Rare Leadership by Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder is about as generic and cookie-cutter sounding as any leadership book I’ve ever come across. In all honesty, I received it as a gift and anticipated feeling underwhelmed by its contents. Yet what I found is that for everything it lacks in marketing and intrigue, it delivers all the more in substance. I read Rare Leadership with my jaw dropped. This isn’t generic fluff at all; this is revelatory insight into the mechanics of the human brain and its implications on western-world leadership. Fascinatingly, it boils down to just one key differentiator:
Most American leaders, whether managers, business owners, pastors, or whatever else, lead from the left brain. The left brain is the conscious, logical decision-maker that makes linear assumptions and focuses on accomplishing tasks and reaching goals. A functional and healthy left brain is obviously crucial to the success of any mission or organization. However, the major premise of the book is that this isn’t where we should start or end.
We aren’t meant to live in our left brain, as most of us are taught to do through our culture, training, and education. That role actually belongs to the other side. Our right brain, despite being underappreciated in the western world, is where things like personal and collective identity, belonging, relationship building, and purpose exist. Clearly, no team is truly a team without these elements, either.
If we operate in the left brain without the right in-tact, we’ll produce some near-term results, but long-term we’ll end in crippling burnout, unending frustration, rapid turnover, and ultimately, implosion. And if we have the right brain without the left? … Well, this happens to be the most crucial claim of the book.
Marcus and Jim emphasize and that we cannot have the right brain operating without the left following suit - it’s impossible. To say it differently, a healthy and functional right brain necessarily results in a healthy and functional left brain, but not vice versa. The authors support this idea not only with their decades of team-leading and consulting experience, but also with several recent discoveries in brain science.
The conclusion is simple: prioritize the right brain; prioritize identity and belonging. Cultivate it. Assess it. Defend it. Analyze it. If everyone on our team knows who we are - the community we identify with, relate to, and associate a behavioral culture and big-picture vision with - then we will produce results both near and long term.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. The reason is that, fascinatingly, the right brain functions at a frequency that’s literally too quick for our conscious minds to capture. This means that the right brain operates subconsciously, and thus consciously prioritizing the right side still has its limitations. No wonder group identity, purpose, and culture can be such elusive targets!
With that in mind, Marcus and Jim give us four actionable, left-brain methods to bolster our right brain’s health. These create the acronym ‘rare,’ hence the book’s title. They are: remain relational, act like yourself, return to joy, and endure hardship well. You’ll have to read the book yourself to get all the details, but suffice it to say that if we keep people above problems - if we can engage with our relationships and purpose even in the midst of trying circumstances - we’ve mastered an invaluable leadership skill. When everyone on the team knows who we are and knows that they belong, we’re on the fast-track to big time results.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
“The point is how we solve problems. Will we solve them relationally, creatively, as a group, and with the best part of ourselves engaged in what we’re doing? Or, will we solve problems in isolation, avoiding shame and any perception of failure, while hiding behind a mask that makes us look stronger than we really are? … How we detect isolation most clearly is in the joy levels of a group. The higher the joy level (glad to be together) when people engage group tasks, the lower the isolation level is in that group. When people must gather by the water cooler and away from the group tasks to find joy, then isolation is running their fast tracks” (pp. 72-73).
“In the long term, motivation through avoiding bad feelings is hard to sustain… Most people depend on avoiding unpleasant feelings for motivation by reminding themselves and others of what might happen:
“For any real transformation to take place, you are going to need a team that is committed to a common goal… this is a group of allies, not an accountability group. Its purpose is not to get you to sign a pledge committing yourself to make certain changes and then hold your feet to the fire to make sure you follow through. Such fear-based systems grow out of a results-oriented model and represent the antithesis of what we’re trying to teach” (p. 117).
“In Colossians 3:15, Paul writes, ‘Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.’ The Greek word translated as ‘rule’ is probably better translated ‘referee.’ Now that creates an interesting image. ‘Let the peace of Christ be the referee in your hearts!’ What would that look like? Well, what happens when a referee blows his whistle during a game? Everything stops until the referee sorts things out. In the same way, if I’m not experiencing peace, or the group I’m leading isn’t experiencing peace, it’s time to stop until we are all able to return to joy. Leaders and the groups they oversee all function better when peace is in charge” (p. 159).
Have you read Rare Leadership? If not, I should warn you that weaved throughout the text is about a 15% marketing nudge towards the authors’ leadership conferences and consulting services. But I guess that’s just the world we live in. The other 85% though is pure gold and definitely worth the read!
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