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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Beware books. . .

"After the contents of a parchment scroll were copied in codex format, the scroll was seldom preserved."

Murray, Stuart. (2009). The Library: an illustrated history. Skyhorse Pub Co Inc.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My definition of leadership

Honest self-confidence. There is no influence without self-confidence, there is no leadership without influence. Vision will come, communication can always get better, but leadership begins with real self-confidence.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Review of Maxwell's Leadership 101

Maxwell, J.C. (2002). Leadership 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Made up of 108 pages divided into 3 parts and 10 chapters, and one short page of notes, Maxwell’s book is the very cliché of popular leadership titles. And yet, banality sells. Three of Maxwell’s books have sold over a million copies each, and named him the World’s Top Leadership Guru. Born February 20, 1947 in Garden City, Michigan, Maxwell followed in his father’s footsteps of being a minister by ultimately completing his Doctorate of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary. He served as a senior pastor at Skyline Church near San Diego for 14 years until he left to become a full-time public speaker and writer.
Part 1: The Development of a Leader
Chapter 1: Why Should I Grow as a Leader? –
Maxwell begins this book by describing his “Law of the Lid.” Basically his point is that the level of a person’s leadership skills determines that person’s level of effectiveness or potential. Presumably to clarify, he provides the example, “if your leadership rates an 8, then your effectiveness can never be greater than a 7” (1). Seemingly brushing aside critical questions like ‘How are you measuring leadership?’, ‘What is your unit of measure if the score is 8?’, ‘How do you define effectiveness?’, Maxwell launches into the story of Dick and Maurice McDonald, the famed brothers who created the first McDonald’s Hamburgers. He uses them as an example of his Law of the Lid because they were successful restaurant owners, but they were not successful franchisers; it took Ray Kroc’s greater leadership abilities to make McDonalds a great franchise. He admits that success is possible without developing leadership skills, but claims that leadership multiplies your level of effectiveness. He gives a picture of what this looks like (7), a graph with leadership ability on the vertical axis and success dedication on the horizontal axis and numbers marking increase. Ultimately, I agreed with his point (it is hard not to because it is such an abstract generalization), but the pseudo-scientific graph felt manipulative. To the uncritical eye, it denotes a certainty that simply isn’t supported. He makes absurd claims like, “If you were to raise your leadership to 8, where it matched your success dedication, you would increase your effectiveness by 700 percent!”(8). Maxwell ends chapter 1 by changing his focus to organizations. Leaders define the direction of an organization and when an organization begins to fail the people that make up the organization start looking for new leadership.
Chapter 2: How Can I Grow as a Leader? –
Chapter 2 is divided neatly into what Maxwell calls “The Four Phases of Leadership Growth” (13). Phase one, “I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know” means that our first step is to realize that leadership is something that can be learned—we can’t assume that leadership is for a few naturally born leaders. Phase two, “I Know What I Don’t Know” makes the humbling admission that we often come to a point when “we are placed in a leadership position only to look around and discover that no one is following us” (14). Leaders are life-long learners who are clear about what the do and do not know. Maxwell explains that in 1969 he began writing to the top ten leaders in his field (ministry?) and offered them $100.00 for a half hour of their time so that he could ask them questions (15). Phase three, “I Grow and Know and It Starts to Show” tells an anecdote about an audience member who Maxwell assures can be a great leader if he continues to read books, listen to tapes regularly and keeps attending seminars, (all things that keep ‘leadership gurus’ in business coincidentally). Finally phase four, “I Simply Go Because of What I Know” can be recognized when leading becomes “almost automatic” (17). Maxwell finishes this chapter by describing some leadership qualities of Teddy Roosevelt and how these qualities were developed slowly over time.
Part 2: The Traits of a Leader
Chapter 3: How Can I Become Disciplined? –
This chapter begins with anecdotes about football player, Jerry Rice’s self disciplined training routines. He also outlines 3 action points: 1. Challenge your excuses 2. Remove rewards until the job is done 3. Stay focused on results. A quote by La Rochefoucauld caused me to suspect that Maxwell is guilty of cherry-picking quotes from Bartlett’s rather than his own reading, so contrasting are these two authors in their word-views.
Chapter 4: How Should I Prioritize My Life? –
In chapter 4, Maxwell defines success: “the progressive realization of a predetermined goal” because he highlights the discipline of prioritizing. He also introduces the Pareto Principle (30), or the 80/20 rule and gives examples of the application of this principle from “Time” to “Picnics.” His reason for introducing it is to inform the reader that they should spend 80% of their time developing the top 20% of their workers. Maxwell is sophisticated enough to observe that prioritizing is not always made up of simple choices and lists a series of questions that a leader can ask herself to help the priority process:
What is required of me?
What gives me the greatest return?
What is most rewarding?
Once priorities have been established, he gives advice on keeping them in place through evaluation, elimination, and estimation (37). He then describes strategies for making choices between two good options (39), for breaking out of the paralyzing power of too many priorities (40), and for avoiding the little things that can “trip us up”(41). Ending this chapter is a warning about time-- its ability to force us to prioritize and to realize what is really important.
Chapter 5: How Do I Develop Trust? –
“Trust is the foundation of leadership” is the hackneyed platitude (similar to the truisms that precede the other chapters) that begins this chapter on trust. Maxwell lists competence, connection, and character as the three qualities that leaders must possess to gain their followers’ trust and then quotes Craig Weatherup, Norman Schwarzkopf, and Anthony Harrigan in support of his assertion. He settles on character as the most important quality and goes on to illustrate what character communicates: consistency, potential, and respect. He peppers these explanations with characteristic sports, military, and religious personalities and anecdotes.
Chapter 6: How Can I Effectively Cast Vision? –
Walt Disney is the model leader to illustrate vision, hardly an inspired choice but effective none-the-less. In typical fashion, Maxwell explains that vision starts within, draws on your history, meets others’ needs, and helps you gather resources. His last point uses the notable simile, “vision. . . acts like a magnet—attracting, challenging, and uniting people”(55). As if to compliment the four aspects of vision, he goes on to describe four “voices” that must be listened to: the inner voice, the unhappy voice (discontent with the status quo), the successful voice (the mentor), and the higher voice (God). Maxwell ends by challenging the reader to improve his vision by measuring himself and doing a “gut check.”
Part 3: The Impact of a Leader
Chapter 7: Why is Influence Important? - Influence, according to Maxwell, is the true measure of leadership—more than position, or salary, or any other external measure. But how is influence measured? He reminds the reader of the huge impacts of the deaths of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana and asks the question “How did someone like Diana come to be regarded in the same way as Mother Teresa?”(62). Given his own history as a minister, I was surprised and even disappointed that he didn’t ask the more interesting question in transformative leadership; how did Mother Teresa come to have the level of influence she had by the end of her life. Instead he follows Princess Diana from kindergarten teacher to the end of her life and famous funeral. His ultimate point is that leadership is not something someone can give you like a position; it can only be measured by influence. Changing tack, Maxwell outlines the five myths about leadership (64-7):
1. The management myth (being a manager does not make you a leader),
2. The entrepreneur myth (making a lot of money does not make you a leader),
3. The knowledge myth (having a high IQ does not make you a leader),
4. The pioneer myth (being first does not make you a leader),
5. The position myth (being CEO does not make you a leader).
The obvious question then is what does make you a leader. In a rare moment, Maxwell tells a story from his own life about his first job out of college as a senior pastor in a small church (68). He realized that although he had the position, he was not the leader and that being the leader was all about influence. As an interesting side-note, Maxwell observes that the most challenging leadership environments are ones that rely on volunteers (like many libraries) since it is in these environments that leadership works in its true form, pure, naked influence.
Chapter 8: How Does Influence Work? –
Every individual influences ten thousand people during their lifetimes, according to Tim Elmore, Maxwell’s associate. Whether or not we believe this, he goes on to share that influence can be developed and proceeds to describe the five levels of leadership-influence through which leaders can progress:
1. Level 1: Position- people follow because they have to (73)
2. Level 2: Permission- people follow because they want to (76)
3. Level 3: Production- people follow because of what you have done for the organization (77)
4. Level 4: People Development- people follow because of what you have done for them (79)
5. Level 5: Personhood- people follow because of who you are and what you represent (81)
After this, Maxwell seems to abandon even the appearance of continuity and simply lists “some additional insights on the leadership-levels process”(81-3). He ends this inspired chapter with, you guessed it, his own poem entitled, “My Influence.” Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz comes to mind. . . . Ok, maybe it’s not that bad.
Chapter 9: How Can I Extend My Influence? –
The theme of this chapter is empowerment. The leader who empowers her followers is a leader who has extended her influence. Maxwell appealed to my librarian soft spot when he said, “empowering others by giving them your authority has the same effect as sharing information: You haven’t lost anything” (87). He moves on by analyzing the qualifications of an “empowerer”: position, relationship, respect, commitment, and the right attitude (89). To test your attitude, Maxwell provides 10 questions to ask yourself (91). But the reader may ask, how can I empower others to their potential. Maxwell gives his 7 point answer:
1. Evaluate them (92)
2. Model for them (93)
3. Give them permission to succeed (93)
4. Transfer authority to them (94)
5. Publicly show your confidence in them (95)
6. Supply them with feedback (95)
7. Release them to continue on their own (96)
The end of chapter nine emphasizes the results of empowering others— most of a leader’s life is changed for the better.
Chapter 10: How Can I Make My Leadership Last? –
Maxwell begins his final chapter with the last of the capitalist trinity following McDonalds and Disney, Coca-Cola of course. Specifically, he tells the story of then chief executive, Roberto Goizueta’s death and the seemingly surprising non-effect this had on the Coca-Cola Company. The reason? Goizueta understood how to leave a legacy of succession. Maxwell’s final leadership lesson for the reader is how to gracefully leave an organization so that it can continue in a long and healthy manner after your departure. Leaders who are good at this lead the organization with a ‘long view’, create a leadership culture, pay the price today to assure success tomorrow, value team leadership above individual leadership, and walk away from the organization with integrity (103-4). Maxwell rides into the sunset relating his own paradigm-shifting realization about leadership when he found out after he had left that his first small church was not doing well, “That really bothered me. A leader hates to see something that he put his sweat, blood, and tears into starting to fail” (106). Not wanting to leave on a bitter note, Maxwell describes a more successful departure from Skyline Church (107).

Lessons I would like to apply from Leadership 101

If you noted a slightly critical tone when reading my abstract it will come to no surprise to you that John C. Maxwell’s Leadership 101 was not my favorite book. If Chemers’ An Integrative Theory of Leadership is one extreme of the leadership book continuum almost strangled by scientific objectivity, then this book is the other extreme with its clichés, banal platitudes, and pseudo science.
That is not however to say that I didn’t learn from it or that I can’t apply leadership lessons from this book. While I don’t particularly like the writing, I can not argue with the results. That John Maxwell has sold millions of books cannot be disputed. So rather than simply turning my nose up at Maxwell, I began thinking about why it is that his writing is so successful. I began to compare Maxwell’s controversy-free truisms, memorable slogans, and bullet-point logic to the rhetorical habits of presidential candidates who intentionally avoid details so that they don’t get nailed down to a specific position and thus have the luxury of not contradicting themselves when they must act in office in a way that necessity demands of them. I may find Maxwell formulaic and prosaic, but he’s not easy to disagree with either. This is a good lesson in communicating my vision of the school library. If I keep my most public communications short, memorable, and in line with the most well established platitudes chances are that they will not meet much resistance. I apologize if this sounds a little too Machiavellian, that’s not my intention. I really do believe in my vision for our school library, but I also understand that there a political realities no matter how large or small the political community.
Honestly I take almost all of his points to heart, the problem is that Maxwell’s advice evaporates at the point the “tire hits the pavement.” He can make claims like, “Mutual respect is essential to the empowerment process” (88), but how do I manifest that in everyday-leadership-situations? Noticeably absent from this book are true-to-life, detailed examples of the kinds of situations leaders face. Certainly he provides anecdotes of famous leaders, but they are so simplified as to be useless for anything other than a punch-line. They are absolutely not ripe for analysis.
My objections aside, I will try to practice his points about influence and the progressive levels of influence. Because their were so many, I did not include them in the abstract, but Maxwell lists several characteristics to be mastered for each of the five levels of influence. These seem like a solid foundation for developing influence. Points like knowing my job description as school librarian thoroughly, being aware of the history of Saint Mary’s, accepting responsibility and doing more than expected are all specific actions that I can take right now to improve my influence.
Empowerment was also a theme that I was particularly attracted to. I viewed my relationships with students from the perspective of developing each of them as leaders and it was a surprisingly new way of looking at them. A few students immediately came to mind as I was thinking about them as leaders in need of grooming. I’m considering empowering one of my student aids with more responsibility in the cataloging of new materials. I’ve always reserved this kind of work for myself, but she is certainly bright enough to take on some of this job and I think she would benefit from doing it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009



Chilling words make a wall of sickening unreality,
Chilling words make a wall of sickening unreality,
Chilling words make a wall of sickening unreality,


Sunday, December 13, 2009

A couple of sites worth remembering

DIY Book Scanner: wow very cool, but how much of a pain would it be to make?

Check out the possibility of whether or not a book is in the public domain. Just remember that it is not legal advice.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Latest Study on Information Consumption

Here is the link to Roger Bohn and James Short's information consumption study.

"Information Mavens" are needed more than ever.