You're the one with the bucket on your head

‘Well, honey, you’re the one with the bucket on his head!’ 

Henry is five years old, has blond hair, blue eyes and a strong will. He loves the seashore. The last day of the holidays, we all went for a last hour on the beach before setting off home. Henry was told it was time to go. He stood there, defiant in his black wet suit like a sleek little otter and said plaintively, ‘This is very sad day’. ‘Yes’ said Abigail my daughter, ‘but next year we will come back and do it all again’. Henry stuck his bottom lip out and put the bucket over his head. I suppose the idea was ‘if I can’t see it, it isn’t happening’. A woman passing with her children burst out laughing. Henry said angrily but in a muffled voice, ‘Someone’s making a fool of me!’ ‘Well honey’, said Abigail, you’re the one with the bucket on his head’

In management speak we say ‘The facts are always friendly’. Of course, they are not always palatable. If you think you have a surplus of £5k a year coming in over budget but it isn’t true, then that is an unfriendly illusion. To know that you are £5k under budget is a friendly fact. It’s the reality with which you have to work. Real facts are always friendly. Better to know you’re broke than to lose your shirt but not know it. Persuading oneself that things are better than you would like them to be is an act of leadership folly.

Just before the last Iraq war, BBC2 put out an all evening programme to discuss whether or not it was wise to go to move towards armed conflict. There were ambassadors, aid agency people, generals, intelligence people, John Simpson, Orla Guerin and other journalists. No one thought it was a good idea. Most of what was warned about that night came true, in fact. Richard Perl from America would have none of it. Never mind the facts, he seemed to say, it’s the right thing to do. I understand he now regrets this opinion. The facts were stacked up against armed intervention. The real facts were ‘friendly’ but not palatable whose minds were already made up.

What are the facts we should be dealing with? What are the real truths about our income, the effect of smaller numbers of clergy, the capability of the present clergy to lead intelligently and courageously, the incoming numbers and out goings numbers in our congregations, the satisfaction levels with congregations, the morale of the Church of England? These are ‘friendly’ facts. These are truths we have to face up to and work with. Many of them are not palatable. So I ask the question. It is a question I have put to many counselling clients over the years. ‘Are there questions you are not asking? Are there facts you won’t face? Is there something you are not saying?’ Counselling psychotherapy is an exploration into what is true behind the masks, the subterfuges, the wishful thinking and the general bull shit with which we kid ourselves. Leadership must travel the same terrain.

Senior leaders in the Church of England are especially tasked with running a reality check on their priorities and actions. Are they focussed on an illusion of wishful thinking or on things as they are. Friendly facts or unfriendly illusions? We wouldn’t want to be found standing on the beach in front of the tide with a bucket on our head.

Tim Marks

July 30 2013