It’s New Year’s Eve, 2015, so there are about a billion lists that claim the ‘best of 2015’ from music, movies, and books to Chicago moments, theatre performances, and sports plays. What I am proposing here is to reflect a bit on leaders from the past year and ask if we’ve made any progress as a culture or if you and I are making progress individually? The former comes with some challenges. Terrorism has reared its ugly head in various locales around the world and optimism/idealism is harder and harder to find. Neither political party seems to have a cohesive plan and it’s increasingly difficult to see people disagree without being disagreeable.
So, I thought I would end the year by reviewing three books that look at leadership from various viewpoints. One documents the last days of a former President, one is from a retired military officer, and one is from a leadership author and executive pastor.
Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan fought being shot, colon cancer, and skin cancer–all during his Presidency. And this is often overlooked. In Craig Shirley’s book, Last Act, Reagan is not the larger than life reference point so often used by pundits and Presidential hopefuls. Instead, Ronald Reagan is a leader in the last days of his life and this isn’t a viewpoint that is often given much time. The same man who told Gorbacev to take down the wall suffered from Alzeimer’s late in life. As someone who has family members dealing with the disease, it makes the man even more human.
Reagan died in 2004 and ever since he’s continued to be both polarizing as well as praised. So, not much has changed since he left the Presidency in 1989. Shirley writes a compelling narrative that weaves not only Reagan’s activity during his Presidential years, but also shows how things have changed in the public’s view of both the man and the office he held. The book focuses in on the funeral and surrounding events the week of June 4, 2004–the seven days coinciding with the death of Reagan. As Shirley writes, it becomes apparent that Reagan is still being analyzed and that his ability to communicate will have a certain life of its own. I, for one, like the fact that Reagan gave no less than 13 different speeches at Eureka College in Northern Illinois, where he graduated from in 1932 and which often gets passed by as it’s not the largest school in the state by any stretch.
At over 300 pages, a reader will want to invest in this a bit and it’s not a quick read, but a solid one and frankly, a rather unique one as well. The impact of the death of a leader isn’t looked at very often unless it’s sudden or dramatic. For Reagan, the slow decline of ‘natural causes’ makes him ever more a President that was from the People and for the People and because of the masses, Reagan will remain a polarizing, yet popular man. Reagan’s influence remains to this day as he governed through most of the 1980’s and he remains a much referenced leader, one who may be hard to put in today’s Republican party. In the end, Shirley reminds us that all leaders leave a legacy of some kind.
(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)
Adapt or Die: Battle Tested Principles for Leaders
Rick Lynch is a retired Lt. General and has led in most levels of the U.S. Army. On page 108, in his book Adapt or Die, Lynch writes: “When it comes to keeping my organizations focused, the three questions I ask all the time are:
- Are we doing the right things?
- Are we doing things right?
- What are we missing?”
The chapters are short, memorable, and digestable. For this reason, this will be a useful book to many because Lynch seeks to summarize principles and principles are worth reviewing often. I found the book easy to read and refreshingly honest. Lynch didn’t climb the ladder without challenges and on pg. 129, he speaks to various ways that could increase morale within an organization and surprisingly lands on helping people prioritize their family. While he references communication and benefits, like paid time off, what he focuses in on is creating space for his employees or those under his command to be better husbands, dads, wives, and moms.
Each chapter ends with a pithy saying or principle and this can be read quickly or slowly and re-read as one reviews the principles. I particularly gleaned from his insights on communication and on dealing with scarce resources. I like his phrase ‘Do Less Better’ and will likely recommend this book to men and women who prefer to get things done than construct a philosophy about getting things done.
(Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.)
The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership
Jenni Catron has written a book that may be one of the better leadership texts of 2015. Few books attempt to anchor their leadership in timeless and ancient truths, but Catron manages to do this and does it well. Early on, she makes the compelling point that “to lead others well, we must first lead ourselves better,” (6). After that sentence, I was hooked.
The book’s center is 4 chapters under the heading: The Dimensions of Extraordinary and each one focuses on a leader’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. Many books tackle the activity of leadership, but Catron manages to focus in on the interior life of the leader and not since Ruth Barton’s Strengthenening the Soul of Your Leadership, has this been done with such practical rigor.
Yes, you should buy this book and go through it. It’s an important book that I hope gets a hearing outside of church walls because it’s an important topic that puts heart, soul, mind, and strength before competence and results. And we live in a day and age where pragmatism is far too praised and heart matters or character development far too neglected.
I needed this book. It surpasses her previous work Clout in every way and I hope Jenni will mine this material for years to come.