Leaders: Myth and Reality | Book Review


What is leadership? John Maxwell’s definition is the most common answer: “Leadership is influence.” That’s true to an extent, but it’s also too simple because it’s leader-centric, as if influence flowed only one way. In their new book, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers, and Jason Mangone identify three myths people believe about leaders and offer a more complex definition of leadership. Somewhat ironically for a book that criticizes leader-centricity, Leadersreaches its conclusions by examining the lives of thirteen leaders.

First up is Robert E. Lee, the “Marble Man” of the Confederacy, who profoundly illustrates the distance between the myths and realities of leadership. Lee was admired by many white Americans for his martial valor and personal virtue. That admiration was given even though Lee lost the Civil War and miserably failed the greatest moral test of the nineteenth century by defending a way of life built on white supremacy and black slavery. His leadership consisted in what he symbolized, then, not in what achieved — or rather, thankfully failed to achieve.

Then come several chapters in which McChrystal and his coauthors pair leaders under six headings: Founders (Walt Disney and Coco Chanel), Geniuses (Albert Einstein and Leonard Bernstein), Zealots (Maximilien Robespierre and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi), Heroes (Zheng He and Harriet Tubman), Power Brokers (Boss Tweed and Margaret Thatcher), and Reformers (Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr.). These leaders often exercised influence despite their personal flaws (e.g., Boss Tweed) or the immorality of their causes (e.g., Zarqawi). Their profiles remind readers that leaders are flesh-and-blood people, not statues on pedestals.

Taken both singly and in pairs, these profiles make Leaders a fascinating book, biographically informative but also analytically shrewd. As you read each short “life,” you come to realize that leaders exercise an important role, but not in the way that a simplistic definition portrays. Too simple an understanding of leadership results in myths about leadership, which McChrystal, Eggers, and Mangone describe this way:

  • The Formulaic Myth: In our attempt to understand process, we strive to tame leadership into a static checklist, ignoring the reality that leadership is intensely contextual, and always dependent upon particular circumstances.
  • The Attribution Myth: We attribute too much to leaders, having a biased form of tunnel vision focused on leaders themselves, and neglecting the agency of the group that surrounds them. We’re led to believe that leadership is what the leader does, but in reality, outcomes are attributable to far more than the individual leader.
  • The Results Myth: We say that leadership is the process of driving groups of people toward outcomes. That’s true, to a point, but it’s much broader than that. In reality, leadership describes what leaders symbolize more than what they achieve. Productive leadership requires that followers find a sense of purpose and meaning in what their leaders represent, such as social identity or some future opportunity.

The key concepts to take away from the authors’ description of these myths are the importance of contextrelationship, and symbolism in leadership. According to the authors, when those concepts are taken into account, leadership can be defined as “a complex system of relationships between leaders and followers, in a particular context, that provides meaning to its members.” This implies that leaders exercise a twofold role as “a bottom-up servant to enable action and a top-down symbol to motivate and provide for meaning.”

I write this review as a Pentecostal minister and editor of a Christian leadership magazine — intentionally named Influence, by the way. Though Leaders is a secular leadership book, it teaches several valuable lessons that can benefit pastors and other church leaders. I’ll close with four that came repeatedly to mind as I read the book:

First, as pastors and leaders in your church, there is no foolproof, multi-step formula for becoming or producing other leaders. You should have a leadership pipeline and provide leadership training for your staff and volunteers, but you should also keep your eyes open for influencers who arise through other means. Paul’s leadership pipeline was the Damascus Road, after all, not the Jerusalem church.

Second, share the work of ministry with others. Too often, we speak of what Pastor So-and-so accomplished at Such-and-such Church, as if he or she accomplished everything alone. But as Paul put it, the congregation is a body in which every member must do its part. So, share the work and spread the credit around.

Third, tend to your soul. Jesus said, “Follow me.” Paul wrote, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” People will follow your leadership if you personally embody the joy and life-changing power of the gospel. Who you are as a leader is as important as what you do, in other words, because who you are as a spiritual leader symbolizes the life of meaning and eternal significance that people aspire to in Christ.

Fourth, and finally, use your leadership for good. Both Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King Jr. were Christians. And yet, at the height of their leadership, separated by a century, they exerted influence to achieve morally contradictory goals — Lee in defense of white supremacy and King in defense of racial equality. At the end of the day, however one defines leadership, shouldn’t doing the right thing be the most basic test of our leadership?

Book Reviewed
Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers, and Jason Mangone, Leaders: Myth and Reality (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

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Leading Healthy, High-Performance Teams | Influence Podcast


It’s been said that teamwork makes the dream work. That’s true for any organization, but it’s especially true for churches. After all, the business of Church isrelationship — with God and with others.

Unfortunately, many churches experience relational dysfunction in the leadership team, the congregation as a whole, or both. They also often fail to realize the vision for the Church laid out by Christ in the Great Commission. In High Impact Teams, Lance Witt explains why churches don’t have to choose between relationships and results. He then shows how to bring those two things together for greater effectiveness in ministry.

Witt is founder of Replenish, a ministry with two goals: (1) to help individuals live and lead from a healthy soul and (2) to help teams and organizations become healthy and high-performing. Before launching Replenish, he served 20 years as a senior pastor and six years as an executive and teaching pastor for Rick Warren at Saddleback Church.

He’s my guest on Episode 157 of the Influence Podcast.

 

P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com.

P.P.S. Here’s my brief recommendation of the book from the November-December 2018 issue of Influence:

Ministry is a team sport. Too often, however, ministry teams don’t play to their full potential. “The best teams are both healthy and high performing,” writes Lance Witt. “They focus on relationship and results.” To help ministry teams achieve their potential, Witt outlines a Christian approach to ownership, self-leadership, productivity, relationship, conflict resolution, and culture. If you’ve played on a high-impact ministry team, this book will explain why that team worked well. If you haven’t played on such a team, it will explain how to up your team’s game. Either way, High Impact Teams is insightful and practical.

Book Reviewed
Lance Witt, High Impact Teams: Where Healthy Meets High Performance (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon.com review page.

High Impact Teams | Book Review


Ministry is a team sport. Too often, however, ministry teams don’t play to their full potential. “The best teams are both healthy and high performing,” writes Lance Witt. “They focus on relationship and results.” To help ministry teams achieve their potential, Witt outlines a Christian approach to ownership, self-leadership, productivity, relationship, conflict resolution, and culture. If you’ve played on a high-impact ministry team, this book will explain why that team worked well. If you haven’t played on such a team, it will explainhowto up your team’s game. Either way, High Impact Teams is insightful and practical.

Book Reviewed
Lance Witt, High Impact Teams: Where Healthy Meets High Performance (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon.com review page.

Leading from Your Gut | Book Reviewi


“I have a bad feeling about this” is not just a well-worn linefrom the Star Wars movie franchise. It’s also a gut-level experience many leaders have when making important decisions. It can be a positive experience too: “I have a good feeling about this.”

Leaders often ignore their gut when making decisions. They believe it’s best to base decisions solely on external data, not internal feelings. Dr. John Townsend thinks that’s only half right: The premise of Leading from Your Gut is this: “Great leaders succeed by harnessing the power of both the external world and the internal world.”

Townsend is a New York Timesbestselling author, leadership and organizational consultant, and psychologist. He is founder of the Townsend Institute for Leadership and offers counsel from a Christian perspective. Most of the examples in the book come from the business world, but Townsend also shows the relevance of his advice to ministry and other non-profit forms of leadership.

Leading from your gut is leading by intuition. Our intuition is not always right, of course, but it’s not always wrong either. Every leader can recall specific instances when the data pointed one way and their gut another, so they followed the data, only to have the negative results prove their gut right. I certainly can.

Why does this happen? Because leaders have developed an intuitive feel for things based on long experience that they can’t always provide reasons for. The gut is nonrational, in other words, but not irrational. Along with developing the ability to interpret data correctly, leaders need to hone their intuition. To help them do that, Leading from Your Gut outlines thefive aspects that shape a leader’s internal world — values, thoughts, emotions, relationships and transformation.

In my opinion, the chapters on emotions alone are worth the price of the book. “Your emotions have a function, a purpose, a role. When you understand this role, you can harness your emotions to lead others well,” Townsend writes. They “exist as a signal to you. They alert you that something is going on, something you need to pay attention to and deal with. That somethingmay be an event outside of you or one inside.” He then goes on to describe the signal function of both negative and positive emotions, and how recognizing the signals can change the way you lead.

Leading from Your Gutdoesn’t absolve leaders from their responsibility to lead from the data. To be successful, leaders should know their “business,” whether it is making widgets or making disciples of all nations. But they should also know themselves.

Book Reviewed
John Townsend, Leading from Your Gut: How You Can Succeed by Harnessing the Power of Your Values, Feelings, and Intuition(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

P.P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It is crossposted here with permission.

Value, Worship, and Evangelism | Luke 2:1-20


Today’s Scripture reading: Luke 2:1–20

 

The Christmas story in Luke 2:1–20 teaches us five lessons. We looked at the lessons of sovereignty and humility yesterday. God rules over all creation, directing the course of history toward the fulfillment of His purposes. And one of His purposes is to draw all people to himself, which He does by sending His Son in the humble form of a baby in a manger. Today, we’ll look at three other lessons the Christmas story teaches about value, worship and evangelism.

What is most valuable to you? All right-minded people will say they care most about their relationships. The value of a loving family and good friends far outweighs that of material possessions. God values relationships too, to a degree that we will never fully understand. Most of our significant relationships are mutually beneficial; we supply what our friends lack, and they supply what we lack. But we have nothing God needs or wants. He loves us, not because of any benefits we provide Him, but simply because He loves us and because we need Him.

We see God’s values at work in the angel’s announcement of Christ’s birth to the shepherds. In Jesus’ day, shepherds rated low on the hierarchy of valuable relationships. They were considered dishonest and disreputable. And that, it seems to me, is precisely why God sent an army of angels to shepherds to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It was His way of reversing worldly values and saying, “I value these men. I love them. I want to save them.”

At Christmas, we ought to pay special attention to people whom the world doesn’t value, precisely because that is what God does.

Worship is a way that we express God’s value to us. Notice the song of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (verse 14).

This song makes two statements: (1) that glory belongs to God and (2) that the byproduct of grace (divine favor) is peace among people. Unfortunately, we too often focus only on the second statement. We want peace on earth. But peace comes as the result of right values. Jesus said, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6.33). The only way to have “all these things,” including peace, is to seek first God’s kingdom. God values you. Do you value God?

If you do, the next obvious question is this: Do you share God with others? The angel said to the shepherds, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (verse 10). And the shepherds shared the good news of Christ’s birth with everyone they talked to. “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (verse 17). The Christmas story is the gospel, and all who tell it become evangelists.

God values you. Do you value Him? And are you helping others to value Him? Those are good questions to ask yourself at this time of year.

 

P.S. This article is cross-posted at InfluenceMagazine.com. For earlier posts in the Songs of Christmas devotional, see here:

Review of ‘The Power of the Other’ by Dr. Henry Cloud


The-Power-of-the-OtherHenry Cloud, The Power of the Other: The Startling Effect Other People Have on You, from the Boardroom to the Bedroom and Beyond—and What to Do About It (New York: Harper Business, 2016).

Leaders often say, “It’s lonely at the top.” That’s true, of course—at least to an extent—but it’s also tragic. Leadership doesn’t have to be lonely.

In fact, as Dr. Henry Cloud argues in The Power of the Other, success depends on relationship. “The undeniable reality,” he writes, “is that how well you do in life and in business depends not only on what you do and how you do it, your skills and competencies, but also on who is doing it with you or to you” (emphasis in original).

But not just any relationship! What leaders need is “specific qualitiative relational connectedness” (emphasis in original). This is what Cloud calls “True Connection” or “Corner Four relationship.”

In Corner One relationships, leaders feel “disconnected.” He writes: “True connection always means being emotionally and functionally invested in other people, in a give-and-receive dynamic. Disconnection lacks something, in one direction or the other—either in the giving or the receiving. Truly connected people do both. They are emotionally present and able to give and to receive.”

In Corner Two relationships, leaders have “a bad connection.” They experience a “connection, preoccupation, or pull toward a person who has the effect of making you feel bad or ‘not good enough’ in some way” (emphasis in original). Think of a son trying to gain the respect of a hypercritical dad or an employee trying to please a boss who rarely praises employees.

In Corner Three relationships, leaders form a “seductively false ‘good connection.’” In this corner, leaders gravitate toward relationships that make them feel good. They cultivate people who flatter and praise them but overlook people in the organization who bear bad news. People in high-stress jobs who live in Corner Three often find themselves engaging in extramarital affairs or using addictive substances to maintain an artificial “high.”

None of these corners is a good place to be. Leaders need to go to Corner Four. Here, leaders form a “real connection” with others, “one in which you can be your whole self, the real, authentic you, a relationship to which you can bring your heart, mind, soul, and passion. Both parties to the relationship are wholly present, known, understood, and mutually invested. What each truly thinks, feels, believes, fears, and needs can be shared safely.”

In contemporary parlance, authenticity is often interpreted in non-relational terms. “I gotta be me!” people exclaim. The problem is that this understanding of authenticity is individualistic, not relational. “I gotta be me” is often used to slough off or criticize the counsel others are trying to give us. That’s not what Corner Four looks like.

Instead, Cloud identifies eight characteristics of Corner Four relationships. True connection:

  • fuels,
  • gives freedom,
  • requires responsibility,
  • defangs failure,
  • challenges and pushes,
  • builds structure,
  • unites instead of divides,
  • and is trustworthy.

When we truly connect with others, they help us draw out the full potential of who we really are and what we can truly be. Relationship makes authenticity possible.

Cloud opens the book with a story that I’ll close with. It’s about “Hell Week,” the final week of training for Navy SEALs. That week is “a grueling exercise requiring the utmost physical and mental endurance, pushing these already-at-the-top specimens to their absolute limits.” Cloud’s brother-in-law Mark was a Navy SEAL who was later killed in Iraq. In the days after Mark’s death, Bryce, one of Mark’s fellow SEALs told, how he almost failed “Hell Week.”

He was swimming in the cold Pacific Ocean after a week of grueling training. A way from the shore, he “hit the wall.” Cloud comments, “He tried to will himself to keep going, but his body would not obey.” It was at that moment that Bryce looked up and saw Mark, who had already reached land. Mark caught his eye, gave him a fist pump, and yelled an encouraging, “You can do it!” And that was all Bryce needed. “His body jumped into another gear,” Cloud writes, “into another dimension of performance that he had not had access to before…That is the ‘power of the other.’”

To be one’s true self, to reach one’s full potential—whether as a leader, a spouse, a parent, or whatever—you and I need others. Authenticity requires relationship. That’s what The Power of the Other is all about.

I recommend the book highly.

_____
P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon review page.

Review of ‘Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul’ by Bill Hybels


Simplify Bill Hybels, Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2014). Hardcover / Kindle

This past summer was exhausting. Between work, chauffeuring our son to three sports on four different days, shuttling our oldest foster daughter to daycare and speech care, waking up several times a night to bottle feed our youngest foster daughter, and church and other activities, my wife and I felt tapped out. And so, when Bill Hybels mentioned the words “exhausted, overwhelmed, overscheduled, anxious, isolated, dissatisfied” on page 1 of his new book, he immediately grabbed my attention.

“Simplified living is about more than doing less,” Hybels writes. “It’s being who God called us to be, with a wholehearted, single-minded focus. It’s walking away from innumerable lesser opportunities in favor of the few to which we’ve been called and for which we’ve been created. It’s a lifestyle that allows us, when our heads hit the pillow at night, to reflect with gratitude that our day was well invested and the varied responsibilities of our lives are in order” (pp. 2–3). He goes on to write, “Simplified life requires more than just organizing your closets or cleaning out your desk drawers. It requires uncluttering your soul” (p. 3, emphasis in original).

Hybels shares Bible-based, experience-tested advice about how to do this in the book’s ten chapters. He shows you how to move from

  • exhausted to energized by replenishing your energy,
  • overscheduled to organized by prioritizing your calendar,
  • overwhelmed to in control by mastering your finances,
  • restless to fulfilled by refining your career choices,
  • wounded to whole by practicing forgiveness,
  • anxious to peaceful by confronting your fears,
  • isolated to connected by deepening your friendships,
  • drifting to focused by choosing and then living out your life verse,
  • stuck to moving on by welcoming new seasons in your life,
  • and from meaningless to satisfied by choosing to live now in the light of eternity.

Different readers will be attracted to different sections of this book. At this season in my life—feeling busy and tired all the time—I was especially interested in the first two chapters dealing with energy and calendar. As I read the book, however, I found myself reading the chapter on friendships with closer attention. Could it be that my life has too few deep relationships with non-family members? Whatever your interests or needs, my guess is that several of these chapters will address felt needs in your life.

So, what’s the best way to make use of this book? First, it’s tailor-made for individual use. Each chapter ends with an action step for readers to journal about. Page 311 gives a URL and promo code for online resources that readers can access for 90 days. Second, there is a DVD-based small group curriculum that can be used alongside the book. And third, I can imagine enterprising pastors using the book and DVD curriculum as elements of a multiweek sermon series campaign.

Now that I’ve read the book, I intend to read it again with my wife, working through those chapters that address issues we are experiencing in our current season of life. “We get one shot at this life,” Hybels writes in conclusion. “Choose a purposeful, God-first life, and you will reap rewards for today and for eternity” (p. 282).

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.