Seven challenges for leaders

This week I have been reading The Ascent of a Leader by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol and Ken McElrath. I’ve only come across the book this year, despite it being around for 15 years!

The basic point of the book is to set out what the authors describe as the character ladder (in contrast to the capacity ladder) which leaders need to climb. The capacity ladder focuses on ability, and while it is important, the authors argue that it ‘is not sufficient to ensure that our abilities will result in positive influence or an enduring legacy.

The rails of the character ladder evoke the environment and relationships in which leaders climb the ladder’s rungs. The environment needs to be one of grace (‘In the absence of grace, there will be no reaching for potential’). There are 5 rungs which the authors describe as:

  • Trust God and others with me
  • Choose vulnerability
  • Align with truth
  • Pay the price
  • Discover my destiny

In the penultimate chapter of the book (‘Keeping your balance: seven challenges of the fifth rung’) they outline the particular challenges of leaders who reach this stage:

  1. The need to confront complacency. To sit back on one’s laurels may keep a leader from reaching the fifth rung or it may contribute to their being knocked from it! ‘The benefits of age and experience should make leaders less foolhardy, but not to the extent of their becoming overly self-protective.’
  2. Continue to express both compassion and conviction – often expressed in an ongoing search for ways to care for others.
  3. The challenge of continuing to change and grow. Leaders must both remain teachable and be available to teach others. ‘One of the first signs of an endangered leader is a decrease in his willingness to hear and learn from the experiences of others.’
  4. Leaders must place their destiny in God’s hands. This means refusing to measure their destiny by comparing their sphere of influence to that of others.
  5. Share the benefits of influence. Leaders need to benefit with their team and not just benefit from it.
  6. Leaders need to learn to develop fluidity in relationships and priorities rather than operate in strict compartments which can play off against each other.
  7. Leaders need to work continuously to resolve character weaknesses
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