This new book, Leading for a Change, by Paul Canon Harris is a worthy addition to the ever-growing literature on change and leadership. Indeed, one of its strengths is precisely that it makes so strong a connection between leadership and change; some leadership books seem to regard leadership as merely the possession of certain abstract virtues that exist in a vacuum. Not so Canon Harris: he depicts time and time again just how ubiquitous change is, and how potentially destabilising; and so without effective leadership where would we be? The stakes could not be higher. But before I go any further I ought to tell readers by way of transparency that I know Paul personally via the fact that I admire him as a poet and performer.
But to return to his book, as the subtitle of his book makes clear, this is leadership exercised in a specific situation and capacity: to wit, the Churches and Christian leadership. To his credit Canon Harris is not insular in any way, drawing upon the best research he can find from business and other leadership scenarios, but importantly never being overwhelmed by their authority. There is always in Harris' thinking that wider, deeper, more spiritual source from which to draw. In fact, Harris is a master of evangelism without in any way seeming fundamentalist or simplistic. He does this in the carefully understated way he refers to God, Jesus and the Bible: they never seem like 'laws' in his writing but more as examples from which various messages and interpretations are possible and relevant. A great example, showing his lightness of touch, is when he says: "The perennial questions about what constitutes being 'in the world but not of it' are ones which the leader should return to regularly." That is so well expressed and at the same time seems to me to possess nuggets of wisdom even an atheist might accept. Another way of saying it (and taking out the God-dimension) might be: that leaders need to be more objective, more outside the current zeitgeist, fads and fashions of the day, so that they can see things as they truly are, and not be be-fogged by too deep an involvement in contemporary trivia. But that subtle quotation from John's gospel gets all that across effortlessly.
Thus, I have to say by way of reviewing this book that I like it a great deal: it is full of fascinating detail and research, it has just enough personal anecdote in it to make it seem non-academic, there is wit and humour, and above all Canon Harris writes extremely well. Some of his lines - as we have seen - are extremely potent and so quotable: "A thousand distractions will intervene but once a priest loses his or her fascination with what God is doing throughout history and throughout the world, all that remains to the priest is the detail of ecclesiastical machinery". That is beautifully put, and also a searing indictment of what can so easily happen.
And it reflects one of the wider themes of the book: namely, the important distinction between managing and leading. As Canon Harris points out: this is not an either-or, we need both, but currently we are sorely in need of more leadership. Approvingly quoting Field Marshall Lord Slim here: "Managers are necessary. Leaders are essential.” Again, although not his words, the quotation has that pithiness and strength that Canon Harris’ own sentences possess. So reading the book is a joy, aesthetically as well semantically.
Another important theme is about the need to be open and admit mistakes, yet at the same time it is essential that leaders love themselves, for if they fail to do this they will never have energy in their batteries for the long haul. Harris explains exactly what this means and how to go about achieving it; and needless to say, loving oneself is not some ego-trip or self-indulgence.
There are many handy and practical checklists in the book that would enable any leader to diagnose how they are doing. Perhaps the final one before the useful appendix is the most fascinating: ‘Hallmarks of Godly change’. Yea! Exactly – if you are not a theist or a Christian (and bear in mind the book is written for them, so don’t complain!) it’s a little off-putting, but consider these Hallmarks: Honesty and openness, avoiding artificial experiments and spurious reasons for change, communication, advocates, using outsiders, prayer. Harris gives some telling advice in each of these categories and with the possible exception of the last one, prayer (which I consider essential whether one believes in God or not) which atheists may demur at, aren’t these all great things for a leader to consider when contemplating a change initiative?
All in all, then, a fabulous book I strongly recommend, full of practical wisdom, insights derived from a life lived fully in the ‘inferno’ of events, and yet also infused with a compassion and love for people, and a longing for his old, ex-employer (the good ol’ Church of England) to thrive and prosper in the future when he acknowledges that the spirit of these times is working against them. Go out and read this book – it’ll do you good! Available from: http://amzn.to/2fFmBlb