Book Review : The Ascent of a Leader
“This is undoubtably one of the best and most revolutionary books I have ever read on Leadership”
In this book, Thrall, McNicol and McElrath explore the process of developing character in our leaders, our relationships, our communities and in ourselves. In doing so they unpack a practical process for how you can become the kind of leader that others want to follow.
Arguing that character matters more than capacity, the authors argue that character – the inner world of motives and values that shapes our actions – is the ultimate determiner of the nature of our leadership.
The authors claim that the principles are for everyday people in everyday situations, not for the select few.
Over the last 10 year, since I first read this book ( I have read it 5 or six times since ) I have found the claims that the authors make to be true. On first reading it changed my world-view. I had spent 14 years in a corporate environment as a senior leader and I resonated with the “capacity ladder” that the authors describe in the first two chapters. I had found it to be true that leaders had seen capacity in me and promoted me to higher and higher positions based mainly on my capacity to cope. I had also seen that my capacity was developed through “relationships of power and leverage” and in “environments of mistrust and ungrace”
Thrall et al, then move to describe a different ladder – a “character ladder”. The first rung of this ladder is to “Trust God and others with me” and focusses on understanding our identity. The second rung is “choosing vulnerability” and exposing the real us to those around us. The third rung is “Aligning with Truth” and living a life that is full of integrity. The fourth rung is “Paying the Price” which talks about facing suffering and trials and being proved as a leader who can face adversity. The fifth and final rung is “Discovering your Destiny” and focuses on ultimate purpose and influence.
Each of these rungs of the character ladder is illustrated by real life stories from the authors experience. Stories which bring the theory to life and affirm the everyday applicability of the principles. Essential to the character ladder are the rails of creating an “environment of grace” and “relationships of grace”.
All of the authors write from a Christian perspective but because there is not overuse of scripture or religious language it is readable by those who are sympathetic to the Christian faith as well as those who fully embrace it. The authors have experience of applying the principles in corporate and public sector environments as well as in ministries and mission organisations. For this reason it crosses all the barriers of public leadership and creates an alternative vision of leadership that is not characterised by power, privilege and ego, but by character, vulnerability, integrity, suffering and influence.
It is a deeply challenging read, and if it is truly embraced as a set of principles will transform your thinking from a “leadership is all about what I do” perspective to a “leadership is all about who I am” perspective.
In the final chapters, the authors integrate the capacity and character ladders. They do this by giving real life examples of leaders who have found relationships and environments of grace that would honour their capacities whilst nurturing their characters.
The book is written in a very engaging way, and with an eye towards practical application. Each chapter has a section on “Grabbing hold” which asks searching and probing questions that could be used individually or in a group setting.
It is rare that I describe a book as revolutionary, but 10 years after reading it for the first time, it is still the first book that I recommend to emerging leaders as a “must read”. This is mainly because I have diligently tried to apply the principles in my own leadership with remarkable results. I have truly found that concentrating on my own identity, my intimacy with Jesus, my integrity, my inner strength and my influence have brought about remarkable changes in the environments that my leadership has created and the way in which other people around me have been able to flourish, develop and grow.
So, do read it at your own risk and be prepared to have some well worn principles that you love and hold dear overturned. This will transform the way you lead in the whole of your life – you family, Church, community and workplace. Quite a claim, but one I have found to be true.
Read this at your won risk and watch your character develop and that of those around you