Published by Jeremy Fagan on 12th September 2018

The Ghosts of Leaders Past, Present and Future

At the beginning of September, we’re often encouraged in the church to start to plan for Christmas. So naturally my thoughts have turned to a Christmas Carol, and the figures of the three ghosts. I’m sure that Dickens’ novella has been seen as an allegory for leadership elsewhere, but I was wondering how many people in positions of leadership are haunted by three types of leadership ghosts – the ghosts of leaders past, present and yet to come?

The ghosts of leaders past come in various forms – the ghosts of the golden era, always better than now, who achieved so much while wafting through the air in an ineffable cloud of perfection. Whatever they touched turned to gold, and they achieved what Yiannis Gabriel calls the four fantasies of leaders – that they should be caring, accessible, omnipotent and legitimate. All the problems and challenges of the current situation would be solved if only the current leaders were as good as them.

Of course, the other type of ghosts of leaders past are the wrong sort – the ones who did so much damage. They could do no right – they were lazy, incompetent, manipulative, uncaring and generally awful, and any problems with the current situation were undoubtedly their fault and the people still present from that era are the helpless victims of these awful leaders.

The second type of ghost, the ghost of leaders present, are the ones that are looked at enviously from afar – if only we had a leader like they do over there, then wouldn’t everything be marvellous. They’ve done incredible things, and if only we had them as our leader, incredible things could happen here.

And the third type of ghost, the ghost of leaders future, is perhaps most prevalent when people come to think of succession planning. This is the ghostly figure that haunts job adverts and person specifications everywhere – the ghost who will be able to do everything that the last or current leader couldn’t – as well, of course, as keeping everything that’s currently happening on the road.

The purpose of the three ghosts in Dickens’ novella was, of course, to stimulate change from Scrooge. But it seems to me that the wrong sort of ghosts prevent, rather than stimulate, change. What are the ghosts that we need to hear from?

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