This is an excellent book on leaders and leadership. Many books on leadership assume the leader will share the personality and skill-set of charismatic leaders, or heroic leaders, as Brian Harris calls them. Others present leadership in a mechanical sort of way so that almost anyone who aspires to lead can do so successfully if they adopt the right techniques.
Brian Harris appreciates heroic leaders while acknowledging the pitfalls they face, but recognizes they form only a small percentage of those who are called to undertake leadership. Differently gifted people who try to emulate heroic leaders often fail in their attempt and give up. He argues many people become leaders somewhat reluctantly, and do so because there is a need for leadership in a context where no leadership would be a worse option – and over time learn to lead effectively in a quiet, undramatic way. Brian Harris calls these people: “quiet leaders” - and likens them to the tortoise of the old story, whereby through taking one step after another and persevering the tortoise eventually reaches the goal.
Brian Harris briefly examines some theories of leadership and then expounds a theory of quiet leadership in which the leader is presented as servant, shepherd and steward, based on biblical models. Such leadership is follower focused rather than leader focused.
Brian Harris discusses ethical issues involved in leadership and various approaches to them and sets forth key virtues of quiet leadership: modesty, restraint, tenacity, interdependence and other-centredness. While success is important, significance is an even more important goal. We need to ask what we should do before we ask what we could do (otherwise it can lead to pragmatism).
Leadership involves the scripting of stories, the leader’s but also those of the people, groups and organisations that the leader’s leadership impacts. The leader needs to know their own story and find their own voice in the overall narrative to lead effectively. And they need to be aware of how the stories of others will be shaped by the decisions they make, as they journey together.
Character development is discussed using the SHIFT test, which includes spiritual well-being, health, intellectual development, family and friends, and time and treasure (resources). There are practical suggestions as to how character can be developed in relation to these areas of life and leadership.
Brian Harris next focuses on optimizing outputs, arguing that results matter if leadership is to be regarded as actually leading people to achieve something. He says: “leadership is about helping move individuals and groups towards desired outcomes.” (87) Further he discusses casting vision, as a skill that can be learnt, giving practical steps to take. He points out the importance of a missional focus in vision, so that vision is not simply about meeting the needs of the group but also (even primarily) about those outside the group they are seeking to serve in the name of Christ.
In no way is leadership meant to be a solo affair and Brian Harris spends considerable time on how leaders can help others shine and develop and work as a coherent team. He seems to find the right mix of getting the task done with good outcomes and investment in nurturing and developing people.
Brian Harris discusses the interconnection of leadership and management, the former having more of a focus on vision, change and movement, and the latter on good order, structure and efficiency. There are suggestions for time management and leading meetings. He recognizes from time to time there will be the need for conflict resolution and gives good advice about this, especially through developing trust.
The final chapter contains two case studies of quiet leadership: the Baptist Church in WA which has experienced exceptional growth and Carey, a missional organisation which Brian Harris himself now leads.
Overall, this book covers an amazing amount of material in less than 200 pages. With each chapter, Brian Harris provides practical suggestions for reflection to enable the reader to take the book’s teaching into his/her life and leadership. It would serve as a suitable basic text for a course on leadership as well as refresher reading for those who are currently leaders or aspiring to leadership. I found it refreshing to read even after 40 years of trying to be a leader in pastoral and theological college contexts, confirming much of what I have believed and offering fresh insights.
I found and marked some real gems as I read.
For example, “A test of our leadership is what other people become as a result of being in our orbit. Good leaders bring out the best in people; poor leaders the worst...We should aspire to be leaders who add value to the lives of others.” (118)
And this from an interview with Lucy Morris, CEO of Baptistcare in WA: as a leader “I am only writing a ‘chapter’, not a book” (152) – a good reminder that we lead for only part of a longer journey those we lead are on; it’s not about us as leaders, but about God, his people and God’s mission.
I highly recommend Brian Harris’ book.
Dr Peter Ralphs (formerly Principal of Bible College of Queensland, Australia)show more
by Peter Ralphs