Soon I will be posting about my top ten books on leadership. In anticipation for the post, I wanted to share with you one of my top ten leadership books now. It is entitled Leading with a Limp: Turning Your Struggles into Strengths, by Dan Allender. I read this book a number of years ago, and on an annual basis I take some time to review what I learned from this book, because it is that good.
About Dan Allender
Before sharing an overview of the book with some of my thoughts about it, I wanted to introduce you to the author of the book Dan B. Allender, PhD. He is the founder of the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, where he served as President and now as Founder Emeritus. He is a therapist in private practice as well as author of a number of books including Bold Love, The Cry of the Soul and The Wounded Heart. Dan writes in a heart-revealing way, with a deep care for the soul. He is a popular speaker, the husband of Rebecca and father of three children.
While many leadership books today focus on knowing your strengths and leveraging your power, Allender in Leading with a Limp argues that the best leaders live paradoxical lives, where they lead with power because of their weakness, find success through acknowledging their failures and lose their life, so that they might save it.
Allender makes it clear that living a paradoxical life requires faith and has enormous costs, but meaningful rewards. He paints a realistic picture of leadership through stories and by guiding us through five universal challenges that every leader faces and calls us to respond in a paradoxical way.
- When we face crises, we should respond with courage (brokenness and confidence) instead of cowardice (blame and control).
- When facing complexity, we should respond with depth (foolishness and creativity) instead of rigidity (dogmatism).
- When confronted with betrayal, we should respond with gratitude (reluctance and humility) instead of narcissism (envy and self-absorption).
- When faced with loneliness, we should respond with openness (honest hunger and community) instead of hiding (manipulation).
- And finally, when faced with weariness, we should respond with hope (disillusionment and boldness) instead of fatalism (busyness).
Allender encourages us to define our calling not just with nouns, like sage, seer, mouthpiece, coach and catalyst, but also with adjectives, like broken, foolish, reluctant, hungry or disillusioned. He reminds us that limping leadership happens in the context of community and is more about forming character than running an organization. He ends with practical advice on how to tell secrets and explanations of the three leaders needed for any organization – king, priest and prophet.
My Thoughts About the Book
I found the book refreshingly challenging. Refreshing because as Dan shared the beauty and effectiveness of limping leaders, he shared his own brokenness, foolishness, reluctance, hunger and disillusionment. Challenging, because being a limping leader has enormous costs and risks involved, and it takes a nuanced discernment for each of us to apply such wisdom in our life. Leading with a limp requires that we name “some very painful realities about life and leadership, about others and yourself” (7).
His chapter on telling secrets was paradoxical and helpful. He says the way that we embrace honesty is by: “giving up what is already painfully obvious, tell the truth without telling all the truth, and embrace the gospel in your failure to live the gospel” (173). He says we need to tell stories without all the spin, that include failure and the need of grace, stories that share “the already and the not yet, the call to be strong and tender, and the ways of being wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove” (177).
Here are some short quotes I want to contemplate:
“There are no easy decisions. To decide requires a death, a dying to a thousand options…” (14).
“A good leader will, in time, disappoint everyone” (14).
“If you want a friend, get a dog” (33).
“Ineffective responses to any of the biggest challenges of leadership – betrayal, crises, complexity, loneliness or weariness – result in failures that eventually come home to roost” (45).
And for one longer quote:
“The leader’s character is what makes the difference between advancing or de-centering the morale, competence, and commitment of an organization. The truth about confession is that it doesn’t lead to people’s weakness and disrespect; instead, it transforms the leader’s character and earns her greater respect and power. This is the strange paradox of leading: to the degree you attempt to hide or dissemble your weaknesses, the more you will need to control those you lead, the more insecure you will become, and the more rigidity you will impose – prompting the ultimate departure of your best people. The dark spiral of spin control inevitably leads to people’s cynicism and mistrust. So do yourself and your organization a favor and don’t go there Prepare now to admit to your staff that you are the organization’s chief sinner” (3).
This book is worth reading annually. So have you had the chance to read this book yet? If so, how has this book benefited your life?
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