Leading with a Limp: Turning Your Struggle into Strengths
If you're a leader, you are in for the battle of your life, says Mars Hill Graduate School founder Dan Allender in LEADING WITH A LIMP. The author of numerous books, including THE INTIMATE MYSTERY and TO BE TOLD, Allender warns that leadership is costly and likely will never bring you riches, fame or praise. Rather, Allender likens leadership to a "long march through a dark valley." Is it worth the cost? The costs of leadership include crisis, complexity, betrayal, loneliness, weariness, and interestingly enough, glory --- not particularly what most of us associate with leadership. That's not all. A good leader, Allender writes, will in time disappoint everyone.
So why would anyone aspire to leadership? Allender looks at what a leader is (anyone with someone following him or her). The fact is, God calls all of us to lead, he says, no matter how humble the context. And it is in extremity or your failures that you meet not only yourself but, more importantly, the God who has written your life.
Allender builds the core assumption of his book on this: "to the degree you face and name and deal with your failures as a leader, to that same extent you will create an environment conducive to growing and retaining productive and committed colleagues." Acknowledging your screw-ups transforms your own character and earns you more respect and power, he writes. And these shortcomings must be more than just acknowledged; they must also be dismantled in front of those you lead.
But, Allender warns, most leaders are afraid to name their failures; they have too much pride to admit their faults, and they may be addicted to various substances or behaviors.
The best leaders, he says, are not necessarily those who seek leadership. Rather, the best leaders are plagued with doubts or flee leadership. Sound odd? Reluctant leaders, he says, give power away. They use their own power to make sure power is used fairly. True leaders, he shows, eschew pride and ambition and take joy in helping others achieve their goals and dreams.
He makes other good points. Weakness, he says, is strength. Brokenness is a gift. Chaos can open the doors to opportunity. Leadership involves gratitude and awe. A leader has a hunger for the truth. Busy-ness is moral laziness (an intriguing section is devoted to this idea). It's important to know your story and the stories of those you work with, and understand how they shape you as a leader. There's an excellent section on the need for Christian organizations to realize that firing can be an act of redemption (if handled well) rather than keeping a worker who is ill-suited for a position. All Christian organizations should read this section!
Allender offers tales of leadership failures and fractured relationships from his own life and that of biblical characters. He uses scripture well; it tends to inform the points he makes rather than feel like an afterthought. Allender is also careful to make his book gender friendly. Women, as well as men, will feel included.
However, he sometimes rambles and tends to repeat himself. Occasionally, his examples lack clarity. (Managers, he writes, want to keep the plane in the air; a leader wants to put a new engine on the plane in midair. I was confused!) But if the reader sticks with him through the closing pages, Allender will make his points about leadership, and make them well.
"Every one of your weaknesses is the doorway not only to better character but to leadership dividends so enormous that avoiding the necessary risk is utter foolishness," writes Allender. Leaders who question whether they are suited for the role will find encouragement in Allender's call for recognition that leadership does not mean perfection. A LEADING WITH A LIMP workbook will further aid those exploring their own leadership challenges. Those in leadership positions, or who aspire to be, will find this good advice for the journey.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011