Leadership, it seems, is the new black. Whether in politics, sport, culture or the church, one need not scratch very deep to find a view that leadership is either the cause or the solution to whatever challenge faces the particular organisation.
There are many writers on the topic, and many theories about how leadership works, what it looks like, and how to become the quintessential great leader.
Into this minefield Ralph Mayhew gently steps (as befits the title of the book) with his offering: The Anonymous Leader.
Essentially Mayhew argues that many who pursue leadership do so from a perspective of personal ambition—seeking influence for the opportunity to grow one’s own position and power—rather than by pointing to something, or someone greater.
Writing from an Australian and Christian (in fact Uniting Church) perspective, Ralph states his case in even the opening sentences: the anonymous leader is one who points to Christ, who fades into the background so that what is seen and experienced is something akin to the kingdom of God.
Digging into the lives of biblical characters such as John the Baptist, Peter and Joseph, Mayhew works to illustrate his view that leadership is founded on
wisdom, integrity, humility, security and resilience, and that the truly anonymous leader moves towards these characteristics by pursuing a life of discipleship.
There is a lot to dig into in The Anonymous Leader. At times the ideas and metaphors tumble forth so densely packed that it’s necessary to stop and wait, listening carefully for the message embedded within or even to re-read a passage again and again. Mayhew’s writing is regularly, visibly punctuated with the thoughts he wants to emphasise, again inviting the reader to pause.
The challenge to the reader is to come to this book with palms open and an attitude of prayer and humility. It’s a book worth reading with an open notebook and pencil alongside.
Who am I when the going gets tough? If I express leadership in my work, my church or my community, to whom do I point? Whose vision do I embrace? What do I truly desire for those with whom I work? What’s my own unspoken motivation?
These are the kinds of questions that The Anonymous Leader raises. It’s not always an easy read, but it is the kind of book that if you’re willing to actively engage, might just push you to critical self-reflection rather than a head-nodding easy agreement.
And in the genre of leadership writing, that’s not necessarily common.
Project officer—mission engagement at the Uniting Church Queensland Synod