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Saturday, March 10, 2012

"Upside-Down Leadership" (Taylor Field)

TITLE: Upside-Down Leadership: Rethinking Influence and Success
AUTHOR: Taylor Field
PUBLISHER: Birmingham, AL: New Hope Publishers, 2012, (192 pages).

As stated in the title, this book is about turning conventional ideas about leadership upside down. The author introduces a new term called the 'unleader,' as a way to describe people practicing the upside-down leadership. Simply put, upside-down leadership is antiprinciples. Using Judson Adoniram as an example, Field highlights the diligence of Adoniram to persevere through struggles and sufferings, unlike this world that measures success based on minimum risks and maximum results. This idea of -anti-principles' essentially holds together two seemingly opposing principles, truths, or paradoxes in order to demonstrate that the way of the world is not necessarily the way of the Word. The author makes a point to go through the process of unlearning the old, in order to learn the new.

  • What the world deems useless, God deems useful
  • Get the first button right, instead of simply rushing to begin
  • Leadership needs to be measured based on what God wants, rather than what the worldly goals are
  • We cannot let results define our identity or our leadership; Rather, leadership is about service. 
  • Leadership has less to do with external results, but more to do with internal formation of character.
  • Measuring success is linked to timing. When is the best time to measure success? If God is eternal, and man is mortal, what is failure now may be success tomorrow?

The 10 principles that Field proposes are as follows:

  1. Stop Leading: The key question is not about whether one is born a leader or not, but about God. This is because man's tiny little goals are nothing if we do not appreciate that there is a Bigger Plan of God, much bigger than our world.
  2. Forget Results: We are often very myopic in our goal setting, and results measuring, thinking as if we control time and eternity. Results are God's prerogatives, not man's.
  3. Make No Plans: We place too much emphasis on plans that we often begin with man rather than God. How can we plan as if we know ourselves without seeking God first?
  4. Think Small: Big does not mean strong, and small does not mean weak. God often works through smallness to remind us that with Him, ANYTHING is possible. It is our way of acknowledging how small we are, and to see God work mightily. God uses the 'foolish' to confound the wise.
  5. Associate with Losers: We like to associate with successful people, but we can unwittingly miss out on opportunities to learn from those who have failed. For instance, the former president Franklin Roosevelt once spent time with polio victims to understand their plight. This helped him appreciate the difficulties of people who suffered extraordinary things. Reminds me of Jesus spending time with the lame man, the blind, the outcasts in the gospels.
  6. Get Off the Cutting Edge: The race to get the latest and the greatest is not necessarily good. It can make people lose their way. He contrasts one minister's continued push and stress to be relevant with the world, versus one monk who seems at peace without having to be relevant. As I think about it, for the discontented, new will always be overtaken by the next new thing. For the contented, the old is new every morning.
  7. Don't just Do Something, Stand there: This is a twist on the popular phrase of getting things done. Rather than telling us to be idle, Field reminds us of the need to observe a certain type of diligence that is not 'violent' but 'gentle.' Like Brother Lawrence who approaches life from a different perspective. People have been 'doing' things so much that they have failed to 'stand there' and observe God working. This is a little like having a Mary heart in a Martha world. Through this, we contemplate on God and remind ourselves that there is a higher purpose in what we do.
  8. Think Inside the Box: This continues the desire to be counter-cultural. Instead of assuming that being restricted is all-bad, Field highlights the freedom that comes from learning to live within our limits. 
  9. Become a nobody: When we truly know who we are, we are free to give it up. We relinquish our self-seeking ways to be free to pursue God. When we do not care who gets the credit, we are better equipped to be servants. We become heroes in the small things, letting glory belong to God. We will then not be easily tempted by pride.
  10. Embrace shame: While the world equates shame to weakness, we are reminded that there are things worse than shame. He shares about Bonhoeffer whose passion to do the right thing, also means living in shameful treatment by the evil authorities, the infamous Hitler. When we are able to embrace shame ourselves, we are better able to identify with the lowly, to show compassion to the shamed in society. 

Unleadership is essentially recognizing the futility of riches, fame, and power in the world in order to be living in humility. It is about counter-culture. It is about associating with the lowly even as the world gets infatuated with the rich, the famous, and the powerful. It is about cultivating an inner character without the need to yield to worldly expectations. It is about trusting God while the world is infatuated with worldly success. It is an encouraging book for those who are down and out, that while we may get an 'F' in this world, what matters more is to get an 'A' in God's eyes.

Upside down leadership is about God's timing. It is about God's perspectives. It is about the refusal to yield to the ways of the world. It is a bold call for us to live more as disciples of Christ rather than dictators who are schemed in the ways and wills of the world.

Be warned. This book will overturn your ideas about success and leadership. I think this book is best read in conjunction with the conventional materials on leadership. Used alone, this book can be confusing and may not make much sense. However, together with the other common leadership paradigms, the benefits shine. This book is most effective as a corrective to counter the excesses of modern leadership paradigms. After all, we need some understanding of a particular form of leadership before we can even turn them 'upside-down' right?

A wonderful book.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided free by New Hope Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All comments above are freely mine.

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