“To the degree you face and name and deal with your failures as a leader, to that same extent you will create an environment conducive to growing and retaining productive and committed collegues….To the degree you attempt to hide or dissemble your weaknesses, the more you will need to control those you lead, the more insecure you will become, and the more rigidity you will impose – prompting the ultimate departure of your best people.” (pp. 2-3)
With that thesis Dan Allender begins his provocative book on Christian leadership called Leading With A Limp. Throughout the fourteen chapters which follow, the author unpacks his argument like a gemstone viewed from various, complementary angles. Included are detailed discussions on the inescapably hard realities of leadership, failure as a leadership asset, the challenging but crucial balance between humility and courage and the indispensability of nurturing honest, interdependent community for leadership success.
In contrast to most books on leadership today (including those coming from the Christian sub-culture), Allender’s is different and refreshing. Most leadership books focus either on leadership acumen or character quality, both built on the premise of ‘leadership by strength.’ Leading With a Limp, in contrast, operates from the assumption of our depravity (control, manipulation, self-absorption) and frailty (limitations, character flaws, immaturity). The net effect is to knock down the false image of ‘leader as ruggedly independent superman,’ inviting us to enter into a painfully honest community of grace-bound sinners committed toward striving for a goal higher than ourselves.
Perhaps especially for Christian leaders emerging from fear (rather than grace) based contexts, Allender’s book is inviting and helpful in our quest to lead realistically and humanly, accepting not only the limitations of those we lead but, perhaps most importantly, our own significant limitations as leaders. Personally, I found chapters 12 & 13, which focus on leadership in community, most helpful and challenging, given my natural introversion and my depraved self-sufficiency.
By way of critique, I found Leading With A Limp to suffer from some of what Allender himself warns against: narcissistic self-absorption. For instance, although I hail the recent recovery of a salvation-historical approach to the Bible in evangelical circles, I found Allender’s emphasis on ‘leadership as story-telling’ less concerned with discovering our place in God’s biblical story of redemption through Christ and more concerned with post-modern-influenced, therapeutic hipness. My greatest disappointment with this book is how bereft it is of biblical categories (e.g. ‘reluctancy’ instead of ‘humility’ as the goal of chapter one). In the same way, I was thoroughly expecting the final chapter on ‘prophet, priest and king’ to be about Jesus – the only true Leader we need to enable us for true leadership. Instead, we receive a shrunken version of Christ’s offices we’re to imitate for our own success.
Allender’s book is particularly helpful in raising a red flag against Christian leadership which flows from self-protective pride and fear. Not only is Leading With A Limp’s thesis generally compelling, Allender sprinkles his text with many valuable one-liners of wisdom, and the allegory he uses to describe the Jacob narrative is nothing short of brilliant. In many ways this is a very good book. Grounding it in a decidedly Cross-centered, God-focused worldview would have made it even better.