The Shaping of an Effective Leader

“Eventually the clock runs out. Whether our time ends suddenly … or it erodes over time … every one of us comes to an end. What then will be our contribution?” – Dr. Gayle Beebe

Dr. Gayle Beebe, president of Westmont College, suggests that our lasting contribution comes through effective leadership. In his book, The Shaping of an Effective Leader: Eight Formative Principles of Leadership, he articulates what he believes to be the eight essential elements for lasting contribution through leadership. His principles are backed by a healthy dose of teaching from leadership guru Peter Drucker, loosely connected to Evagrius’ eight deadly vices, and rooted in a life of leadership experience.

Each of his eight principles are dealt with at length in each of eight chapters. These principles move from the most foundational to the icing on the cake: character, competence, chemistry, culture, compatibility, convictions, connections and commitment. Each chapter is concluded with a brief reflection on one of the eight deadly vices and its opposing life-giving virtue:

  • gluttony is overcome by temperance, which correspondes to the character level
  • envy is overcome by contentment, which correspondes to the competence level
  • greed is overcome by generosity, which correspondes to the chemistry level
  • anger is overcome by mildness, which correspondes to the culture level
  • pride is overcome by humility, which correspondes to the compatibility level
  • lust is overcome by fidelity, which correspondes to the convictions level
  • indifference is overcome by perseverance, which correspondes to the connections level
  • melancholy is overcome by perspective, which correspondes to the commitment level

Much of the material is simply a reflection on Peter Drucker’s teachings and those of like minded leaders and authors. If one is familiar with the work of Drucker, Jim Collins (especially Good to Great), Don Clifton and the work of SrengthFinders (including their work in the area of employee engagement) then much of the material will be a review. In fact, this book reads more like a tribute to Drucker than anything else, which is sort of implied in the preface given the impact Drucker had and continues to have on Beebe. Dr. Beebe masterfully synthesizes Drucker’s teaching with his pyramid of principles.

Initially, the most exciting aspect of this book was the mention of Evagrius and the eternal battle between deadly vices and life-giving virtues. Unfortunately, these vices and virtues are not developed at any length and are only loosely connected to Beebe’s pyramid of principles. Perhaps if this were a book on the spiritual formation of an effective leader he might have developed these themes.

In the end, the most lasting impact this book will have is found in Beebe’s own application of what his mentors have taught him. Some examples of such takeaways include:

  • Guidelines for Managing an Executive Team (pg 76ff)
  • Harold A. “Red” Poling’s one-page philosophy of management (pg 87) as an example and encouragement to produce our own one-page philosophy of management (or ministry, or leadership, etc.)
  • Questions to Ask Concerning New Opportunities (pg 109)
  • Insistence and application of strengths and engagement assessment (throughout)
  • His explanation and application of “Keegan’s Governing Principles” in terms of internal and social language (pg 129)
  • His summary of a self-differentiated leader (pg 136)
  • the need to identify the “unforgivable sin” of one’s occupation so as not to have one’s character be derailed
  • his conversation of essential threshold competencies

It is a good introduction into leadership. It would be a great text to read with an experienced leader who can help one walk through the implementation process of the principles. Apart from such a mentoring relationship, which appears to be the foundational methodology behind this book, it may not reach its full potential. The lists found within the text (most of which I mention above) can easily be used for training staff. In the end, it is a quick read, provides some good points of departure for training, and primes the pump for thinking leadership.

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