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Friday, January 6, 2012

Book Review: The Shaping of an Effective Leader

I think it's safe to say that in every single conversation that I had this week I was asked this question:
"So what did you do over the Christmas break?" 
The chitchat tends to hover around the topics of family visits, house projects, time to catch up on sleep, and so on. And while it is always fun to catch up (because I love the people I talk to), secretly I would rather talk most about the one thing in particular during the Christmas through New Year's holiday that I enjoy more than everything else...

The chance to read.

Sure, it might sound pretty nerdy to admit it, but there it is. For the last few weeks of every year I start pulling out the books that have been on my "wouldashouldacoulda" reading list for the previous months. I get WAY too ambitious and start entertaining visions of reading 4-5 books over the break.

Then reality sets in, and of course I have far less free time than I imagined. But nevertheless, I do have a few quiet evenings at home and even an idle afternoon or two, to read for more than 20 minutes before I go to bed. This is heavenly for me. I believe I have mentioned here before that I was an English major in college purely because I love to read.

My tastes are highly eclectic, and wander into some topics that you may find a little dry. I read a book on theology and missiology, caught up on some issues of the New Yorker, and got going on a book about retracing the steps of a wandering monk in the Middle East.

But even I was surprised to find that my favorite book of the break was this one: The Shaping of an Effective Leader: Eight Formative Principles of Leadership, written by Gayle Beebe. Initially I picked it up because it is written by the parent of one of my students... But he also happens to be the president of Westmont College. A minor detail, right?! (Kidding)

My official title with the Free Methodist Church in Southern California is "Director of Recruiting and Leadership Development," so I imagine it comes as no surprise that I would find this book interesting. But before you wonder how I could possibly relax over the holiday by reading a book that is work-related, let me assure of this: This is a very accessible, enjoyable, inspiring book to read.

In the same breath I will say that it is not something you casually skim for 2 hours. It is absolutely jam-packed with an almost dizzying number of pearls of wisdom. My copy is already heavily underlined and tagged with multiple post-it notes. But at the same time Gayle somehow manages to intersperse a tremendous assortment of anecdotes and illustrations in the midst of it all, and makes it something that I tore through very quickly.

To be sure, many of the details were of interest to me because I am familiar with all of the institutions mentioned in the book. And the entire issue of leadership is something I have devoted my entire adult life to understanding and developing. Which also means I have read multiple books already on this topic. Why do I think this has something new to add?

This paragraph says it all for me:
I realized that our understanding of leadership does not come to us all at once. It takes time. In our instant-oriented culture we often want to short-circuit the thinking, reflecting and acting that mark our progressive development as leaders. Understanding how leaders develop and why they matter requires discernment, wisdom and insight. (p. 22, emphasis mine)
In other words, Gayle is not promoting some gimmicky methodology here. Instead, he takes the reader through a very thoughtful process of how one becomes a leader, and also how one shapes other leaders. He helped me to see how my own leadership has evolved, and how much more I have to learn. More importantly perhaps, he motivated me to get even better at it as he lifted up the value of gifted, intentional, and wise leadership.

So my advice is simple. Get. This. Book. I've already ordered a batch for the pastoral interns I will train this summer, and I plan on assigning it as a text for an upcoming course I will be teaching. Think about your own context: If you are leading a Bible study, running a business, managing or supervising employees, teaching, heading up a team, or just flat out interested in being or becoming a better leader, this book has much to say. I have already used content from it twice this very week in consulting with pastors on projects we are working on. I can tell that I will be drawing from it over and over again.

Once you are finished reading it, do what I'm getting in the habit of doing for books I like: Write a review on the Amazon page. There are so many lame books out there on getting rich quick or reducing success down to five easy principles that all start with the same letter. I want to see this book rise to the top and get the attention it deserves.


  1. Thanks Kelly, I too love to read. I think it has kept me respectably sane through some hard times. I will look for this book and hopefully I can get it on our Kindle. Best to you in the New Year. What is another favorite book?

  2. kel, think you can use your connections to get a westmont-alum-living-in-guatemala-training-leaders a copy : ) hmmm. whatta think? puh-lease.

  3. Ashenbrenners: tell me if there a certain topics you're interested in...

    Michelle: isn't the question one of actually GETTING the books to you?