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  The Reluctant Leader by Peter Shaw & Be a Better Leader by Graham Osborne

10 March 2017

Andrew Lightbown considers advice on the art of leadership

The Reluctant Leader: Coming out of the shadows
Peter Shaw with Hilary Douglas
Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70


Be a Better Leader
Graham Osborne
SPCK £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50


I ENJOYED reading both The Reluctant Leader and Be a Better Leader. The books are very different in style, but both share two presuppositions: that leadership is relational, and that self-awareness is an essential characteristic that should be developed by all in leadership positions.

Of the two, The Reluctant Leader is the lighter read. I appreciated the way in which the authors combine theory with story to illustrate their lines of argument. Peter Shaw and Hilary Douglas are careful to suggest that leadership is something that happens at all levels of an organisation rather than a single thing that can be practised only by an outwardly charismatic personality. In fact, they are suspicious of such personalities in positions of leadership; rightly so, perhaps.

Stepping out of the shadows, accepting and moving beyond reluctance, is the author’s challenge. It is a challenge that many fail to accept, and this may have disastrous overall effects on the aggregate stock of leadership. The authors should be congratulated for encouraging reluctant types simply to give leadership a go, and for demonstrating their ability to help shape flourishing organisations.

Their offering is not overtly theological. I would have liked to see more theology, perhaps because it is a book that can be used by the general reader seeking to develop his or her leadership potential in a wide range of sectors. The Reluctant Leader is well structured, allowing readers to focus on those chapters that are directly targeted at where they are located in career, or vocational, terms. One theological theme that does run, implicitly, through all of the chapters is that of discernment.

Discernment, or establishing whether it is appropriate to accept the challenge of applying for a leadership position, is, for the authors, something that should be worked out after seeking the wise council of trusted friends and colleagues. If I had to identify three virtues that the authors seem to prize in reluctant leaders, they would be: honest reflection, the ability to foster mature relationships, and a willingness, through self-awareness, to mature and grow. These are surely all values that we would like to see personified in those who lead us.

Be a Better Leader is a more complicated book. The author, Graham Osborne, is a Myers-Briggs practitioner and specialist. This is important, as personality indicators partially understood and used by people with scant knowledge can be dangerous things. Graham Osborne is clearly an expert.

I was “reluctant” to read this book, but found myself drawn into it. As in The Reluctant Leader, the notion that self-awareness is central to the understanding and practice of leadership is correctly endorsed. I was amazed by the accuracy of the characteristics identified with my own personality type (INTJ).

My concern with this book is that it invites people to focus on their own personality above all else. I am not sure that it stimulates wider interest in other groups. I also find the index difficult to use.

For those who are interested in data, this book contains reams of it. This caused me to speculate on the author’s own Myers-Briggs Type Indicator profile. . .

Be a Better Leader is explicitly theological, in that its concern is leadership in ministry. My advice to anyone wishing to read this book is go slowly and re-read various sections. It is a worth while, but not an easy read.

Osborne, as might be expected from someone starting from a personality, or traits, perspective, also shows no bias towards the superficiality of a notion that leadership is the preserve of the flamboyant and special. Readers should be encouraged that leadership is something open to a myriad of different personality types. In this sense, the book is a celebration of the potential that can be unleashed through acceptance of diversity.

One more thought, and one that, I think, was not part of the author’s intent: does this work go some way to explaining why we have competing theologies on various key issues in the Church of England? I note, for instance, that INTJs are almost bound to question the status quo on any given issue, and enjoy what might be thought of as conceptual theology. In other words, are our various competing theologies determined, at least in part, by our personalities?

Both books emphasise the importance of relationships, celebrate human potential, and invite the reader into greater levels of self-awareness. They both make a real contribution to the study of leadership through debunking the myth that only certain types of people are capable of exercising effective leadership over the long-term.

Reluctance and betterment are interesting virtues and ones that those responsible for identifying and nurturing leaders would do well to embrace.


The Revd Andrew Lightbown is Rector of the Winslow Benefice.

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