I’ve Got Your Back: A Leadership Parable by James C. Galvin
James C. Galvin, author, organizational consultant and creator of the Life Application Study Bible has brought his wealth of wisdom to bear upon leadership in his new book entitled I’ve Got Your Back. By developing a leadership parable that centers on the lives of four young adults and a man of wisdom to guide them, this book is quite unlike any leadership book I’ve read. Even more, the book offers a concise theology of leadership and followership in this last section that provides a snapshot of how God directs leaders and followers in the Scriptures. I want to say at the outset that I was expecting a quite dull and boring book devoted towards either harping on moral requirements for leaders or a bunch of nice leadership stories. Rather, what you get here is a refreshing and invigorating way of looking what it means to follow and lead well.
Aha Moments in the Book
In the meetings with Jack, the four members of the group were seeking to grow in their efforts at leading at work, church, and in volunteer opportunities. At one point Jack refers to Psalm 78:72 and then says a quite remarkable thing, “There is a being side and doing side to leadership. You cannot neglect either one. You need both character and competence to lead well. Books by business leaders tend to neglect the being side. Books by church leaders tend to neglect the doing side. They focus almost exclusively on character and spiritual formation issues” (60). The skills that follow or flow out of one’s life are a result of the character within a person but without both the necessary competence with a solid character the boat will sink. The best leaders seek to develop an eye for the details of their craft while being immersed in a sense of continually being the right kind of person for all of life.
James goes on to develop how Jack will carry out this notion of leading well by making an unusual but extremely insightful statement. Jack says, “If you want to learn how to lead, you must first learn to follow well” (61). You learn what followers need by following well and seeking to answer the questions that a follower would have for his leader. It is impossible to think that a leader can emerge by merely passing by the needs of his followers and not putting himself in their shoes for a day. Yet, this is what happens every day in the world of commerce. The advantage this approach has to offer is that it regularly focuses on the begin and doing side of leadership while maintaining the aim that leadership focuses on carrying out a servant’s mission to God, inherited authority, and overseers at work. This part was eye-opening for me because it forced me to look at past leaders, their faults and good leadership skills with a keen sense of how I have emulated and followed them in my leadership. Furthermore, throughout the parable you get the sense that being a good leader is really about knowing the people you lead and follow well. We see the command of Jesus to love our neighbors, but we also realize that sometimes we don’t know our neighbors full first and last name. Therefore, it is only right that to serve well is to act and be intentional about knowing those around us.
The section that James wrote on providing a concise theology of leadership and followership was a good foray into what the Bible speaks about concerning these issues. One highlight that I found in these passages was the relationship between biblical passages and the three Types of followership. James writes, “Type II followership applies to all levels of government. Some people thing they’re doing well by obeying federal laws while ignoring lesser laws such as city or village ordinances. Or speed limits. These biblical teachings apply to all levels of government from federal legislation to community ordinances” (162). Following inherited authorities, including government, should not be a pick and choose kind of game as to what rules we should follow. Rather, our respect and citizenship as members of God’s kingdom demands that we follow these authorities well. This kind of clear biblical teaching reminds me that every day I am teaching my child something about driving and obeying authority as I live, in the times of speeding and in times when follow well.
The only drawback or criticism I had of the book was in the last section on a Concise Theology of Leadership and Followership. I think the myriad of biblical examples given for each Type of Followership were very good. Yet, I was a bit overwhelmed at trying to see how each example fit into the concepts of inherited authority, God loving following, and organizational authority. At times, I think it would’ve been helpful to draw out the meaning and application of a select few passages that illuminate following and leading well. Yet, I think the goal might be that these passages might become a wealth of resources to turn back to as we walk down the road of leading and following well.
Overall, I’ve Got Your Back is a great book on leadership because it provides solid wisdom and biblical advice on both crucial aspects of leading and following. The telling of the parable was a powerful way of examining leadership through story. I don’t think I have read a book quite like this on leadership and I am glad to recommend it anyone I meet.
Thanks to Handlebar, James C. Galvin and Tenth Power Publishing for the copy of this book in exchange for review.