Culture > Books

Books: Our leadership crisis

Books | Remedies for our over-managed but under-led generation

Issue: "Face Off," Aug. 9, 1997

According to the great English pundit and critic Samuel Johnson, a leader is "a man who bears in his life both the most tangible and intangible qualities of heart and mind and flesh. Best we study these well."

What is it exactly that makes a man a leader? What character traits are necessary to steer men and nations into the way they should go? What constitutes genuine leadership? How are we to "study well" that which is both "the most tangible and intangible" simultaneously?

These two books-one brand new, the other a classic only recently rereleased-wrestle with these relevant questions in the context of our evidently difficult day of profound leaderlessness.

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The Power Principle is the latest book to come out of the Covey Leadership Center. Blaine Lee is a founding member of that organization-famed for such works as The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First. His new volume is very much a continuation of that folksy business genre. Filled with motivational common sense and Mormon-esque family values, he argues that the two most common approaches to leadership today are ultimately self-defeating. On the one hand, coercive leadership merely cows and intimidates people. On the other hand, utility leadership depends on self-serving negotiation and deal-making. What we really need, he asserts, is a principle-centered leadership rooted in mutual honor and respect.

With chapters specifically geared for the needs of parents, teachers, spouses, businesses, and citizens to properly influence their respective spheres, the book is a practical reminder of basic interpersonal dynamics. There are no astonishing insights here. Indeed, Mr. Lee argues that the book merely reiterates the "things we already know." Every so often, though, those are the very things we need to be reminded of the most.

Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be by LeRoy Eims has become a veritable classic since it was first published nearly a quarter century ago. This newly revised and updated version explores the issue of leadership from a biblical perspective, particularly highlighting the great examples of Moses, Joshua, David, Elijah, Nehemiah, and Paul. So where Mr. Lee draws on a common-sense approach to healthy habits and attitudes-an admittedly tenuous exercise-Mr. Eims focuses on godly character traits. He makes the connection between appropriate influence and moral verity. Eminently practical and immediately accessible, this book is a rare combination of philosophical integrity and popular sensibility.

In some ways the two books couldn't be more different-despite the fact that they both aim at the same desired result. Nevertheless, the moralism of The Power Principle and the morality of Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be actually complement one another.

There can be little doubt that we are the most over-managed yet under-led generation in recent memory. Although these books cannot entirely remedy that dilemma, they certainly can help point the way to a better day.

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