I have been fascinated with leaders for my entire life--quite literally. As the child of two senior organizational leaders, I soaked in their examples of institutional stewardship from an early age. During that same time, I came to deepen my Christian faith. However, it was not until I was a graduate student working on the project that would eventually become my previous book, Faith in the Halls of Power, that I began to piece together a framework for reconciling the good work my parents accomplished through their positions of power with the call of Christ to humility, meekness, and service.
Since those days I have devoted much thought to harmonizing the concepts of service, leadership and Godly ambition; and as an educator I work hard to instill these values in my students. As I argue in my new book, View from the Top, leadership is a skill Christians should not eschew, but rather embrace:
My interest in all of this is deeply personal. I saw up close the burden and the blessing of leading institutions through my family. My mom served as head of school of Jackson Prep, a fantastic independent secondary school in my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. My dad, a career golf pro at Colonial Country Club, became one of the leading authorities on the rules of golf and eventually served as president of the Professional Golfers' Association of America. Living in their home, I experienced the thrill a leader experiences when his team overcomes a big challenge. I witnessed the toll that personnel decisions can take on the person at the top. And I overheard the conversations leaders have with themselves when trying to figure out the best way forward. So when I was a graduate student at Princeton, I was drawn to a research project that involved interviewing other people like my parents.
Some are surprised that I, as a Christian, am interested in power at all. Didn't Jesus eschew the trappings of power and overturn prevailing notions of greatness and influence?
The conviction that Christians should not pursue power is as old as the church itself, one that is still held dearly by many within the Christian family of faith. The Anabaptist tradition has advocated this belief for centuries, and many people I respect hold it. In my own life, I have certainly seen God work mightily through the witness of people far from power--a Burmese woman, a grandmother who never went to college, and a child with Down syndrome. God can and does work through the simple people of this world to shame the learned.
But I am not persuaded that the countercultural claims of Jesus require Christians to disdain power. I have spent years thinking about this and have come to a firm conviction that much good can come from people devoted to their faith sitting in positions of influence. Indeed, much good can come of the faithful leading major institutions, provided their motives are kept in check by a life of prayer and accountability. With these things in mind, I have spent the past 10 years investigating power and leadership, and now I want to pass along what I've learned to others who seek to promote the common good.
That awkward freshman at my next orientation workshop might be tomorrow's next game-changing CEO.
And when she is, my hope is that she will remember that people of faith need not jettison their personal beliefs to wield significant influence. In fact, the core commitments to compassion, service, and sacrifice central to the Christian message are borne out fully in the lives of some of our best leaders.
My new book, View from the Top: An Inside Look at How People in Power See and Shape the World, was released by John Wiley & Sons on May 12. The book is the culmination of an extensive ten-year research initiative during which I interviewed 550 of the most powerful CEOs, government leaders and nonprofit executives in America. I hope the insights and anecdotes within prove helpful and informative--not only to those like me who study leadership, but also to those who aspire to leadership positions themselves, and who wish to wield their power responsibly and effectively.
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