Every once in a while (at least a couple of times a year, in my opinion) it is important to pause, look in the mirror, take time to reflect, and review. This could involve thinking through the decisions (and/or mistakes) you’ve made, analyzing the ways you’ve grown, reminding yourself of the important lessons learned, looking for patterns that have developed (both good and bad), reviewing the books, articles, workshops, and seminars you’ve studied or attended, and any number of other ways to self-reflect. Regardless of how you go about it, what matters is that you intentionally take time to do it. With that thought in mind, I would like to take time to do two things: share what I think have been the best books I’ve read this year so far, and highlight the important leadership lessons that have I have repeatedly been reminded of this year.
So far in 2016, the three best books on Leadership that I have read have been Mindset by Carol Dweck, Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, and Leadership Excellence by Pat Williams (incidentally, the way I determine this is by identifying the books that I have most often referenced or intentionally applied in practice as a leader, mentor, and school administrator). Mindset really helped me to look at myself (and others) to identify whether or not I (or they) am teachable and willing to grow and learn, and how my mindset has on impact on that. It was also tremendously beneficial in helping my to identify whether or not an employee was willing and able to grow, which in turn greatly helped me to make personnel decisions that were good for my organization. Thanks for the Feedback gave me a much better understanding of how to receive feedback well, and in a way that would help me grow, and how to give feedback to others in a way that is more easily received by them. Leadership Excellence was a very practical resource on general principles that are important for effective leadership.
In addition to these books on leadership, the three best books I’ve read so far this year for my own personal, spiritual growth are two books from Tim Keller – Every Good Endeavor (on understanding the meaning and purpose of your work in light of God’s design) and The Meaning of Marriage (on understanding God’s design for a healthy and happy marriage relationship) – and one from John Eldridge, Epic (a short book that I actually read a few years ago, but read again this year; it’s a description of how our lives are part of God’s grand story). The two books that have most helped me professionally in my career field (educational leadership) are Michael Fullan’s The Principal and Robyn Jackson’s Never Work Harder Than Your Students. And for my own reading pleasure, I most enjoyed William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace, Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization, and one other that I am currently reading – The Complete Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
As I reflect back over the year so far there are also a handful of lessons that I seem to be seeing over and over again. The first is that leadership essentially involves two things: tasks and people. Managing tasks well involves things like competence, excellence, knowing the right things to do for your role and your organization, delegating appropriately, strategic planning, etc. Leading people well involves building relationships, maintaining relationships, investing in the growth of others, helping people to feel heard and validated, and so on. But ultimately it seems that almost everything in leadership can be reduced to doing the right tasks well, and cultivating relationships and people.
The second recurring lesson is that authenticity and credibility are absolutely essential to effective leadership. This means that a leader must develop and demonstrate integrity and transparency and must model consistency – walking the talk and talking the walk. In doing these things, trust is earned, loyalty is built, and decision-making authority grows. People will believe in you, trust you, and follow you.
The third recurring lesson is that it is important to be a learner, always observing, listening, studying, and growing. This means that a good leader should read often, should listen to the wisdom of others, and should practice self-reflection. Always be learning, and you’ll always be growing, which means, in turn, that you will always be in the process of becoming a better person and a better leader.
So that’s a snapshot of what I have learned or been reminded of this year. Now I’m going to be taking the next twelve weeks or so share a series of lessons on effective Christian leadership drawn from the book of Ezra. I’ve shared a few of these in this blog over the last couple of years, and last year I shared the entire series on another site (Center for the Advancement of Christian Education, or CACE), but I did not share them all here. Therefore, for the next 3 months, I am going to share that series again. I do hope that these lessons will be valuable for you.
Oh, and take some time to do some self-reflection of your own!