By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

Director, Yeshua Institute

It’s not often that I recommend to a Catholic audience a book about leadership that isn’t my own.

If you’re a Catholic of any kind – including catholic with a small “c” – I heartily recommend The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus: Introducing S3 Leadership – Servant, Steward, Shepherd. It makes several salient points, including these few:

  • Leadership is about relationships, not position.
  • Leadership is an influence process.
  • Everyone is a leader some of the time.
  • Leadership begins on the inside.
  • Jesus is the best leadership teacher and role model of all time.

The book’s understanding of leader fits perfectly with Pope Francis’ concept of the missionary disciple.

It also expands the notion of servant leadership along two other dimensions that were important to Jesus and should be important to everyone today: steward and shepherd.

Although the book predates Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ (Praise Be To You), our leadership role as stewards comes to the fore in that crucial teaching about our most basic pro-life obligation as residents of this planet.

Given all that, I’m happy to recommend my own book on leadership.

But mindful of the old adage that “no one is more dangerous than the person who has read just one book,” let me recommend another: Leadership for the Greater Good: A Textbook for Leaders by Dan. R. Ebener and Borna Jalšenjak.

Qualified authors

Both are well qualified to speak and write on the subject on leadership. Dr. Ebener teaches full-time in the Master of Organizational Leadership (MOL) program at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, IA, is owner of Quad City Leadership Consulting, and is a Fellow of the Yeshua Institute. Jalšenjak is a senior lecturer at Luxembourg School of Business and at Zagreb School of Economics and Management, where he teaches courses in business ethics and leadership.

The initial thing I appreciate about their new book is that, like all good journalism, it gets to the main point quickly. The first section is titled “Leadership Today.” In three chapters it addresses the tasks, relationship and ethics of leadership.

If after you have read only that far your house starts on fire and you have to evacuate without the book, you have covered a lot of ground and justified the cost of your money and your time.

But I hope you don’t stop there.

Valuable context

If you’re a leadership geek who thinks books on the topic make great summer beach reading – as I do – you are not going to want to miss the second part, “The Traditional Theories.” You are bound to find the best and worst of your bosses here. But more important, you’ll have a context for how to think about your own leadership challenges.

If you are making a conscientious effort to be a good leader, in this section you will almost certainly recognize your own experiences and the conclusions you have reached regarding many of the challenges you have faced – and may still be facing.

Historical and situational context matters. It’s one of the ways we pass from knowledge to wisdom, and who doesn’t want that?

Best for last

But don’t stop there. The authors save the best for last. The third and last section is “Best Practices in Leadership.” If you want to be an effective leader this is must reading – at the beach or in your favorite chair.

Here the authors do yeoman duty describing four skillsets you need in today’s volatile environment:

  • Emotional skills;
  • Dialogical skills;
  • Conflict skills; and,
  • Strategic skills.

Greater good

As regards the purpose one should have in trying to lead, the book’s title gives away the authors’ perspective. We should lead for “the greater good.”

While the book is not explicitly religious, in pointing to “the greater good” as our ultimate purpose as leaders, the authors come very near to a basic Catholic moral concept – “the common good.”

Important distinction

Some authors explicitly distinguish between “management” and “leadership.” Others don’t. But when you dig a little deeper, you see that most authors on the topic do make some sort of distinction. For these authors the distinction is clear and distinctive.

That’s apparent in their definition of leadership: “a voluntary process that intends adaptive change.”

Note the key word “voluntary.” For Ebener and Jalšenjak, it’s not only possible to lead without authority, it’s absolutely necessary. If you are using positional authority to move the process along, you are not leading, you are managing.

Yes, you can lead when you have positional authority. But it’s harder than when you don’t have authority. And in any event, if you have authority you should take great care to tread lightly so as not to impede the real power of leadership to infect and inspire everyone involved in the process.

Sometimes I found myself wishing their definition was a bit broader, reducing but not virtually eliminating the role of authority. But their hard distinction serves a purpose. And I know of no author who better addresses both the power of leading without authority and the pitfalls of leading with it than Ebener, who has written several other wise books about leadership.

As he and his co-author explain in this book: “People without authority are more likely to step up and lead when and if those in authority step back and create the space for others to lead.”

Or as Ken Blanchard of One Minute Manager fame puts it, leaders should encourage their team members to “bring your brains to work.”

It really is the only way leaders and managers can build the kind of quick, agile and smart organizations needed to survive and thrive in today’s volatile, dynamic, rapidly changing environment. 

Grace for all

In the preface to their book, the authors say that many of their friends and colleagues reacted to the pre-publication manuscript by saying it “was not only a textbook for scholars but a guide for practitioners.”

That’s absolutely true – and that makes it a grace for all.

Get your copy today.