Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee

2.5/5                                                                                                                              

Rating (1-Poor; 2-Fair; 3-Good; 4-Really Good; 5-Excellent)

Overview

Primal Leadership offers up a unique take on leadership by focusing less on topics discussed in many leadership books such as organizational structure or corporate vision and more on the unique challenge found in leading real people, whole people. Emotional intelligence is the idea the book revolves around. Specifically, the idea that creating a culture or vision that resonates requires a leader who can effectively lead with more than detached strategy or knowledge. It requires someone who can connect the vision, culture, and strategy with the people who are going to make it happen.

Main Take-aways

Be the emotional leader- The foundation of this book is the idea that every organization has an emotional leader, and every leader should be an emotional leader. For the authors, emotional leadership and emotional intelligence are about personal connection. An emotional leader is the person people in the organization look to in times of confusion, difficulty, or change. People take their emotional cues from this person. The emotional leader sets the tone and defines the “feeling” of the workplace. Obviously, the emotional leader wields a great deal of influence and is crucially important to the culture and morale of the organization. And although most leaders have access to this influence, few are aware of it, and even fewer are utilizing it effectively.

Emotional leaders create resonance- Group members generally see the leader’s emotional response to a situation as the most valid response and are likely to mirror it. Being an effective leader is about owning this emotional influence and using it to provide clarity, care, and accountability to group members. Good leaders use this to create culture that that drives vision and mission and strategy; they use it to create resonance. Resonance is hard to define, because it is felt and experienced. When a plan, strategy, or idea resonates, it inspires people and pushes them to engage. Resonance is the difference between duty and active engagement. Resonance is driven by two factors: vision and connection. First, the leader casts a vision for where the team is headed. This includes short-term and long-term goal setting as well as a definition of success for this project, group, or team. Secondly, and most importantly according to the authors, the leader connects the vision with the people involved. This second factor is where emotionally intelligent leaders set themselves apart. Connecting the vision with people requires understanding the values, talents, temperaments, and past experiences of the people on your team. When a leader creates resonance on his team, the team responds with creativity, active involvement, and commitment.

Emotional leaders are self-aware- In order to be an emotional leader or a resonant leader or connect with a team, the leader needs to be self-aware. It is impossible, or at least very difficult, to lead emotionally and with resonance if you do not understand how you are perceived or how you naturally engage people. Put very simply, you can’t connect with someone if you don’t understand how you connect with people. High visionary leaders often see their subordinates as soldiers to be directed and commanded. Understanding this tendency can help those leaders create resonance through actively working to know how subordinates are feeling or reacting to new plans or strategies. Lack of awareness will create a leader who is so disconnected from his employees that his team grows frustrated and becomes disenchanted with the any vision the leader casts. Emotional awareness is foundational to emotional leadership.

Strengths

The core premise of the book is solid. Emotional leaders create resonance and are ultimately the most effective type of leader. Emotional intelligence and the ability to lead whole people is a crucial tool that every leader needs to master. When the book is focusing on and unpacking this premise, it is very insightful and practical. The psychological piece of this book is interesting and adds a deeper level of credibility to the books premise.

Weaknesses

Lack of focus is what really holds this book back. There is a whole chapter devoted to neuroanatomy that is only tangentially connected to the book’s core premise and is more of a distraction than a help. The book is 248 pages, but it doesn’t make 248 pages worth of a point and many of those pages don’t assist in the understanding of the core premise.

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David and Goliath by Malcolm Galdwell

Rating (1-Poor; 2-Fair; 3-Good; 4-Really Good; 5-Excellent)

4/5

This book is at its very least thought-provoking in its attempt to shift our perspective on underdogs and disadvantages. And although reading Gladwell requires the discipline to remember that the author is a writer, not a psychologist, historian, or scientist, I believe the book pushes past being purely thought-provoking and is able to be practically applied to the lives of those who read it. So, I encourage you to read David and Goliath. At the very least, it is an interesting book full of engaging stories. At the very most, it is a launching pad to rethinking underdogs, disadvantages, power, and difficulty.

Overview

“David and Goliath is a book about what happens when ordinary people confront giants” according to author Malcolm Gladwell. I would add that it explains why Ordinary People vs. The Giants is not as lopsided a matchup as it seems on the surface. In fact, the matchup is so much more complex than we think, and we need to rethink what it means to be an underdog, the advantages of disadvantages, and what it means to be a “Giant”. Gladwell tells the stories of so-called ordinary people who faced extraordinary challenges and were “forced to respond”.

Main Take-aways

The Inverted-U Curve– Though the inverted-U curve is not a new concept, the way Gladwell applied it to underdogs and disadvantages was one of the most interesting aspects of the book. The inverted-U shows that there are diminishing returns to certain things that are initially positive. One of the examples Gladwell uses is the effect of wealth on happiness. The chart shows that wealth certainly has a positive impact on happiness to a certain extent. Having little or no money leads to stress, frustration, and less time for rest or fun. This part makes sense. The counterintuitive aspect of the inverted-U is illustrated in the second half of the curve which shows that after a certain point (about $120,000/year) happiness actually begins to decline. This is obviously a counter-culture idea. Making more than $120,000 per year has an adverse effect on happiness. The inverted-U applies to many things that are considered to be advantages and demonstrates that “there is no such thing as an unmitigated good.” At a certain point, “all positive states, traits, and experiences have costs that at high levels may begin to outweigh their benefits” (p. 52).

If you are an underdog, change the game– Why do we call someone an underdog? Whether it is sports, business, or war, underdogs are underdogs because we think that they are far less likely to succeed under the conditions in which they are competing. In basketball, there are rules and physical realities that make certain teams way more likely to succeed than others. The team full of 6’ 8” guys who have a 40” vertical are more likely to succeed than the team of 5’ 11” guys who, though they work hard, have extremely obvious physical limitations. So, why and how can these underdog teams defeat Goliath? Gladwell posits a potential solution through the story of a middle school girls basketball team that was the definition of an underdog and the coach who decided change the game. Essentially, this group of physically overmatched girls won game after game against Goliath after Goliath by making one relatively simple adjustment. They played the press. They refused to play the game the way their physically superior opponents wanted them to play it. Specifically, while most teams ran back to the defensive end of the floor to get in position after each offensive possession, essentially leaving half the court undefended, this underdog team defended every inch of the court using a full court press on every possession. This tactic changed the conditions, changed the game, and made it easier for a physically inferior team to compete and even win. This idea of changing the game plays out in other arenas as well. The American Revolution found far greater success using guerrilla tactics instead of lining up and attacking the British straight on. The style of battle common at that time was a style of battle that gave the Americans no chance of success. So, the Americans changed the game.

At some level, all of this represents the critical importance of innovation. Innovation is the ally of David and the potential kryptonite of Goliath. Innovation is the art of changing the game, altering the conditions of battle, or creating a whole new game in a way that makes the innovator more likely to succeed. David is way more capable of being an innovator, because David doesn’t have the disadvantage of being comfortable or even successful. It takes a special type of foresight and fortitude for a Goliath to change a game that it is winning.

Self-concept and the importance of context– Relative deprivation is the idea is that we compare ourselves locally rather than globally. In other words, we define success relative the people around us rather than relative to everyone. The primary example used by Gladwell to illustrate relative deprivation is the university context. He demonstrates that university students are more likely to get a job in their field of study if they are in the top third of their class, regardless of the university they attend. For example, Gladwell tells the story of Caroline Sacks, a student who attended Harvard intending to study science. Statistically, Ms. Sacks was more likely to get a job in her field finishing in the top third at Maryland than if she finished in the middle third at Harvard. In fact, Ms. Sacks attended Harvard, compared herself to those around her (she was middle of the pack), decided that she must not be as gifted in her field as she thought and changed her major. Ultimately, the idea of relative deprivation is a reminder that our self-concept is extremely important. Whether or not you feel smart actually has an effect on how you perform academically. This self-concept may be “subjective and ridiculous and irrational,” but it is also important. And if our self-concept is so important, the next most logical question that must be asked is, how is our self-concept being formed? Gladwell makes the point that self-concept is formed in large part by context, and consequently, context has a huge impact on success. In summary, context forms self-concept. Self-concept affects success.

The Power of Desirable Difficulty– One of the most counterintuitive ideas raised by Gladwell is the power of desirable difficulty. Gladwell asserts that difficulty, of certain types and to certain extents, can have positive effects. Specifically, difficulty that forces the development of beneficial traits is a common thread in Gladwell’s conversations with many uniquely successful individuals. Experiences such as the loss of a parent, a lower class childhood, and even dyslexia lead, in a surprising number of cases, to the development of traits that are hugely beneficial for the individuals that experience them. Psychologically speaking, this idea is not a new one. The inverted-U comes back into play here by showing that learning and development is helped by difficulty to a certain extent and then starts to have negative effects. When something is too easy, it fails to engage the person at a level that leads to learning and development. But when it is too difficult, it is becomes too debilitating to be helpful. This comes into play in the workplace when employees are given goals or assignments. Too easy and the employee doesn’t learn or grow; too difficult and they get frustrated. The key is to challenge others with goals and tasks that are possible but stretching. This same principle applies to personal goals as well. Seek challenges while avoiding setting impossible standards, and never seek the path of least resistance.

Strengths

David and Goliath is a book, like most of Gladwell’s books, designed to be engaging and to make you think, and it does both excellently. The counterintuitive look at underdogs, advantages, and disadvantages is done in way that applicable to organizations and the day-to-day lives of individuals. This book succeeds in encouraging the reader to think and explore the ways the ideas in the book apply to them. The use of story, also a Gladwell staple, are crucial to the book. They drive home the ideas asserted and make the book more engaging and fun. The book is well researched and uses statistical and scientific evidence to make its points.

Weaknesses

Gladwell researches well and relies on experts to make his points. However, it must be remembered, as I mentioned in the intro, that Gladwell is a writer, and his ideas must be considered with care. The danger being of course that some of his ideas may not hold up to heavy scrutiny, though I believe the principles are solid. This is more of a caution than a weakness, but I think it needs to be considered when reading and processing the book. There are a couple of stories that Gladwell did not adequately integrate into his overall ideas which leads to some stories seeming unrelated to the larger point of a chapter or section.

Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller

Rating (1-Poor; 2-Fair; 3-Good; 4-Really Good; 5-Excellent)3.5/5                                                                                                 

Tim Keller is one of my favorite writers and thinkers. His writings and teachings consistently blend together great thinking with clear, practical application. As a new entrant into the world of work, I was very excited to dive into Keller’s ideas about how Christians should view and interact with their work. I was not disappointed. In classic Keller form, Every Good Endeavor uses the depth of the Gospel and the breadth of biblical truth to explore work from a Christian perspective. Any student or young adult who has recently entered or is about to enter the world of work would be wise to read this Gospel-saturated look at work that God created, sin corrupted, and God now seeks to redeem. This book had a lot to it so this summary/review only covers the big ideas and passes over an abundance of great thoughts and insights explored by Keller. If the ideas covered here interest you, I highly recommend reading the whole book so you can explore the depth of these ideas and many more.

Overview

What should work look like for a Christian? This question has been discussed and picked apart for many years. Vocation has shifted from being a calling to being a job. Work has become increasingly focused on the individuals attempt to accumulate money, personal fulfillment, and power, and this focus has led to work becoming a place of stress and frustration for people whose work does not completely satisfy. For Christians, this has translated into a struggle to integrate faith and work. Does being a Christian at work mean evangelizing everyone I meet? Does it mean dropping gospel tracts in the bathroom? Does it just mean working harder than everyone else? Is it about not going out drinking with co-workers or not laughing at the dirty jokes they tell? In Every Good Endeavor, Keller attempts to shift the discussion away from these secondary questions and instead focuses on putting the world of work in the framework of the Gospel storyline. The story Keller lays out is this: God created work and it was good, sin has corrupted parts of God’s design for work, and the Gospel is God’s way of redeeming the work he created. Part 1 covers God’s original intentions for work. Keller lays out the benefits and biblical ideas of work that God designed to bless us and bless others through us. Part 2 deals with our problems with work. This section predominantly deals with the ways in which sin has corrupted and undermined God’s design. Part 3 then applies the redeeming story of the Gospel to the world of work, and Keller gives us a new biblical framework for thinking about our work.

Main Take-Aways

God created work, and it was good- Work is the very first thing the Bibles talks about. God’s creation of the world is described as work. For Christians, work starts with God. He labored to create a world of beauty and depth as well as humans that are image-bearers of his glory. Keller points out that Genesis describes “God at ‘work,’ using the Hebrew word mlkh, the word for ordinary human work.” It is this idea of God working that combats the idea that work is completely a result of the Fall. On the contrary, God’s intentions for human flourishing always included work. God glories in work. In John 5:17, Jesus says, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” Meaningful work is part of our created nature. Keller challenges current conceptions of work by saying, “According to the Bible, we don’t merely need the money from work to survive; we need the work itself to survive and live fully human lives.” Work is from God, meant to bless and sustain us.

Work and rest go hand in hand- The Bible exposes two lies about work and rest. First, the lie that work is a curse, and life is found only in leisure and rest. And second, the lie that work is the only important human activity, and rest is a necessary evil of recharging. God both worked and rested in Genesis. His rest was not a result of fatigue, showing that rest in itself is good and life-giving. Taking breaks from work to rest and worship God prevents the Christian from allowing work to rival God for primacy in their life.

ALL work is dignified and glorifying to God- Many today believe that “lower-status or lower-paying work is an assault on our dignity.” Thus, people try to find jobs that seem more important, foregoing an honest look at their gift-set. When money and prestige are the driving force behind work, you will grow frustrated as you realize that there will never be enough. But remember, God gave us work. Doing work is one way we reflect God’s character and glory. We share in God’s work of creation by subduing the earth and bringing order out of chaos; we steward God’s creation through our work. All work is of God. Keller points out that God planted a garden in the beginning, and Jesus came to earth as carpenter, not a philosopher.  “No task is too small a vessel to hold the immense dignity of work given by God.”  Through all forms of work, Christians can participate with God in his creativity and cultivation.

God uses work to bless us and others through us- When God calls us to himself and opens our hearts to receive the saving grace of Jesus, he does not call is into solitude but into community. We enter into the body of believers that God has formed in Christ. As a part of this body, Christians are equipped by God for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. Beyond that however, God further equips us with talents and gifts “for the purpose of building up the human community.” Ultimately, this means that Christian work is a work of service. Our work is only a calling “if it is reconceived as God’s assignment to serve others.” We begin to do work as a means of serving and building up both our Christian community and the community in which we live. Keller contends that the Christian view of work changes the question from “What will make me the most money and give me the most status?” to “How, with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to other people, knowing what I know of God’s will and of human need?” The question becomes others-centered instead of self-centered. We reflect the glory of God by stewarding our gifts through work that serves and builds up our community.

Sin corrupted human work- God’s glorious gift of work was severely corrupted by the fall and by the entrance of sin into the world. In order to salvage work as God created, we must seek to understand how it was corrupted in the Garden. In the garden, mankind diverged from his design and separated himself from the source of human flourishing, namely a personal relationship and trust in God. Adam and Eve suffered the natural consequences of rebelling against design. They experienced shame in their nakedness. Humans realize that something is wrong, but we often cannot identify what has gone awry. We grow restless and frustrated, and we started to use work as a way of gaining status or approval to fill the gap we feel. Sin made work something that, even when fruitful, is painful and difficult. We rebelled against our design so each of us is now working in a system that feels stacked against us. In order to reclaim work as God created and intended, we must deal with the sin in our hearts that has corrupted the way view and engage work.

Work reveals our idols- Idolatry is at the heart of many of our work frustrations. The human heart continuously displaces God as lord of our life with created things. These idols can be physical, spiritual, or psychological. Keller defines idolatry as “trusting anything to deliver the control, security, significance, satisfaction, and beauty that only the real God can give.” Or, more simply, it is turning a good thing into an ultimate thing. Our idols are made visible by the way we view or engage our work. “Idols of comfort and pleasure can make it impossible for a person to work as hard as is necessary to have a faithful and fruitful career. Idols of power and approval, on the other hand, can lead us to overwork or to be ruthless or unbalanced in our work practices.” Work has become an outward expression of the idol factory in our hearts. In the west, work is a bastion of individualism and personal autonomy. I am the center of my own universe, capable of becoming everything I need and earning anything I lack. Thus, the idol of individualism has tended to raise work from being a good thing to being nearly a form of salvation. Unless God sits on the throne as Lord of your life, work will produce and cultivate only idols in your heart.

The Gospel redeems work- This, to me, is the key to the entire book. The narrative of work began with perfect creation, moved to sin-driven corruption, and finishes with Gospel redemption. Our view of work can only be reclaimed if we orient ourselves and our work around the Gospel. If we get the story of the world wrong, we will get our “life responses wrong.” If we understand that God is the ruler of all creation, we will strive to cease elevating created things to his position. If we don’t understand the Gospel, we will demonize something that isn’t bad enough to explain our situation, and we will idolize something that is incapable of saving us. Realizing that Jesus came down from heaven to serve us and die for us will help us orient our work as an act of service and sacrifice for those around us. Understanding that the saving grace of the Gospel is offered to everyone will lead to a valuing of individuals and a reluctance to demean or take advantage of someone because of their vocation or social status. Gospel-centered businesses would be defined by a lack of “adversarial relationships” and an emphasis on quality and excellence. Employees would be treated with more respect and dignity. Gospel-centered artists would “have access to a broader and more balanced vision of the world.” They would be equipped to tell the story of sin, redemption, and beauty through their art. The Gospel changes the lenses through which we see our work. Placing work within the framework of the Gospel is the first step to reclaiming work as God created.

Strengths

Keller’s use of the Bible to undergird and illustrate his arguments is a consistent strength of Every Good Endeavor. From Genesis to Esther to Ecclesiastes to Paul, the whole Bible storyline is on display. Keller faithfully attempts to elaborate the Bible’s view of work and vocation. Also helpful was the clear unpacking of the new framework/worldview that Keller was advocating. By placing the book within the Gospel narrative, Keller was able to clearly draw the line from where work was, to where work is, and to where work should be. This framework gives people, regardless of vocation or life-stage the tools for changing the way they think about their work.

Weaknesses

Application is not so much a weakness, as it is a potential point of frustration for people. This book puts forth a framework for engaging work, and while Keller does occasionally directly apply this framework to certain jobs or situations, the book is not a handbook of action steps. The focus is more on changing the questions we ask, or the way we think, than on providing answers for every situation. For people looking for job-specific applications, the book will likely disappoint.

Quotes

“To make a real difference…[there would have to be] a reappropriation of the idea of vocation or calling, a return in a new way to the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means to one’s own advancement.”

“And so we discover that faithful work requires the will, the emotions, the soul, and the mind-as we think out and live out the implications of our beliefs on the canvas of our daily work.”

“God gives us talents and gifts so we can do for one another what he wants to do for us and through us.”

“God left creation with deep untapped potential for cultivation that people were to unlock through their labor.”

“You will not have a meaningful life without work, but you cannot say that your work is the meaning of your life.”

“But the gospel frees us from the relentless pressure of having to prove ourselves and secure our identity through work, for we are already proven and secure.”

“The two things we all want so desperately- glory and relationship- can coexist only within God.”

“Every…society will have to make an idol out of something that will ultimately disappoint.”

“When you see how much you are loved, your work will become far less selfish.”

Robert E. Lee on Leadership: Executive Lessons in Character, Courage, and Vision by H.W. Crocker

Rating (1-Poor; 2-Fair; 3-Good; 4-Really Good; 5-Excellent)

 3.5/5

This was a very interesting and practical read. People who enjoy reading that gives them concrete principles that apply to their lives will enjoy this book. It combines history, biography, leadership, and business into a story that is both compelling and helpful. I enjoyed reading  it very much and have already begun recommending it to friends. This review can serve either as a stand-alone summary of key principles and applications or a teaser for those of you that want to delve deeper into the life of Robert E. Lee.

Overview

In Lee on Leadership, HW Crocker uses the life of Robert E Lee to draw out lessons and leadership principles that exceed the scope of the war for which Lee is so well known. The book begins with an overview of Lee’s life and accomplishments. Crocker establishes Lee as a successful and unique leader. The book focuses primarily on three periods of Lee’s life: his time in the army during the Mexican-American War, his time as general of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War, and his time as President of Washington University. Crocker uses stories to demonstrate how Lee managed and handled different situations and then attempts to connect these principles to modern day leaders and the struggles they face. Stories from Lee’s young adulthood all the way through until his death show that Lee was a beloved and successful leader, motivator, and general. His life demonstrates many characteristics that are desired and/or lacking from many of today’s leaders. The lessons from this book can be especially helpful to any college student or young adult who is seeking to be a leader in his/her company, ministry, church, or school. Though his roles and circumstances changed, Lee exemplified leadership throughout his life and we would be wise to learn what Lee’s life has to teach us.

Main Take-Aways

Leadership begins with following– Crocker does not begin the book by immediately showing Lee’s leadership as a general in the Civil War. He starts by showing how Lee was shaped by events leading up to the most storied part of his life. Lee’s life demonstrates how certain decisions we make in our 20’s and 30’s prepare and shape us for the tests that we will face later in life. Lee’s growth as a leader began during his time as a staff officer under General Winfield Scott. Lee served under General Scott during the Mexican-American War. During this time, Lee learned to lead by following. He listened carefully during every meeting, briefing, or planning session always seeking to be teachable when Scott was speaking. Many young adults, who aspire to leadership roles, often seek to gain leadership roles through taking over every group, meeting, or conversation. They lead without learning. Both Lee’s success as a leader and his opportunities for leadership are direct results of his commitment to following and learning in his 20’s. The military lessons he learned from General Scott shaped his military strategy, and his commitment to following orders and working hard led to promotions and new leadership opportunities that involved increasing amounts of autonomy and power. Even when Lee was elevated to the General of the Army of Northern Virginia, he always submitted to and never undermined the leadership of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, even when he disagreed. As Crocker says, “a good leader is a good subordinate.” This deference to Davis’ leadership ultimately won Lee more authority, trust, and confidence than any other general in the confederate army. Natural leaders that commit to being learners and hard-working followers when they’re younger, grow into great leaders who are defined by maturity and are given more opportunities to lead when they are older.

 

Leaders care for and understand their subordinates– One of Lee’s greatest assets was the love and devotion he inspired in his men. His army was almost always outnumbered, outgunned, and under-resourced. But his men fought as hard as they could in any condition for General Lee. Lee gained this devotion by caring for and understanding his men, from the lowest private to his most trusted generals. Lee’s battle plans were designed with the men who would be fighting clearly in mind. His plans were not coldly strategic, but they attempted to give his men the best chance at success. He wanted his men to be able to do what they did best. This was only possible because Lee had a deep understanding of the men he commanded. General Stonewall Jackson was an aggressor, always willing to attempt a daring maneuver if it could give his side the edge. General James Longstreet, on the other hand, was a defensive mind who had a knack for outlasting and blocking any enemy retreat. Lee drew up plans that allowed these men to utilize their strengths. Lee found men who he understood and trusted, men who shared his vision, and used them to achieve victories despite vastly inferior numbers and resources. Lee also cared for his foot soldiers. He shared in their circumstances, never feasting in his tent while his men starved. He rode along the front lines encouraging the men. Their welfare and needs were always at the front of his mind as he made his plans for war. This care for his men created a devotion that was unmatched and an army that would gladly go wherever Lee led them. Leaders that know their men well and have their subordinate’s welfare in mind gain loyalty and devotion that leads to better planning and increased success.

 

Leaders take responsibility- Poor leaders blame, great leaders own. Lee, as the leader of the Army of Northern Virginia, always took personal responsibility for the outcomes of every battle, positive or negative. When generals failed to enact Lee’s orders in a timely fashion or even actively undermined his authority, Lee never wasted time shifting blame or making excuses. He owned every situation, every failure. His reports to President Davis never included negative or deprecating comments about his subordinate generals. Lee viewed blame-assignment as a distraction from what really mattered. He wanted to focus what was in front of him, what he could control. Lee wasn’t a pushover either. He held his generals accountable for their actions, and attempted to put them in position to succeed. But his rebukes were never public or designed to humiliate. His over-arching desire for all of his men was that they be successful and fulfilled. He did not attempt to make himself look better by publicly reprimanding a subordinate. Aspiring leaders need to learn the lesson that blame shifting distracts from what is important and undermines the loyalty of people you lead. Owning and taking responsibility, on the other hand, leads to a maintained focus on what can be controlled and the devotion of the people you lead. Blame-shifting is a sign of immaturity, taking responsibility is a sign of leadership.

 

Leaders work hard and rest well- Lee worked harder than anyone in his army, but he always took time to rest his mind and renew his spirit. When Lee was an officer in the Mexican-American War, he was often assigned the task of scouting the land and the opposing army’s position. This task required days of riding and traversing rough terrain. One tale told about Lee is that he rode for three days without sleep or food in order to find a way for the United States army to flank the enemy without being seen. Lee spent hours studying military strategy and was always available to get on the ground and do any job necessary for success. As a general he studied his opponents, and he spent time talking to and seeking to understand his men. He rode the front lines, met with generals, and was a life-long learner and reader. In the midst of this, he also always took time to rest his mind and body. He was known to take long walks that rejuvenated his mind and spirit. He was committed to the biblical ideal of Sabbath rest. Burnout results from never stopping to recharge. Lee’s ability to out-work anyone around him was a result of his ability to find rest in the midst of work and stress. Young adults must learn the lesson that rest must be a part of their schedules. Constantly working without taking time to recharge will inevitably lead to burnout and frustration. But taking time to rest increases a leader’s ability to work hard and stay engaged with task at hand. One of the keys to being a leader that works hard and stands the test of time is finding time to rest and recharge.

 

Strengths

The strength of this book is that it allows the reader to see Lee’s life through stories and first-hand accounts. While Crocker does pull out specific leadership principles throughout the book, he also allows the reader to make his/her own connections and principles by reading about Lee’s life. The book is historical without being dense or slow. It is great for someone looking to get into reading biography but doesn’t want to read a 1,000 page textbook. This book lends itself to being reread throughout your life. The principles and stories will be seen differently depending on the reader’s age, job description, or leadership responsibilities. Crocker’s summaries at the end of each chapter make review and application significantly easier. It would be especially beneficial for young, aspiring leaders looking for a framework to start becoming the leader they one day hope to be. Lee’s life is a great roadmap for how to start building habits and learning lessons that will lay a solid foundation for maturity and growth.

Weaknesses

One of the few consistent weaknesses of this book is the outdated nature of some of Crocker’s specific leadership lessons. Crocker’s specificity about some application points is localized to the culture and ideas of the period in which the book was written. Thus, some of his principles seem obvious and unnecessary because they have now been part of the leadership discussion for thirteen years.  This weakness does not overpower because, as I said earlier, Crocker leaves lots of space for the reader to draw his own lessons and principles from Lee’s life. Also embedded in the strength of re-readability is the downside that parts of the book apply more strongly to people in different leadership and authority roles. So, while the book has many great applications and principles, some of the applications and principles are specific to people of certain ages and stations. Again, not a big weakness because even the less applicable principles serve to prepare the reader for what leadership will mean for them in the future.

Quotes

“He was too fiercely focused on the matter at hand…to waste his energy on choler and abuse.”

“Learn from your superiors. Leadership can be learned from successful executives far different from oneself in temperament. Copy a successful leader’s techniques and learn from his mistakes.”

“He was a leader even when he was a subordinate, happily accepting the responsibilities of those senior to himself.”

“Whenever possible, he set aside half an hour or so in the afternoon to ride on horseback into the country…to clear his mind of current, pressing duties and to focus on the beauties of nature, which he well appreciated. Later in his life he confessed, ‘I do not see how I could have stood what I had to go through’ without his sojourns on his favorite mount, Traveller.”

“Lee gave no thought to insubordination, no thought to undermining his commander-in-chief through backroom intrigue designed to advance his own authority.”

“His deference to Davis as the ultimate deciding authority won the president’s complete trust and confidence, and won Lee the independence and delegated authority that others had sought in vain.”

“He had learned about his officers…as a believer in delegating authority to his generals in the field, he could feel confident that authority was given to men he could trust.”

“Find subordinate officers you can trust and who share your vision, and turn them loose.”