Book Review – “Leading with a Limp”
“Leading with a Limp” by Dan B. Allender
By Mark S. Sooy
Dan Allender’s treatment of leadership, as a topic, is unconventional to say the least, but refreshing in its own way. Rather than give a laundry list of “best practices” for leaders to follow, he gives a realistic assessment of what leaders can expect. “So here’s the hard truth,” he states, “if you’re a leader, you’re in the battle of your life. Nothing comes easily, enemies outnumber allies, and the terrain keeps shifting under your feet” (pg. 1).
With that realistic admission of the difficulty of leadership, he proceeds to suggest that “to the degree you face and name and deal with your failures as a leader, to that same extent you will create an environment conducive to growing and retaining productive and committed colleagues” (pg. 2). It is from this perspective, one of leadership shortcomings, that Allender views leadership and suggests a strategy for leading well – in his words, “leading with a limp.”
The analogy of the limp is taken from the story of Jacob wrestling with the Angel, in which Jacob finds himself leaving the struggle with God an impaired human being. Just so, leaders are men and women with impairments, often inflicted by the God who is molding them into the leaders He desires them to be.
Allender builds his case using a list of leadership challenges that include crisis, complexity, betrayal, loneliness and weariness. To these challenges he notes that leaders often respond in negative ways such as cowardice, rigidity, narcissism, hiding or fatalism. These responses cause ineffectiveness in leadership and often result in broken relationships. Avoiding such faulty responses will bring about more positive results.
The positive responses to the leadership challenges are much more effective. Admittedly, these responses are often counter-intuitive and require the leader to think carefully before responding to any challenge. However, the positive results are well worth the effort as a leader responds in courage, depth, gratitude, openness and hope. The results, according to Allender, are improved relationships and effectiveness in leading others.
Allender works to help leaders recognize their faults and willingly admit to them – in the presence of those he or she leads. In so doing the leader more readily identifies with them, and they with the leader. This aspect of his leadership model shows a positive “lead by example” style that invites other leaders and followers to admit to their own shortcomings as well, essentially creating a “we’re in this together” communal response to leadership failure.
Many personal stories adorn Allender’s ideas on leadership in “Leading with a Limp.” This gives his ideas a real-world perspective that brings it quite a bit of credibility. It is not clear if Allender rejects the idea of leadership strengths, but it is clear that he feels leadership should be approached from the leader’s weakness rather than from his or her strength. This reviewer is not quite convinced in this approach; however “Leading with a Limp” is a solid study of leadership challenges and a worthwhile investment for any leader.
Dr. Allender serves as Professor of Counseling at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. He travels and speaks extensively to present his unique perspective on sexual abuse recovery, love & forgiveness, worship, and other related topics.