Okay, let me get this off my chest first …
… I am not a big fan of narrative works, where a story and characters are used to explain a message, describe a process, or delineate functions.
… I do not care much for language that includes a significant amount of “Bible”, “Jesus”, or “God” and related words.
… I do not relate well with Bible verses which are chosen to illustrate a point without a thorough discussion of the context, background, and history of that verse.
… I do not agree with the concept that younger people always need to be taught leadership by an older and wiser person.
This said, I thoroughly enjoyed “I’ve Got Your Back” by Jame C. Galvin, a narrative form story about four young people learning leadership through coaching by an older person, with ample Bible verses sprinkled throughout and prolific use of all those words I mentioned above … go figure.
The Background …
“When it comes to leadership, everyone is afraid of something.”
Randall, Brad, Valerie, and Lynn are young college graduates in different positions and work environments, with different types of challenges. Some of the challenges involve common leadership issues, while others are more complex. Much like Jesus and his disciples, the group meets regularly to share food, reflect on their lives, and support each other.
Not everyone in the group really wants to be a leader, at least at first. All face different issues and challenges. As the four deal with their various situations, things do not always go as hoped or even as planned. Others do not immediately respond to efforts to build relationships or solve problems. The “messiness” of the workplace is realistically conveyed, with no easy solutions or victories.
Jack, a former Special Forces soldier and missionary, serves as their guide as they explore biblically-based leadership in the workplace, is on his own quest. Jack provides the structure within which they learn about leadership and followership, as they discuss and consider their varied situations and challenges. Jack is also searching for his own next calling. The way in which he resolves his own quest is foregone, but quite satisfying.
Ultimately everyone grows through coaching and reflection on what Christianity has to offer us about leadership and about followership, which are deeply linked.
The Strength …
“It’s hard to lead when nobody will follow …”
Galvin spins a reasonably well-told tale, and his dialogue generally rings true, although at times, you can see the bottom line or the lesson coming from a long way off. Each of the five main characters is portrayed in enough detail to give us a feel for them as people and an understanding of the different personality elements which challenge their ability and desire to lead. The action moves at a pace which keeps us engaged, but also allows us to reflect on the leadership path they learn and follow.
I would guess any person reading this book will find something which resonates with them, even if only in retrospect. The people and situations are based on jobs and situations which reflect entry into the world of work. Both those in the midst of their careers and those who are just beginning their careers will find much to consider in these pages.
However, the great strength of “I’ve Got Your Back” is the leadership and followership model unveiled by Jack through the story arc of weekly meetings with the young leaders.
Many leadership models exist and some of those are also based on biblical study and principles. What makes this model different from many others is the tiered approach to evaluating a person’s leadership and their followership qualities. Followership is the primary element, while leadership flows from a good understanding of how to follow well.
The Elements …
“Not all follower abuse is intentional.”
ABUSE: First, Jack identifies and explains four type of follower abuse (incompetent, disempowering, manipulative, toxic) using the situations faced by each of the young people to help us understand and relate to behaviors which are all too common in our workplaces and institutions.
FOLLOWING: Next, he makes the point that being a good leader means you must first be a good follower. Followers are divided into three types:
Type I Following God (spiritual authority)
Type II Following Inherited Authorities (parental or legal authority)
Type III Following Another Person (with or without authority)
I found this very helpful as it reminds us that all authority is not the same and that all following is not the same.
Then five competency levels for each type of followership are identified and discussed, ranging from the highest level (Wholehearted Disciple, Activist Citizen, or Courageous Follower) to the lowest level (Wayward Disciple, Lawless Citizen, or Disruptive Follower).
LEADING: Once followership is understood and practiced, Jack next introduces a theology of leadership, which is really a model for our life journeys, including the role of fear, brokenness, and redemption. We return to one of the book’s main themes: Good followership comes before good leadership.
It’s a deceptively simple model to trace, but powerful in the implications for leadership and living.
The Bottom Line …
“This kind of leading and dancing is so smooth that it is like dancing. One partner is the leader and the other is the follower, but they glide across the floor as one unit. It’s difficult to observe who is leading and who is following.”
I went into this book, expecting a usual combination of biblical exhortations and fluffy thinking about loving your neighbor or something similar. Books with an overtly religious tone often do not translate well into the non-religious workplace.
I came away impressed with the value of the follower and leader model outlined in “I’ve Got Your Back” This is a book and a model which I will use in many situations in the future.
To get the full model, you should read and reflect on the book in the context of your own leadership journey. Well worth the time and the cost for anyone who aspires to learn a very useful leadership role at work or in their personal life.
Basking in the glow of learning something useful about helping people lead in the Heartland ….