Today I reviewed Jason Young’s and Daniel Decker’s “Top Books for Young Influencers”. They had solicited input through Twitter for people to recommend the top five books they would suggest for emerging leaders. I participated myself and found the exercise thought provoking-it forced me to consider not only what books I have enjoyed but what books would I actually want a young, emerging leader to read. So I made my recommendations and waited on the results. Thanks to Jason and Daniel for doing the hard work of compiling all of the results. The list-which I also posted on my “Print Resources” page-is full of good reads for leaders of any age.
I do have to admit that I was a little disappointed with the books that received the most votes. Don’t get me wrong-all of the top recommended books are good reads and I have read many of them myself. But I wonder how many at the top of the list were suggested because people liked them for themselves but had not really given a lot of thought to a young leader in a unique stage of life? Several of the books at the top of the list struck me as leadership 201 or 301 books-not leadership 101-which is what I would want to focus on for a young, emerging leader.
Rather than rewrite the list-I want to suggest a way to think through leadership books categorically for an emerging leader-and then you can slide in the best titles you know. My point is that I absolutely think a young leader needs a strong foundation of reading in certain areas to prepare him or her for a lifetime of leading. My categories will aim only at Christian leaders-which was not the sole purpose of Jason’s and Daniel’s list. I am going to suggest four foundational categories of reading for any emerging Christian leader.
1. Books on the character of a leader
Any reading list has to begin and end here. The character of a leader is absolutely critical to a leader’s ability to truly be effective for the cause of Christ and to their longevity. I don’t need to remind anyone of all of the leadership failures we have witnessed over the past decades-but all were due to some type of character failure. These failures were not due to a lack of planning skills, a lack of creativity, a lack of vision, a lack of people skills-or any other skill set you can come up with. They failed because of character failure. For me the big character boxes are living with integrity, knowing how to handle authority, and leading with diligence. I want a young leader to know, feel and be determined that character matters. Therefore I want him or her reading leadership books that emphasize the inward realities of a leader-and various leadership biographies to see how character plays out.
2. Books on the missional/theological thinking of a leader
I am also convinced that it is foundational for a young leader to begin figure out their ministry philosophy-thoroughly rooted in Scripture and able to answer the “why” questions for ministry thinking and strategy. No doubt a leader’s ministry philosophy will grow and change over time-as it should. But I find that too many young leaders cannot articulate why they do what they do towards the mission. They are more keen to follow the current leadership and ministry fads-or pattern their life after a favorite leader guru. But they need to begin to think more conscientiously about ministry paradigms from Scripture and how their unique leadership gifts and abilities fit these paradigms. Books that point leaders in this direction are harder to come by-but they are out there and worth reading.
3. Books on leading others
One of the current trends I am observing among young leaders in our organization is their inability to lead others well. What use to seem to me as a rather intuitive skill or ability now needs more thorough equipping. As I have thought about this there may be a couple of reasons that young leaders are struggling with this one. They are a very wounded generation-this is not news to anyone. But the consequences of this plays out in team life and sometimes makes it difficult to thoroughly listen to and empower others. I also don’t think this generation of younger leaders has had solid role models in leading leaders. Bottom line-if no one is following you are not really leading. What I don’t mean is a big congregation-any good communicator can gather a following. I am talking about leaders leading leaders-doing a better job of leading their ministry teams. I am seeing all too many team disasters at the hands of young leaders who can cast a great vision and communicate a great message but cannot duly handle the people side of leadership. Books in this area are abundant to help with people and team skills-but the root issue may be back in character.
4. Books on managing yourself as a leader
I am also watching many younger leaders destroy themselves by not being able to manage themselves-not being able to manage their schedule, their priorities, balance their work life and family life, etc. Young leaders need practical help in knowing how to take responsibility for themselves and their leadership lives. Point them to quality reading in this are and you will save a leader from exiting leadership too early.
Far be it from me to assume the Bible here. Jason and Daniel made mention too that this was actually the most recommended book-which greatly warmed my heart. I still think there is a dearth of books that draw upon the Scriptures for leadership principles. True Christ-centered leadership flows out of our intimate relationship with Him and that is the primary reason we have to make the Bible our stock and trade.
What are your thoughts?