Leadership from Inside Out
Leadership From Inside Out: Spirituality and Organizational Change
by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson
New York, NY: Crossroad, 2004
Reviewed by Randy Frye
Through the ages, money, sex, and power are the three human needs that have been the Achilles heel of leadership. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson cites leadership failings from church history, business, and politics to back up this premise. Though disillusioned, we still yearn for leaders we can trust. But where can they be found? He suggests a starting point: “We should look for individuals who have demonstrated the inner capacity to deal creatively and responsibly with money, sex, and power in their lives.”
The first third of the book examines a leader’s handling of these three needs. One navigates the treacherous waters of money, sex, and power through knowing oneself well, deep spiritual discipline, and the continual pursuit of an inward spiritual journey. Spiritual direction is specifically introduced in chapter six: “Defining One’s Self.” Along the way, Granberg-Michaelson also addresses the process of discernment and listening for God’s call.
A large portion of the book focuses on the book’s subtitle—organizational change. I found little that would be of a direct interest for a spiritual director or directee. In the last few chapters, however, the author returns to examining the disciplines and practices that help a leader effectively transform an organization. He advocates practices such as journaling or writing one’s spiritual autobiography as a way to stay open to God’s calling. Prayer, as an essential practice of an inner-directed, transformational leader, brings “liberation from the imprisonment of external expectations, demands, and preoccupations . . . in order to attach us to what is most real.”
Granberg-Michaelson’s worldview is unapologetically Christian. As one might expect, his model for inside-out leadership is Jesus. This may seem a convenient answer, but he weaves a concise and convincing argument for his choice of Jesus as a visionary, transformational leader. Regrettably, he does not speak of Jesus’ inner discipline or his commitment to care for his own soul that enabled him to lead with integrity—leadership qualities he focused on in the beginning.
I appreciated the very readable style that Granberg-Michaelson uses. Stories of leadership successes and failures permeate the book. They help maintain interest and make his points very well. The approachability of this book might make it very valuable resource for someone who is considering direction but does not yet see its full value for his or her life and work. It might also be useful as an introduction to some basic spiritual practices. Directors who are working with people in places of power and leadership will find value in this “insiders” perspective. The author helps clarify many challenging issues that might arise in the course of direction.
This book may also be useful for those who use spiritual direction as part of life coaching practice. Life coaches will appreciate the practical, common sense wisdom for people in places of leadership. The spiritual direction component of their practice will be affirmed by Granberg-Michaelson’s emphasis on direction as a valuable tool for knowing oneself and pursuing one’s inward spiritual journey.
Randy Frye is an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), currently serving a congregation in Lockhart, Texas, USA. His spiritual direction ministry has focused on others in full-time Christian ministry and in introducing contemplative practices to teenagers.