The Leadership Test

I recently read a new book titled The Leadership Test, by Timothy R. Clark, Ph.D. A book on leadership may, on its face, not sound very interesting. After all, as Dr. Clark cites in his book, there are literally thousands of books written on the topic of leadership. In fact so many that, “assume[ing] the average width of a book spine is one inch, the stack of books on leadership would be over 30,000 feet high.”  That vivid illustration begs an interesting question however… “Why?” Why so many books and so much thought given to one single subject? And what could a book that, by my measure, is only about a quarter of an inch thick, add to an already crowded space?

Leadership in the non-profit space is, as in the for-profit world, a valuable commodity. The reason we talk so much about it is because we value it so highly, and all too frequently, suffer from its absence. As the author puts it, “Everyone is trying to figure it out. Everybody is looking for the secret.” He then offers a definition that was of particular interest to me as one who relies on people willing to act and, at times, make sacrifices. “Leadership is the process of influencing volunteers to accomplish good things.” If you are not necessarily focused on charity work and the word “volunteer” just reduced your interest in this, stay with me for a moment.

Whether we lead a corporation, small business, charity, classroom or family, we depend upon, in the best scenario, volunteers. Even if you pay employees, there are only three reasons they follow you: they are manipulated, you have effectively persuaded them, or they are coerced. If you view the actions of those who look to you for leadership on this continuum, you can draw a very important lesson on leadership. If your employees, teammates or children, are effectively persuaded, they are now…volunteers. And a volunteer will go to extraordinary lengths to serve the vision of the leader. I find this profoundly simple concept to be of great value.

One more point before I risk spoiling the book: if this manner of leadership is so effective, then why is it so hard to come by? The answer offered, and again in a magnificently simple way… “Leadership puts pressure on the relationship between stewardship and self interest.”  In my chosen field of philanthropic work, I am privileged to work with some of the best hearts…and minds. Self-interest, while it may exist, rarely plays a distracting role in charitable work. But it can, and when it does the process changes. It becomes even more apparent at times outside the charity realm where self-interest has, in the opinion of some, nearly wrecked our economy.

I find this a timely “read” and recommend it as among the very first things you read for 2010 (or the last thing you read in 2009!). It just may cause you to think less of your interests, more of those of others, and in the bargain, you will get more of what you wanted anyway!

-Rick B. Larsen

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