Book Review: Redefining Leadership

Redefining Leadership: Character Driven Habits Of Effective Leaders, by Joseph M. Stowell

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Zondervan Press in exchange for an honest review.]

This book deals with some of my own concerns that became a matter of importance once I started my studies in Engineering Management as a graduate student. Like the author of this book, I was struck by the immense gulf between the theories of servant leadership and related ideas (like Theory Y and Maslov’s ideas) that are popular in management schools [1] and the pitiful and selfish practices that are present in the vast majority of businesses and institutions in our society, even those run by Christians (and, sad to say, often including churches) with rampant political behavior, self-seeking by selfish elites, and domineering behavior on the part of leaders. As someone with a deep identity as a Christian as well as a deep concern for the poor and needy (seeing as I spring from that ground myself) both nearby and far away, and also as a well-educated person, this gulf between theory and practice has long troubled me.

This is a book on leadership, full of self-effacing stories about the author’s more inglorious moments (which serve as tokens of his authenticity and willingness to admit imperfections and errors), numerous biblical references (and sound biblical exegesis), and containing a strong critique of our instinctual way of leadership, which in the Bible is viewed harshly as the way of the heathen/Gentiles. At its core, this is a book about contrasting the way that seems right and normal by people to lead, a way inspired by selfishness and following the example of Satan (which the author calls outcome-based leadership), and the leadership that is consistently advocated in the Bible and practiced by the godly, requiring self-reflection, humility, as well as wisdom and power from God that we do not possess on our own (which the author calls character-driven leadership). The title of the book gives the fundamental point to be found here, that godly leadership requires us to be followers of Jesus Christ and His way, leading through the influence of our example in all aspects of our lives, focused on serving the glory of God and showing love and mercy and respect to others who we happen to come across along the way.

Despite this very strong point, made with very powerful and uncompromising statements [2], the message is not rambling but is focused and well-organized. This is the sort of book that belongs as a textbook in leadership theory courses, as well as a frequently used resource for leaders to remind us what is most important, as well as what is not (namely, ourselves). At about 175 pages, this is not a book that takes a long time to read, but it is a book that rewards its readers by focusing on a thorough guide to godly leadership that starts with the goal of godly leadership (to raise up and encourage others as a follower of Christ), focuses on the priorities of leaders (long term, even multi-generational aims, service towards others, seeking the well-being of others), focuses on the identity of leaders as followers of God and as shepherds of Christ, and then focuses on the qualities of a redefined leader (such as seeking the Kingdom of God, being reliant on God and repentant for our own sins, meek and righteous through the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit, merciful and pure, and with redefined expectations that do not lead to discouragement and despair at the inevitable difficult times that we all face).

At its core, this is a book that seeks to distill the leadership wisdom of God’s word in such a way that it can be applied by godly leaders in the home, in congregations, in businesses, and in communities. It is a book that does not seek to pander to our desires to be seen as self-sufficient in our existing righteousness, but rather is a rebuke to complacency and a spur to greater love and compassion towards others, with some mentions of contemporary problems where people find a first or second chance difficult to attain (including immigrants and former prisoners, and those trapped under the burden of massive debt). This is a book written in such a way that its language ought to appeal to those who are familiar with the pious platitudes of leadership books but are looking for counsel that is grounded on the foundation of scripture and that gives practical advice on how to live the noble but seldom-followed ideals of the Sermon on the Mount. Those who take up the challenge of this book to practice what we preach will find much to appreciate and much to enjoy, even if it is not easy to change our entrenched habits and to learn to mistrust our human instincts and develop with the help of God better instincts learned through obedience to God’s ways and through the practice of love and mercy and transparent honesty with others. For those readers who do not find the language of the book too technical and full of management theory jargon, I wholeheartedly recommend this book in the hope that it may serve as an inspirational resource for others as well.

[1] See, for example:

[2] Here is one example, found on page 82:

“So the choice is clear. We can lead by the manipulations, twists, and turns of positional authority or by the productive power of moral authority. Maximum leaders choose the latter.

They do so because it is the way that Jesus led and drew people to the enterprise of the kingdom. As followers of Jesus, maximum leaders refuse to lead by pulling the levers of sheer, self-serving power. They value concepts such as servanthood, shepherding, humility, caring and compassion, patience, and a love for the maligned and needy. They value people for who they are, not for what they do.

Leaders with moral authority understand that they are broken and needy, they mourn their shortcomings and feel sorrow for their sin, they are meek, and they love making things right and doing the right things. Leaders who lead with moral authority seek to make peace among their followers and readily forgive and love their enemies. When given a choice, they will always be true to the Jesus that they follow.”

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity, Church of God and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Book Review: Redefining Leadership

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