Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Strengths-based leadership

I read the book 'Strength's Based Leadership' the other day. It was part of the assigned reading for our Missional Leadership Initiative. I wasn't at all looking forward to reading it, because it looked like it was a thick book, and I'm also just not all that excited about books on leadership, especially books that come at it from more of a business sense. This is not a "Christian" book, but a book for organizational leaders of any kind. It actually ended up not being too bad though. Most of it contains resource lists that follow up the strengths-based leadership assessment that you get to take for free with the purchase of the book. Structurally, I liked how this book was set up. I wish more books I read were like this.

As for the content of the book... well... as I said, I am not real hep on leadership books. And I had a bit of an attitude when I started reading it. Then it states right at the beginning (p. 7), "Perhaps the greatest misconception of all is that of the well-rounded leader." I wrote "WTF" with a question mark next to this, because I have always sought to BE a well-rounded leader. I always thought that was what I did best - I wasn't "great" at anything, but I was able to dabble in a little bit of everything. So it didn't start well for me.

I eventually started to warm up to this idea of 'strengths-based' leadership though. Again, I have pretty much always functioned with the mindset that a good leader needed to work on their areas of weakness. But as they say on p. 93, "The most effective leaders know better than to try to be someone they are not." Yeah... I'll buy that. Rather than trying to do it all myself, the best way is to do what I do best, and try to find others who are not like me to do what they do best.

The real challenge with books like this, though, is that a small-church setting is not at all like a business setting. Businesses can hire the right people; small churches pretty much need to make do with what we have, and what we often have are a lot of people who want nothing to do with leading of any kind. So to some degree these types of books ultimately do lead to some frustration for people like myself. But I'm trying to stay positive. I ultimately believe God will provide for the church exactly what she needs. What we often need most is a little more faith in Him.

At any rate, the book is based on the findings of the authors' research. Three key findings that emerged from their research were:

1. The most effective leaders are always investing in strengths.
2. The most effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and then maximize their team.
3. The most effective leaders understand their followers' needs.

They discuss the four domains of leadership, which I wrote about HERE.

Then they give four examples of some famous leaders, one from each of these domains: Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach For America; Simon Cooper, President of Ritz-Carlton; Mervyn Davies, Chairman of Standard Chartered Bank; and Brad Anderson, CEO of Best Buy.

They found 5 things strong teams have in common:

1. Conflict doesn't destroy strong teams because strong teams focus on results.
2. Strong teams prioritize what's best for the organization and then move forward.
3. Members of strong teams are as committed to their personal lives as they are to their work.
4. Strong teams embrace diversity.
5. Strong teams are magnets for talent.

One of the things they point out as significant is understanding why people follow. For instance, when you ask most leaders how effective they are, most will say they are fairly effective. But the authors suggest the best people to ask about a leaders effectiveness are actually their followers. They found that, to their surprise, most people weren't interested in things like purpose, wisdom, humor, and humility. The four words that came up the most which cause people to follow others are: Trust, Compassion, Stability, and Hope. These are the things that inspire people to follow leaders.

Overall, I had a much better feel for this book - and the strength-finder assessment - after finishing it than I did when I started. As they say on p. 10, "Serious problems occur when we think we need to be exactly like the leaders we admire. Doing so takes us out of our natural element and practically eliminates our chances of success."

I know the easy thing for many people to say about church leadership is that "it's not about us, it's about God." That is completely true, but it's also true that 'people are people,' and there are certain ways of leading groups of people that are better and/or worse than others. So I will take a look over my assessment findings again, and try to apply some of these leadership principles to my life, and church, and see what God can do with us.

Peace out; and in.

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