Published by Jeremy Fagan on 30th November 2023

Inspiring Leadership – Emmie Bidston

MODEM Conference 2023 – Summary by Vaughan S. Roberts

Inspiring Leadership – Emmie Bidston 

The speaker at this year’s MODEM day conference was Emmie Bidston who, with Katy Granville-Chapman, is co-author of Leader: Know, Love and Inspire your People. Her presentation was divided into three parts. First, she encouraged us to think about leadership and flourishing. Second, she helped us to explore character and leadership. And finally, Emmie shared insights into leadership that knows, loves and inspires an organisation.


We began by exploring where we were in our experiences of leadership: (i) What has been our best experience of being led; (ii) What has been our worst experience of being led; and (iii) What is the most pressing question currently about leadership?

In response to our group discussion, Emmie introduced four character-based leadership beliefs:

  • Leadership is for flourishing
  • We are all becoming
  • We lead from who we are
  • Leadership is influence

What is flourishing?

In his book Flourish Martin Seligman identifies different manifestations of this phenomenon:

  • Hedonic – happiness, positive affect, life (satisfaction)
  • Eudemonic – positive psychological functioning (growth) 
  • Eudaimonia: being fully what it is to be human
  • It is a multidimensional construct

We explored this further with the help of three questions:

  1. What does flourishing mean to you? 
  2. What does it mean to your team? 
  3. What does it mean to your church?

Character and Leadership

Flourishing is also linked to character and The Oxford Character Project identifies seven strategies for character and leadership development: 

  1. Habituation through practice – We are what we repeatedly do
  2. Role models: engaging with virtuous exemplars – We become like those we look up to
  3. Reflection on personal experience – Reflection is the way we learn from experience
  4. Language: dialogue that increases virtue literacy – New terminology means new possibility
  5. Systems: identification and consideration of situational variables – Making the subconscious conscious can break patterns and pave the way for growth
  6. Moral reminders that make activate moral agency particular norms salient – Reminders of core commitments activate moral agency
  7. Communities and friendships – The kind of friends who are committed to helping us become our best selves are central to personal growth

In the third part of our conference Emmie shared some of the thinking from her co-authored book Leader: Know, Love and Inspire your People.

Know, Love and Inspire

(i) Know

To know our own and our team members’ values is critical for good teamwork, and we were encouraged to share and explore our own values in this respect.

Emmie believes that the virtue of courage is important in this respect and has various forms:

  1. courage to act on values (integrity) 
  2. courage to keep going through difficulty (perseverance)
  3. courage to come back from failure (resilience)
  4. courage to receive critical feedback (humility)
  5. courage to respond rather than react (patience)
  6. courage to take ownership (responsibility)
  7. courage to stay focused on a bright future (hope)

(ii) Love

In his book Givers and Takers, Adam Grant describes three different kinds of personalities:

◈ Givers – whose main thought is what they can contribute and how they can help.

◈ Takers – people who put their needs first and what to know what they can get from any interaction

◈ Matchers – those who want interactions to be balanced, giving as much (or as little) as they get. Most people are matchers.

In reflecting further on the nature of love in an organisational context, Emmie asked us to explore the question: Who has loved you into leading? And shared this quote from the book Everybody Matters by Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia: “Love is not, as some suppose, an optional emotion to be expressed, but an actionable pursuit of flourishing with practical benefits in educational settings. Love engages students, motivates educators, reduces complaints, thins policy manuals, informs restorative discipline, allows for creative solutions, nurtures diversity, respects autonomy, furnishes positivity, laments injustice, adapts to any environment, and is cost effective. Love forms flourishing humans, what every educator sets out to do. This is the spirit of love: Everyone wants to contribute. Trust them. Leaders are everywhere. Find them. Some people are on a mission. Celebrate them. Others wish things were different. Listen to them. Everybody matters. Show them. We don’t just need a new guide to leading in times of change or adversity. We need a complete rethink, a revolution.” Chapman and Sisodia, Everybody Matters, pp. 15-16.

She also encouraged us to reflect on this insight from Dr Martin Luther King, Jr: “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anaemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

(iii) Inspire

Inspiration is linked to the search for meaning in our lives collectively and as individuals, so under this heading Emmie encouraged us to explore the following questions:

  1. What future are you working towards (for your team or church)?
  2. What is your role in bringing this future into being?
  3. What difficulties stand in your way and where you are tempted to give up on hope?
  4. Think of a time when you faced obstacles in the past and overcame them. What was the situation? How did you overcome it?
  5. What is your personal purpose as a leader this year? (Your Why.)
  6. How will you hold onto and communicate hope to others this year.

The quest for meaning is well-illustrated by a story shared by Amy Edmondson (author of The Fearless Organization and Right Kind of Wrong):

Three bricklayers are asked, ‘What are you doing?’

The first says, ‘I am laying bricks.’

The second says, ‘I am building a church.’

The third says, ‘I am building the house of God.

The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.

Leader: Know, Love and Inspire your People (Crown Publishing, 2020) by Katy Granville-Chapman and Emmie Bidston, foreword by Sir Anthony Seldon

Conference summary by Canon Dr Vaughan S Roberts

Chair of the MODEM Hub for Leadership, Management & Ministry


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