An M3 Weekly Book Review
Bill Mowry’s latest book, The Ways of the Leader – Four Practices to Bring People Together and Break New Ground,” begins by asking: Why should we read another book on leadership?1
The answer is that Mowry’s book speaks about issues that many other leadership books don’t. While many leadership books are about mission, vision, values, critical success factors, etc., Mowry’s book is about the development of the leader. He speaks of four ideas that help a leader gain the wisdom needed to be a good leader and gives many examples from his personal experience as a ministry leader and a thought leader.
One of his main premises is that our world is changing faster than ever and that therefore the “traditional solitary leader” is, and will continue to be, less and less effective in leading alone. Today, leadership for an organization, of almost any size, requires a team effort to obtain and maintain the best results. The key ingredient needed for good leadership is wisdom. The focus of the book is on four practices that help build wisdom into the leader and the leadership team.
Mowry defines the “Four Practices for Attaining Wisdom” as follows:
The Way of Learning
We all have a fairly good idea of the meaning of the term “lifelong learning.” Wikipedia defines it as “the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. It is important for an individual’s competitiveness and employability, but also enhances social inclusion, active citizenship, and personal development.”2
Mowry identifies a pathway to how we become lifelong learners in the various fields of learning that are important to us. He then concludes with this thought on lifelong learning:
“Everyday leaders must be lifelong learners. We must learn from the Scriptures and from life. Learning is an intentional and purposeful action; it’s not haphazard or delegated to someone else. Lifelong learners are able to gain everyday wisdom that empowers them to bring people together to break new ground—to develop fresh, biblical, and practical approaches to meet local challenges. We must learn how to learn.” p. 47
The Way of Collaboration
The Way of Collaboration focuses on building a leadership team that works synergistically. Synergy is “an interaction or cooperation giving rise to a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.”3 It is the formula that 1 + 1 = 3. In today’s ever-changing world the best outcomes, the best plans, and the best leadership decisions are going to come from a team. The more complex the challenge, the more necessary it is to have the wisdom of the group. Mowry summarizes the importance of collaboration:
“Our Lord wants us to work together. Everyday leaders believe that collaboration is inherent in the Trinity and should be practiced in the church. Collaboration is an act of stewarding the wisdom found in the community of believers. I believe that when the occasion demands it, the Lord will use people committed to the Great Surrender and a blank piece of paper to create something that doesn’t exist. Everyday leaders practice collaboration by bringing people together to break new ground.” p. 74
The Way of Cultural Wisdom
The Way of Cultural Wisdom refers to the importance of understanding context and the local culture in which we lead. Can a decision be the right decision in one context and the wrong decision in another context? Yes, by all means. So to make wise decisions the leader and the leadership team must have a good understanding of the culture, or the context, in which the decision is to be made. Mowry speaks of the requirement of being a “cultural detective,” a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, in first understanding the culture before making any decisions.
“Holmes is an ideal model for how to collect clues through observation and questions in order to form deductions or reach conclusions about a puzzling crime. The puzzle for us is understanding the culture in which we live and lead. Everyday leaders aren’t out to capture criminals but to capture the wisdom needed to create everyday strategies for everyday challenges.” p. 88
The Way of Innovation
We all know the computer command “cut and paste.” It is to copy the words or a picture from one place and paste it into a different place. An awful lot of leadership plans today are just “cut and paste.” We take what works in one place and paste it into a different place and then cross our fingers and hope it works. But most leadership decisions that are “cut and paste” don’t work because the context, the people, and the environment from one place to the next are different. We need to innovate the decision to fit the context. The book gives us five “imagination enhancers” that help to grow innovation and four “innovation tools” to structure the development of an innovative idea.
“Today’s challenges—the fastballs of change—require new and inventive ministry forms for everyday leaders. The insights gained from lifelong learning, the wisdom from understanding our culture or context, and the collective imaginations of collaboration all serve to create that which doesn’t exist: new and innovative strategies and approaches for life and ministry. Everyday leaders must harness their God-given imaginations to wisely innovate and create new strategies and resources—the breaking of new ground—that are good and right for each context.” p. 112
With its focus and commitment to teamwork and leading with input and support from a team, The Ways of the Leader is a unique leadership book and bears similarities with Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. To illustrate the “Four Practices for Attaining Wisdom” for leaders, Mowry weaves in various personal stories shared from his ministry experience which are encouraging and insightful. Missional enterprise leaders, and anyone with an interest in leading well, will find Bill Mowry’s new book well worth the read.4
Verse of the Week:
Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, 200 chiefs, and all their kinsmen under their command. 1 Chronicles 12:32 (ESV)
Whether through Bill Mowry’s new book, or other means, let’s ask God to make us increasingly people who have an “understanding of the times” and the ability to lead well in the contexts in which he has placed us.