Friday, October 10, 2014

Redefining Leadership: Character-Driven Habits of Effective Leaders - Book Review

When choosing a book to review, I was caught by the title Redefining Leadership: Character-Driven Habits of Effective Leaders. I am finding that leadership is one subject which stirs up quite a bit of debate these days, especially in the circles where it is most valued. Yet, it is the wrong type of leadership which has given it such a bad name. We tend to equate leadership with people who are driven and who get things done, often while lashing a whip on the backs of those below them in rank. Yet, Joe Stowell, as I have often heard the author referred as, has a view based on biblical truth which sets those notions on their heads.

I have known of the author, Dr. Joseph Stowell, for many years. He became the president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago not long before I began listening to a Moody radio station in our area when our children were small. Living on a farm in the middle of nowhere, without a phone or a car, and having a husband who commuted an hour one way, I had little interaction on a daily basis with adults for the four and a half years we lived there. But, I had the radio, Christian radio, and I had it on all day long.

What I remember about the author is that he always seemed to be on level with everyone involved in the ministry at Moody and interacted with other ministers, guests, radio personalities, students, and listeners all with the same respect. I have to be honest here: I sometimes wondered if he was really cut out for the position he held there. But, after reading this book, I understand that he was leading from a position of service. In fact, I have come away with a whole different view of this man. I love his heart and am excited to commend his book to you.

My ideas of leadership, especially in the Church, were formed from years of being under men who wore power suits and knew how to use them, usually to their own advantage. It was a numbers game to many of my pastors and their peers. And we were the ones they had to get motivated to move the Gospel product, often door-to-door like a Kirby sweeper. Building a church was the main focus of these church leaders, but seldom were their people built up in the faith.

This is where Joseph Stowell wants to make a difference, by redefining leadership both in priorities and identity. From the very first chapter, Dr. Stowell sets the record straight about the type of leadership which is truly successful in the Kingdom of God. It's not the outcome-driven leaders I was brought up under but what he refers to as the character-driven leaders who make all the difference. Listen to his definition of a character-driven leader:
There are Character-Driven Leaders, whose exemplary lives influence and empower those within the sphere of their authority to achieve great outcomes personally, spiritually, communally, and organizationally. The breadth and depth of their positive influence distinguishes them as maximum leaders. The power behind their leadership is leveraged by their moral authority that comes from the credibility of their lives. And, among other things, character-driven leaders use their organization to build stellar people, who in turn build a thriving culture that produces maximum corporate outcome to the fame and glory of God.[1]
Isn't that beautiful? So inspiring! It's like a breath of fresh air in the stifled room of get-ahead Christianity. I believe this definition is spot-on as it includes the building up of the saints, making a social cultural difference, and bringing glory to God, all without stripping away what the Bible teaches about authority in the church context.

In contrast, he also includes the description of those who take advantage of positional authority:
Leaders who rely on their positional authority tend to be highly pragmatic. Character demands that we live and lead with integrity, but when character is not the driving force, it's hard to resist temptations to cheat around the edges. Lack of transparency, dishonesty, and violation of basic ethics when it serves them well are all a part of the positional leader's arsenal.

Positional leaders value image as a tool to leverage their power. They flaunt the title on their business card, the special parking space, and the nice office and use the power to reward or punish those who serve them. Positional leaders find no value in developing the character needed to command genuine respect and loyalty. Instead, they earn loyalty by promoting and paying their followers well. They motivate them with praise or manipulate them with anger and the threat of withholding approval. They make retaliation a public spectacle so that others learn to stay in line. Lacking a moral compass to guide them, they are free to do whatever is necessary to achieve the desired result. Often organizational insecurity and fear mark the environment of enterprises run by positional authority.
This makes me shutter to my very core when I think how this describes some in leadership (in the home school movement in particular) who have recently left trails of destruction in the wakes of their falls. Perhaps if there had been more accurate instruction on what the Bible really teaches about authority, such as is found in Redefining Leadership, there would not have been so many following what these leaders said the Bible taught about authority.

However, it is also a huge mistake to throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to leadership authority. Dr. Stowell clarifies this when he says, "...Positional authority is still an important form of authority, yet one that must be exercised with wisdom." He then goes on to describe how Christ who maintained His positional authority as the Son of God never used it to leverage power for His own benefit but rather to serve those under Him and to advance His Father's kingdom.[3] It is this type of servant leadership which Dr. Stowell encourages those in authority to practice, to lead by being a servant.

And, yet, the things taught in Redefining Leadership are not only helpful for pastors and corporate leaders, but also for fathers and mothers who have perhaps gotten the wrong idea of their purpose in parenting. What a difference it would make in every family if parents took their positions before God as servant leaders in their homes. I believe this is the missing element in most teaching on parenting, and it is where many authoritarian parents go terribly wrong.

Therefore, I would encourage not only reading Redefining Leadership for yourself, but would also suggest giving it as a gift to new parents as well as those going into ministry or being promoted in their company. There is so much here for all of us to learn.

[1] Joseph M. Stowell, Redefining Leadership: Character-Driven Habits of Effective Leaders (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2014), 24.
[2] Ibid., 75.
[3] Ibid., 76, 77.