Upon reading Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, it makes me wonder if we need another leadership book. Taken from a collection of leadership essays, the editors, Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khuruna, do such a splendid job at gathering the insights from some of the best leadership minds, that it does beg the question.
How does one really summarize a book on leadership that is so vast in its scope? Divided into five pivotal sections, this book guides the reader through various ideas, theoretical concepts, studies, and charts in what seems to be an attempt to be the “Bible” of leadership. This book is not something that can be digested quickly, but there are many concepts that must marinate before they are actually realized and practiced.
This book is art imitating life. A quick search on leadership with Amazon.com will render over 173k book titles. We are inundated with leadership ideas, concepts, opinions and theories. It almost seems like you do not have any street cred in ministry if you have not written a leadership book. We are told that Jesus was a CEO, and that if you structure your organization in a certain way, then you can be the next GE of the church world. While all of these ideas are useful, so many times leading is not a complex set of theories or walking out the latest fad, it is simply getting your hands dirty and getting engaged in the leadership process.
In the past 3 weeks, I have had a face to face encounter with leadership. As most know, I have transitioned from a ministry life being a number two leader to now sitting in the first chair. In other words, every decision that I am making on a daily basis can potentially make or break the church. In my previous position, I sat under a covering. While there was spiritual warfare, it was not as intense. While I had to make decisions previously, the weight of decisions I make now impact people’s lives, their insurance policies, where they can afford to live, what they can potentially buy their kids for Christmas, and a host of other things. Every decision must be measured, weighed, and made with precision.
So when I came to chapter entitled, Decision Making as Leadership Foundation, I was certainly hooked. Michael Useem, the author of the article, says this, “Making good and timely leadership decisions on behalf of the organization has long been recognized by some scholars and practitioners as a defining aspect of leadership….Jack Welch singled out his ability to make fast decisions without regrets as a defining quality of his own leadership at GE (p.510).” Useem further points out that making no decision is in itself a decision as well.
Now, it is not the mundane decision that Useem is speaking of, but rather it is the decisions that are being made that will move the organization forward or grind it to a halt. In other words, it is the decision that only the leader or group of leaders can make at times. This is a sobering reality. For many, they cannot live with this pressure and will only make a decision if it is perfect, but those types of decisions never happen for a leader.
So if leadership decisions that we make are not always guaranteed for 100% success, how do we lead? Useem points out the 70% rule that is employed in military service. If the decision can get into a 70% chance of effectiveness, then the decision should be made with confidence. This paralyzes some, but for a true leader, they can confidently make the decision. How?
Buried deep in Useem’s work is this quote, “Underpreparation is a major source of suboptimal leadership decisions (p.512).” If a leader is unprepared in his development as a leader, if he does not prepare the organization, or his character is not prepared, then the decisions will be poor. Here’s why. A leader that prepares is preparing for the decision, he is thinking two steps ahead of a successful decision, and he has prepared his character to be able to stand by the decision without passing the buck when the decision failed. A prepared life will lead to good decision making. A prepared organization will lead to good decision making as well.
I have read many leadership books. I have always seen good leaders as being men and women who have a high risk tolerance. They are willing to take a risk that others are not. Perhaps the reason they can take a risk is because they are prepared for both the sunshine or the rain. This one contribution in this book is worth its weight in gold to me in my context right now.