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Understanding Leadership

underleader1By Tom Marshall

Understanding Leadership is a brilliant book for leaders written by Tom Marshall.

It came to our attention because of a recommendation by Ken Blanchard, the author of The One Minute Manager (amongst others!).  It was described as the best management book he had read in a decade, so naturally our attention was piqued!

It’s a little unusual in that it’s written from a Christian perspective and focuses heavily on the principles of Servant Leadership.  Tom Marshall heavily influenced the early progress of YWAM (Youth with a Mission) which includes people from over 180 countries, over 18,000 full-time volunteers and the training of 25,000 missions volunteers annually.  He managed a fair few people…

His book Understanding Leadership describes how and why leadership is distinct from management or administration and offers insight on topics such as foresight, trust, criticism, caring, status, timing, failure and honour.

Many of these topics have an incredible amount of relevance in the secular world, and we were drawn to this book because of the unique perspective the author would have on them.  He clearly wasn’t getting paid by the word or to further his career!

The book covered a number of topics but the three that stood out most were Status, Trust and Understanding.

It was quite remarkable that these three themes became so inter linked over the course of the book.  Status in particular is held in great esteem by a number of our leaders.  The benefits package, the car parking space all serve to elevate the status of a leader whilst distinguishing and to some degree separating those leaders from the rest of an organisation.

Amongst the consequences he explores to this separation, is the degradation of trust in our leaders.  If they are removed and elevated from the daily grind of an organisation’s work, how can people within that organisation truly trust their leader’s motivations.  And if we’re sceptical of our leaders motivations, how are we likely to feel about their vision for the organisation?  Or even engage with it?

He wraps up with the exploration of understanding, developing a shared meaning on a number of points between leaders and the organisations they lead.  Shared meaning is a fascinating topic at the moment and this book goes some way to exploring the connection between trust and understanding one another.

What sticks with us the most is a quote used towards the end of the book:

I cannot care for somebody I do not know, because I may totally misunderstand what their needs are;  I cannot trust somebody I do not know, because that trust may prove to be sheer and reckless presumption;  I cannot truly honour somebody I do not know, because it would be like giving value to an unknown quantity.

Placed into the heart of a leadership context, this statement would have quite a revolutionary impact on the behaviours of our leaders.