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Book Review: The Ascent of a Leader - Thrall, McNicol, McElrath



Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, Ken McElrath. 1999. The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.

INTRODUCTION
What is the kind of environment that creates trust? What kind of leader do people want to follow? These questions and more are succinctly answered in this book that explores what it looks like to climb the ladder of character as opposed to the ladder of success. It carefully lays out the processes and steps a leader can follow in order to become the kind of leader that others will want to follow. This is not a book about techniques, but instead a book about cultivating character, authentic relationships, trust and community. Prodding us all as leaders to pursue deep character, this book shows the path the true and lasting influence, and how we as leaders can leave a lasting legacy.

What are the principles for cultivating environments that uphold and empower others and yourself? Every culture has artifacts, or measurable outcomes, values, and underlying assumptions. And leaders are those who can not only navigate that culture, but can manage and lead effective positive change within it (p. 26). Great leaders, especially, are able to not only navigate cultures, or environments, but also cultivate the kind of environments that empower others.

"Grace begets grace," the author argues (p. 29). But how do we get such environments of grace? By climbing the ladder of character (p. 31). Climbing this ladder includes stepping up through an act of trust (p. 61), choosing vulnerability (p. 75), aligning with truth (p. 91), paying the price (p. 109), and discovering your destiny (p. 137). As this ladder of character, as opposed to a ladder of capacity (skills and abilities), is climbed in a grace-driven environment, the reward is a legacy of positive influence.

What kinds of relationships ground and sustain us in leadership, and give us a legacy of positive influence? The book rightly states that "everyone of us has needs that can only be met by God and others" (p.44). These interpersonal relationships are the bedrock of our leadership. In this sense, teams must move beyond just mere performance, and move into relationship and personal fulfillment. Just completing a task or a function does not make a successful team. What makes a team successful is it's relationships, the ability for each individual to meet needs and have their needs met (p. 47). When concern is given, love is shown, and needs are met, relationships in this environment are moving close to significance, not just success (p. 48). Environments of grace produce fruit - acceptance, honesty, and affirmation (p. 51-57).

Why do leaders need to be in and create an atmosphere of trust and vulnerability? Being in and creating atmospheres of trust and vulnerability seem to go hand-in-hand, according to this book. Although there are inherent risks in trusting people (p. 66), the book asserts that we still need others (p. 68). In fact, God created us to trust Him and trust others (p. 70). So, the result, the authors assert, of not living in authentic community, with vulnerability and trust, will hurt the leader and those who follow (p. 76).

They do make a great point that isolation (at least an unhealthy type of isolation) and influence do not ultimately go together (p. 76). The book also asserts that when leaders become vulnerable, thereby initiating and creating an atmosphere of vulnerability, they give others influence and the ability to speak into and shape their lives (p. 77). This is the same as submission, mutual submission. Vulnerability is a two-way street that expresses and sustains integrity, and creates an atmosphere of authenticity, which earns the leader trust. This trust expands influence and even productivity (p. 82-83).

SUMMARY OR SYNTHESIS
Many leaders, especially those influenced by the corporate world, view success in terms of achievement. Climbing the ladder of success is part of what it means to achieve. In this book, the authors redefine what success really looks like. Character is the key to long-lasting and true influence, and relationships of grace are what drive a lasting legacy. If you're looking for a book that will help you see leadership in terms of what it is, positive influence driven by character, grace and relationships, then this book helps to flesh out all of those ideas.

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  • Blogger complexspecificity says so:
    10:44 PM, March 09, 2006  

    Our small group is going through "True Faced" by the same authors.

    At the core of True Faced is the concept that we all live in one of two 'rooms', the room of 'Good Intentions' or the room of 'Grace'.

    In the room of good intentions, we do the best we can and find that is never enough, ultimately overwhelming, and we have to hide behind a mask to be accepted by others and especially by ourselves.

    We enter the room of grace by the door of humility, trusting that God has provided himself and others with all we need to live. There are no prerequisites; we are accepted because of who we are in Jesus Christ. There is no ‘action plan’; God is going to work out our salvation / sanctification on his timetable with us.

    It appears that in the meantime we are to simply enjoy God and life. The question I’m asking is this: What the role of leadership is in the ‘Room of Grace’ if we are to simply accept that:
    • We are loved and accepted as we are because of who we are
    • We are to wait on God to do his work in us in his time and by his strength
    • We are to accept and love everyone else in the room on the same terms

    Any thoughts? top