurant in Benin, West Africa – and casually proceeded to order a glass of beer. Yikes!! Somehow, I managed to remain calm externally, but kept wondering, “what on earth …?” This began a journey of re-examining the scripture and realizing, for example, that when Jesus turned water into wine, we are not told that the wine was non-alcoholic as I and many Nigerian friends I knew somehow believed. My mono-cultural perspective of this and other subjects in scripture and life were dangerous. Until now, I still approach that subject with great caution when talking with some friends.
Written by more than 20 contributors representing several countries and regions, Global Leadership Perspectives represents an excellent example of pursuing scholarly objectivity by promoting under-represented voices. Reading chapter 16, Scandinavian Leadership and the (E)Quality Imperative, made me wonder how much the Protestant Work Ethic may have influenced culture change and leadership in Scandinavia. It is no secret that the Vikings wielded great influence in this region, making it quite unsafe. But today it is considered “among the wealthiest, happiest and most peaceful parts of the world”, with a population that is “gentle, informal … relaxed … modest … focusing on consensus, humbleness and a ‘team stronger than the individual’ attitude.” In my visits to Norway and (their cousins) The Faroe Islands, I remember coming away with the impression that this is clearly the most peaceful place on earth I have ever been to. The people are so welcoming and even the hills, water bodies and nature seem so peaceful. So, what lead to the shift from Viking battles to remarkable peace? According to missionary stateman Loren Cunningham, Hans Nielsen Hauge was a catalyst in the transformation of 19th century Norway. To address the high incidence of illiteracy and poverty in Norway, Cunningham points out that Hauge wrote some 33 books and distributed more than 200,000 of these when the country had a population of only 800,000. This way he pioneered a literacy movement that may be the foundation of the position Norway enjoys as a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Additionally, Hauge recruited and mobilized lay preachers nationwide; distributed the Bible from village to village; taught citizens to engage in business using Biblical principles; and directed believers to “vocational opportunities in towns where they could make a difference.” Hauge was a visionary leader who sacrificed his life for Norway’s transformation. The egalitarian nature of Scandinavian culture and leadership teaches us the Biblical ideals of simplicity; regard for the image of God in every human (Imago Dei); and Shalom.
I greatly admire the generally hierarchical slant within African culture but also wish my fellow-Africans would be a bit more egalitarian, with accountable ministry, political and business leaders who show greater appreciation for the image of God within the people they lead.
The Letter from Birmingham Jail calls upon followers of Jesus to be enlightened and courageous about social issues and, ultimately, cry in the wilderness on behalf of people living in the margins. Written by Martin Luther King, Jr, it is a powerful reminder that, as illustrated by the life of the Apostle Paul, imprisonment and adverse circumstances cannot hinder a compelling vision. It is diplomatic, prophetic, and ultimately “challenges us and what we believe about our own nation and its mythology of perfection and the halting, often grudging way we went about redressing that primal flaw of slavery and all the forms of racism that succeeded it.”
In the first quarter of 2020, just before the Covid lockdown, I joined a group of several concerned citizens on a peaceful protest against the impending roll-out of the comprehensive sex education program of South Africa’s Department of Basic Education. We were disturbed by the potential for over-sexualizing the younger generation in a context that is already wrestling with a high incidence of rape, gender-based violence, and other related challenges. It was a privilege to campaign for a just cause. But as a husband and father, I also wondered what might happen to my family if we were arrested. As I reflect on this today, I am more convinced that argument without action (non-violent action) is not sufficient. In His campaign for the reign of God, Jesus addressed large crowds and exemplified non-violent action by ultimately dying for His cause. Following the models of Jesus and King, I look forward to being continually led by the Spirit in knowing what a bold campaign for social justice might look like in my context.
 Johan Grant and Yngve Magnus Ulsred, Global Leadership Perspectives, 138.
 Ibid, 138-139
 Cunningham, 69
 Ibid, 68
 Ibid, 68
 Martin Luther King Jr, The Letter from Birmingham, 12
10 responses to “Enlightened and Courageous Leadership”
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.
I’m fascinated by your selection of the Scandinavian leadership model. What drew you to it?
Thanks Andy. Growing up in a context where wealth was synonymous with arrogance, my interest in the Scandinavian model lies in my amazement with how people from that region are able to be so humble and gentle despite being so wealthy.
Henry: Interesting reflections on the Hierarchical leadership dynamic prevalent in Africa and the more egalitarian model found in Scandinavian countries. Surely there is room for one to accommodate the other on both sides. It is so interesting to me that we can incorporate other ideas into our own leadership models without forsaking the essence of our own beliefs. That’s what being ‘well-rounded’ means, right?
Troy, I fully agree with your thoughts on being “well rounded.” For instance, I think cultures that are inclined towards relationships, can benefit a lot by being a bit more task-orientated, and vise-versa. I believe God created us to learn from each other, and know that I’ve benefited significantly from observing and learning from western and Asian cultures. As Paul would say, ” the eye cannot say I do not need the ear” 🙂
Henry, thank you for sharing a growth moment from your leadership journey. I appreciate your consistent humility in your posts. I was also struck by this sentence: “I am more convinced that argument without action (non-violent action) is not sufficient.” As the old saying goes, “talk is cheap.” I’m going to think about what that means in our ministry context. Thanks for your willingness to risk arrest for what you believe.
Much thanks Roy. ‘Always very gracious
Lots to chew on here. First off, you did it, I have added Norway to my bucket list. I was already intrigued, but now I am sold!
I love your thoughts on MLK as well. Argument without action is no action. Bold. Well said, And as you noted, quite costly. I look forward to chatting more about these items in person! See you soon.
See you in two days my friend. Looking forward
Henry, oh my thank you for sharing yourself in your recounting of your world view of Christianity and drinking….so vulnerable to share.
How would you compare and contrast the nature of peace within hierarchical and egalitarian cultures?
Nicole, thanks for your kind words and very interesting question. Hmmmm … there are no easy answers, but I think hierarchical cultures tend to foster a propensity to corruption due to the power dynamic at play. The powers that be do as they wish, and others cannot challenge them. Perhaps that’s how the saying “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” came into being. Where there’s corruption, even if there’s relative peace, I would argue that it will not last very long. Yet corruption exists everywhere, though more prevalent in some settings than others. So I think peace is more determined by character than culture. So even in hierarchical settings, if the place is blessed with a relatively good leader, for instance Singapore or Rwanda, peace might prevail. Both countries either have or have had democracies run by benevolent dictators and its worked for them