More to leadership than just standing at front of a queue

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Toronto Pride Parade.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Toronto Pride Parade.

Two weeks ago, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marched in the Toronto Pride Parade.

It was reported that he was the first world leader to do so.

He was, in fact, the second. In 2012, then Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, marched in the Copenhagen Gay Pride Parade. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull attended – but did not march in – this year’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney.

The day after it happened, my Facebook feed was filled with images and video of Prime Minister Trudeau at the front of the march, dressed casually and waving a rainbowed-Canadian flag. The comments were all very similar: “I wish he was our Prime Minister”; “This is what real leadership looks like”; “Can we steal him from Canada?”

It’s a strange idea if you think about it. Trudeau wasn’t leading, he found a populist movement and stood out in front of it. That’s the very opposite of leadership. It’s something like that quote attributed to French revolutionary Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin: “There go my people, I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.”

And it is a wonder what more Trudeau would need to do in furtherance of the LGBT cause. Same-sex marriage has been legal in his country for 11 years this week, sex education in schools has been dramatically altered so that children as young as eight learn about gender identity and all forms of sexual activity are taught to pre-teens, and anti-discrimination laws are severe. Even so, Trudeau was commended for his “leadership”.

It made me wonder whether people actually understand what leadership, particularly political leadership, even looks like anymore.
Consider what is happening in the United States at the moment. Absent a dramatic occurrence, the impending election will see either Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton become the next President of the United States.

Playing to the “populist” anti-immigration mentality which exists in some parts of the US, Trump wants to ban immigration of Muslims, build a wall between the US and Mexico to prevent people crossing the border, and has spoken about killing the families of terrorists if he becomes president.

Clinton has just been under FBI investigation for sending classified emails on a private email server, an action for which she will face no charges even though it was against the law. She is a strong and vocal supporter of Planned Parenthood and unrestricted abortion – even late-term abortion – in the US and around the world. And there have been numerous accusations by women allegedly assaulted by Bill Clinton that Hillary threatened them into silence.

We are somewhat more fortunate in Australia, but even our recent election shows us that many of us are so disaffected by those in political leadership that we move towards minor parties in either the hope that they will have some influence, or to send a message of dissatisfaction to the “major” parties.

As we move forward with this new parliament, divided so strongly even before it begins, one could be forgiven for wondering whether anyone will be able to exercise true leadership. The knife-edge result is hardly conducive to bravery.

And we haven’t even spoken about Brexit…

In Western democracies around the world, we are facing a crisis of leadership. And this crisis will have real consequences for us and for generations to come. We are in desperate need of strong leaders, statesmen (and women) who are something other than populist ones.

I’m not sure if it is true, but I have heard that when people are being trained to identify counterfeit banknotes, they are not given examples of counterfeit notes to study.

Instead, they are given the real thing over and over again. The theory is that by being continuously exposed to the authentic banknote over a period of time, a person will easily be able to spot a counterfeit.

I think it’s the same with leadership. I think people will only start to recognise authentic leadership when they are consistently exposed to it. Until that time, they will be open to being duped by counterfeits.

That’s the great thing about the Church, because God always gives us people who are willing to forgo being popular in order to exercise true leadership.

We see it in so many servant leaders, who exercise their “leadership” in the service of others. Just last week, I attended the diaconate ordination of a dear friend. The bishop told him that ordination required him to “step down” so that he could lift others up.

We see it in leaders like our own Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, who is willing to courageously speak the truth in the public square, even when it is “unpopular”.

And I know many of you currently go about your days, ensuring that you model authentic leadership to those around you. Thank you for that. Your witness will help to expose the counterfeits.