Leading with a Limp by Dan Allender – A Review
Here is my analytical review of Dan Allender’s latest book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only is the book rich, but take a closer look at the cover of this book, what an excellent design. If you hit the cover it will get larger. The way in which I do this review is share a bit about the author, the authors thesis, an overview then some of my own thoughts on the book. With that said, let’s dive into the review.
Dan B. Allender, PhD. is founder of Mars Hill Graduate School near Seattle, where he currently serves as President. He is a therapist in private practice as well an author of a number of books. He writes in a heart-revealing way. He is a popular speaker, the husband of Rebecca and father of three children.
While many leadership books today focus on knowing your strengths and leveraging your power, Allender in Leading with a Limp argues that the best leaders live paradoxical lives, where they lead with power because of their weakness, find success through acknowledging their failures and lose their life, so that they might save it.
Allender makes it clear that living a paradoxical life requires faith and has enormous costs, but meaningful rewards. He paints a realistic picture of leadership through stories and by guiding us through five universal challenges that every leader faces and calls us to respond in a paradoxical way. When we face crises, we should respond with courage (brokenness and confidence) instead of cowardice (blame and control); when facing complexity, we should respond with depth (foolishness and creativity) instead of rigidity (dogmatism); when confronted with betrayal, we should respond with gratitude (reluctance and humility) instead of narcissism (envy and self-absorption); when faced with loneliness, respond with openness (honest hunger and community) instead of hiding (manipulation), and when faced with weariness, respond with hope (disillusionment and boldness) instead of fatalism (busyness). He encourages us to define our calling not just with nouns (sage, seer, mouthpiece, coach, catalyst), but also with adjectives, like broken, foolish, reluctant, hungry or disillusioned. He reminds us that limping leadership happens in the context of community and is more about forming character than running an organization. He ends with practical advice on how to tell secrets and explanations of the three leaders needed for any organization – king, priest and prophet.
I found the book refreshingly challenging. Refreshing because as Dan shared the beauty and effectiveness of limping leaders, he shared his own brokenness, foolishness, reluctance, hunger and disillusionment. Challenging, because being a limping leader has enormous costs and risks involved, and it takes a nuanced discernment for each of us to apply such wisdom in our life. Leading with a limp requires that we name “some very painful realities about life and leadership, about others and yourself” (7).
His chapter on telling secrets was paradoxical and helpful. He says the way that we embrace honesty is by: “giving up what is already painfully obvious, tell the truth without telling all the truth, and embrace the gospel in your failure to live the gospel” (173). He says we need to tell stories without all the spin, that include failure and the need of grace, stories that share “the already and the not yet, the call to be strong and tender, and the ways of being wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove” (177).
Here are some short quotes I want to contemplate: “There are no easy decisions. To decide requires a death, a dying to a thousand optionsâ€¦” (14). “A good leader will, in time, disappoint everyone” (14). “If you want a friend, get a dog” (33). “Ineffective responses to any of the biggest challenges of leadership – betrayal, crises, complexity, loneliness or weariness – result in failures that eventually come home to roost” (45). This book is worth reading annually. In my next reading, I hope to write out more of what I want to remember and do as a result of reading this rich and realistic book.