The Common Good
March 2006

Leading with Grace

by Clifton Kirkpatrick | March 2006

In the midst of my own responsibilities for leadership within the Presbyterian Church (USA), I seek to keep current with the literature on leadership and organizational management. Rarely have I found such an insightful—and deeply inspiring—book on this subject as Wesley Granberg-Michaelson’s Leadership From Inside Out.

Many books on leadership are written from the perspective of the social sciences. Others share life experiences of significant leaders in public life, the church, or organizations. Still others address leadership from a spiritual and theological perspective. What is so unique—and refreshing—about Leadership From Inside Out is that it combines all three of these dimensions in a way that gives fresh hope and inspiration to those who seek to lead in a time when leadership is not easy. For a Christian, whether a pastor, a denominational leader, or a leader in public life, all three are critical. Granberg-Michaelson shares the best insights of each along with his own spiritual journey in leadership.

Granberg-Michaelson guides us to a fresh understanding of the things that so often cause leaders to fail: sex, money, and power. He points to an alternate model of listening for God’s will, understanding our own gifts and limitations, and building community with others on behalf of noble visions. He shares valuable insights about reshaping organizational cultures, asking the “big questions” that build vision, and implementing “road maps” that help a community translate a vision into concrete change.

But this is not simply a book about techniques for leadership. It is more importantly a book about the spiritual transformation that lays the groundwork for genuine Christian leadership. I was particularly moved by the way he developed the thoughts from a book I have always treasured, Leadership, by James MacGregor Burns. Burns wrote powerfully of two styles of leadership: transactional and transforming. Transactional leaders lead by exchanging favors with their followers, while transforming leaders lead by drawing themselves and those with whom they work to deeper levels of moral consciousness and shared values.

Granberg-Michaelson is clear that what our world needs is not more transactional leaders, but more transformational leaders. He is also very clear that the key to transformational leadership is not better testing of public opinion, management techniques, or incentive systems (although these have their place), but rather a deeper walk with God and a nurturing of our spiritual core. It is truly, as the title states, leadership from inside out.

This is not the book for those who want the top 10 techniques for leadership effectiveness. It is for those who, in faithfulness to Christ, seek to be transformational leaders who can be part of the renewal of the world in line with the purposes of God. Beyond the insights, which are abundant, this small volume also tells of the personal journey of one who has not only “talked the talk” but has “walked the walk” of transformational leadership.

Clifton Kirkpatrick is the stated clerk (chief ecclesiastical officer) of the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.

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