Wednesday, October 22, 2008

you sticking your head above the parapet again boy?

The Tall Poppy Syndrome is a pernicious, cowardly trait. Laidlaw College seeks an end to its hold over the imaginations and wills of New Zealanders. The fact that we have named a big vision makes us a target. We welcome the support of those with the faith, heart and guts to back something that just might make a difference.

— concluding paragraph from Mark Strom, Principal where I lecture (Laidlaw College) here (and listen to some of the vision for Laidlaw here).  I think he’s right. Stick your head above the parapet in New Zealand, do something a bit different, have an opinion, have some passion – and watch the backchat and backchatter.

So what might be the spiritual practices by which Kiwi leaders might maintain their desire to lead? How about these as a starter …

1. Listen within, to your own sense of calling and passion, rather than listen to the voices without.

2. Develop a good circle of friends who will be honest with you.

3. If passion is a well, for every bucket of negativity withdrawn, add a bucket and a half of passion.

4. Respond to criticism with humour and grace ….

What have you found helpful? How do we develop Kiwi leaders of courage and imagination?

Posted by steve at 01:35 PM


  1. Well I am not a Kiwi, but I do have some thoughts on this. =)

    We have been inundated in our world with what “works.” As a future teacher in the American public school system, I am in my fifth year of classes and am in content specific classes on how to be a teacher. What we keep learning in many of our classes is that people have simply done what “works” over the past 100 years of modern education, and educators have been very cautious to change even when the research shows otherwise.

    My advice to future leaders is to try something innovative and new with people. As you say in your post, “Listen within.” There are new and emerging ideas in the world that simply challenge many older more established ways of thinking and those ideas need to be tried out. Luckily, I think we live in a global world where simply “trying out” new ideas is given more credence than in the past.

    Comment by Danny — October 22, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

  2. I’ve just finished reading a helpful booklet on this subject. It’s “Shepherding Horses” by Kent Humphreys (Pub: Christ @ Work, Philippines, 2006), and the subtitle is “Understanding God’s Plan for Transforming Leaders”. Kent would agree with your point 2. It may take a paradigm shift for a pastor to begin to lead the horses (independent, professional- and business-type leaders) in the church, but, just as Jesus gave himself to the twelve and the three, maybe a pastor-shepherd-leader needs to concentrate on a few in the church and see God at work building his church as we make disciples for Jesus Christ. I recommend Kent’s conclusions as to ‘how to’ develop leaders in the church.

    Comment by Allan — October 24, 2008 @ 10:39 am

  3. Call me ungracious perhaps, but I think Tall Poppy Syndrome is a national *myth*, largely propagated by the economic Right in the 1980s to smash our national culture of egalitarianism and pave the way for cynical, American-style, individualism.

    How many of us booed when KZ7 won the America’s Cup?
    How many threw rotten tomatoes when Peter Jackson scooped the Oscars?
    How many of us sneer out any of our Olympic athletes?

    I think we celebrate our heroes, at least the ones who honestly *create* things. Sometimes we’re slow to realise what our pioneers are doing because they’re so far ahead of the pack, but that happens everywhere. It’s just that we’re smaller so there are fewer people around to recognise genuius.

    I think as a culture we’re justly nervous of people abusing power, and of constructs of ‘achievement’ (usually financial or political) which make it a zero-sum game, such that for every ‘achiever’ there’s a pyramid of backs they have to walk over… but that’s a hugely different thing to some idea of ‘trying to cut down the tall poppies’.

    We just don’t like *arrogance* and belittlement of others, and unfortunately some people’s idea of ‘success’ can’t be separated from that win/lose mentality. But we shouldn’t be ashamed of our national egalitarianism, in fact we should celebrate it. *That* spirit, of sharing and recognition that we are in fact all equally valuable human beings, is our national ‘tall poppy’ that’s in grave danger of being cut.

    Comment by Nate — November 10, 2008 @ 5:04 pm

  4. Further: Having read the Laidlaw post on (, it seems to me that the criticisms being made on the comments there have absolutely *nothing* to do with ‘tall poppy’ envy and *everything* to do with deep suspicion of Laidlaw’s working relationships with Maxim Instititute.

    I can understand this because I’m deeply suspicious of Maxim myself. I didn’t start out that way, but when the Iraq War broke out and I started having to critically evaluate all my faith and political positions, I quickly noticed that Maxim, along with Investigate Magazine, was acting as a New Zealand publication channel for right-wing talking points coming straight out of the darkest fantasies of Team Texas. They were incredibly slow — if they ever did, because I stopped listening to them when I found they were speaking dangerous nonsense — to wake up to the injustice of that war and to criticise Bush’s anti-Muslim crusade. They called me and my pacifist Quaker, Buddhist and Catholic Worker friends Communist dupes and everything short of terrorists. They represent to me the worst of a pseudo-Christianity from which, for the sake of my soul and my sanity, I need to distance myself.

    Have they changed their basic philosophical and policy stances? If so, then I welcome them back to rational discourse, and hope that’s been matched by a turnover of staff. But I won’t be easily fooled again, and if Laidlaw is working with them, then they deserve all the criticism they are getting.

    Sorry if this reflects badly on you, Steve — I know you have a pro-peace viewpoint, and I’m glad that Laidlaw is at least open to multiple viewpoints — but Maxim have near-zero credibility with me. They seem to me to be little more than a propaganda channel.

    (As well as being named after a men’s magazine. That also makes me laugh. Probably not intentionally on Maxim’s part.)

    I guess I should go check myself — but what was their view on Obama vs Sarah Palin?

    Comment by Nate — November 10, 2008 @ 5:36 pm

  5. Despite all Mark Strom’s words he does not deny the basic charges. He plays a lot of smoke and mirrors and that may fool some but not those with a keen eye.

    Tall poppy syndrome had nothing whatsoever to do with the criticim Laidlaw is in receipt of. Strom held Thompson out as an expert in a field he is an academic joke in. They made their head of department for theology someone with a preaching licence in the field. The college pretended its employment process was open when in fact it was a benchmarking exercise at best and that is stretching the truth of the matter. A long hard look in the mirror, some pride swallowing and putting their money where their mouth is, ie, using NZ’s most talented Christians starting with the untapped resource at the bottom of their driveway, might get people to back down.

    Talk is cheap.

    Comment by David Jenkins — November 28, 2008 @ 3:21 pm

  6. Many factors go into employing staff – interview, referees, psychometric testing, fit – factors none of which you or I are privy too. Where’s Christian grace, let alone common courtesy with people’s reputations, in this type of comment? Do the people you advocate for want this type of web advocacy?

    steve taylor

    Comment by steve — November 28, 2008 @ 4:42 pm

  7. I assume from David’s comments he refers to me, among others; actually, I would rather be considered on my merits and not on the basis of an unasked for blog campaign to get me hired – however, well-meaning my advocates might be.

    Comment by Matt — December 2, 2008 @ 11:10 am

  8. Hi Matt,

    You are dealing very well to keep on top of this little thread. I realise this is awkward for you and I have prayed and do continue to pray for you that your integrity remains intact, while at the same time you are encouraged that you do have some pretty strong advocates! At the same time I also pray for applicants who were successful, because it must be hard for them, who trusted a process, to be aware of this type of blog chatter.


    Comment by steve — December 2, 2008 @ 11:37 am

  9. We get traffic directly from your thread here to ours (it shows up via feedjit) and given some of the commenters are commenting on me (us) I like to keep an eye on it so I pop in periodically.

    We too are praying for the successful applicants and the rest of the staff at Laidlaw that they are able to engage in excellent teaching and research and not allow any criticism to waylay them.

    Thankyou for your prayers, I hope 2009 is fruitful for you.

    Comment by Matt — January 1, 2009 @ 5:09 pm

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