“‘No! Not another book on leadership!’ That was my first reaction as I received the manuscript of this book. Upon careful reading, I came to realize that Dr. Enlow has artistically captured the essence of leading by influence and has presented it in a clear and colorful way. As a veteran leader, Dr. Enlow speaks from vast experience, but it is not merely subjective anecdotal experience. The book is firmly rooted in serious and current research. As I meet leaders from all over the globe, I am no longer hesitant what to recommend them to read.”
—Riad Kassis, director of Langham Scholars Ministry; international director of the International Council for Evangelical Theological Education
“This book under-promises and over-delivers with a powerful palette of leadership wisdom. But drop everything—right now—and read the warning in the last chapter on doxological leadership. … I am recommending this book to all my clients—and I will likely reread this gem once a year. It’s that important.”
—John Pearson, consultant (www.johnpearsonassociates.com) and author of Mastering the Management Buckets
Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City is a page-turning historical thriller chronicling the 1892-93 Chicago World’s Fair, aka The World’s Columbian Exposition. Adroitly spinning a chilling, too-strange-to-be-fiction tale, Larson starkly exposes modernism’s paradox: the simultaneous revelation of humanity’s unbelievable ingenuity and unspeakable depravity. Under architect Daniel Burnham’s indefatigable leadership and planning genius, in a dizzying race against time and in the face of relentless condescension and derision from elitist New York and Paris (which unfurled the Eiffel Tower at the previous decade’s world fair – an achievement of scale and grandeur believed to be unrepeatable), America’s Second City designed and delivered a world’s fair venue of astonishing technological brilliance and heart-stopping beauty.
One of Burnham’s early leadership coups was to persuade landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead to accept the enterprise’s landscape design commission. Burnham certainly knew how to shoot for the moon. Olmstead was a living legend. Today regarded as the father of landscape architecture, Olmstead had previously masterminded the original design of such landscape masterpieces as New York City’s Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, Boston’s Emerald Necklace, and the campuses of Stanford University and the University of Chicago, to name a few. And did Olmstead ever deliver! He transformed a barren, sandy, 630-acre swamp on Lake Michigan’s shore into a memorable and serene series of canals converging in a luminous lagoon around which were configured the White City’s stunning American Renaissance, neo-classical exposition venues. Olmstead’s art inspired Katharine Lee Bates to pen the famous line, “thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears” in her American heirloom anthem, America the Beautiful. In 1893, Burnham aptly characterized his friend Olmstead’s genius, as follows: “An artist, he paints with lakes and wooded slopes; with lawns and banks and forest covered hills; with mountain sides and ocean views.”
So what does a book about leadership have to do with painting landscapes? Plenty. I think leadership is a lot like painting. It involves certain core elements and requires technical mastery. But these alone do not constitute art. In the hands of a gifted painter, the potential of these elements to express variation and beauty is as vast as God’s imagination. No one who has thought or read much about leadership is oblivious to the debate as to whether leadership is an art or a science, whether leaders are born or made. On the one hand, I suppose there would be few books on leadership if it were concluded that leaders are born and that’s all there is to it. The presumably un-endowed might write and read on the subject with admiration, even envy, but without realistic aspiration of ascending in leadership or gaining any measure of proficiency in it. On the other hand, evidence abounds that not everyone is equally capable of leading well. Is this simply because they have not acquired certain techniques which they could, with determination, master and exercise with proficiency equal to the greatest of leaders? It is hard to take that view seriously.
I ask again, are leaders born or made? I believe the answer is YES. The Bible makes it clear that human beings are endowed with both natural and spiritual gifts and that the distribution of these gifts differs in kind and degree and, perhaps, configuration as well. I Corinthians 12:4 informs us that, “There are different kinds of gifts.” Romans 12:7 similarly asserts, “We have different gifts according to the grace given to us.” In other words, you have been given some gifts I don’t have and I have been given some gifts you don’t have. Previously, moreover, in verse 3, Paul speaks of gifting as according to, “the measure of faith,” suggesting that gifting occurs not only in a variety of abilities but also in a range of capacities. Paul suggests – and I think the entire context of Romans 12 bears this out – that we inflict harm upon ourselves and havoc upon God’s people when we overestimate the degree of our giftedness. He warns, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
A superficial reading of these and other Scripture passages might lead you to conclude that leaders are simply born and not made and that, therefore, efforts to acquire leadership knowledge and skill are foolish and futile. And you would be wrong. Consider piano playing. Can anyone learn to play the piano? I think the answer is, yes. Given enough time, dedication, exposure to the most effective theories and techniques, and practice … lots of practice … pretty much anyone can learn to play the piano. So there is no such thing as musical gifting, right? Wrong! How do musically gifted people differ from those without such a gift (differences in kind)? How easy is it to distinguish between people who have a high degree of musical gifting and those who have much more modest endowments (differences in degree)? Gifted people evidence greater aptitude, acquire skill at a quicker rate, and ultimately perform with originality, imagination, and artistic effect that no amount of technical proficiency can approximate. It doesn’t take a musicologist to distinguish between a technically proficient pianist and a virtuoso.
The same is true for leadership. There are indeed techniques and skills involved. I intend to talk about some of them in this book. Leadership skills can be articulated, examined, and developed to a certain extent. People of relatively low giftedness can and should develop respectable proficiency in various aspects of leadership when circumstances require. On the other hand, leadership excellence is more than the application of rudimentary techniques and skills. In painting, there are primary pigments, but knowing and applying them does not make you a great painter. Pretty much any of us can recognize the difference between painting by numbers and true art. You can learn certain things about pigments and painting techniques, but your capacity to create great art is not a matter of primary elements and rudimentary technique. On the other hand, what a pathetic waste when someone with staggering artistic ability omits some of the basic ingredients or declines to master basic tools and techniques.
So, that settles it, leaders are born, right? As colorful ESPN football analyst Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend.” It is true that there is such a thing as a gift of leadership and that people with leadership gifts are distinguishable from people who lack the gift. On the other hand, just as in piano playing, leadership involves proficiency in a complex array of dispositions, skills, and techniques. It is precisely because leadership is a gift that those who have been so gifted must dedicate themselves to growing their proficiency in exercising this gift and realizing the full capacity with which they have been endowed. It is worse than tragic, it is dangerous when those who have leadership gifts rely on gifting alone, failing to appropriate the Spirit’s grace and power and to invest the time and effort necessary to unwrap the gift’s full potential by study and reflective practice. People can learn to lead. Gifted people, most of all, need to learn how to exercise their gifts. There are insights and skills to be gained by the diligent. Are you called upon to lead but unsure of your gifting? You can better assess and develop your gifting by studying the principles in this book. Are you gifted to lead? You can take your leadership to new levels as you expand your portfolio of proficiencies.
Ralph Enlow serves as president of the Association for Biblical Higher Education (www.abhe.org). Comprising nearly two hundred member and affiliate institutions, ABHE colleges engage students in ministerial and professional leadership education that is distinctively biblical, transformational, experiential, and missional.
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