What persona springs up in your imagination when hearing the word, ‘leader’? For me, it isn’t someone who orders their followers into tasks or throws their egotistical weight and position around to gain results and respect. Instead, I see leadership from the biblical perspective that Brian Harris writes about; leadership imaging the metaphors of servant hood, shepherding and stewardship
Harris calls this style of leadership, ‘quiet’. For him, this description implies that quiet leaders are those who step up because their primary motivators are to empower, collaborate and help their followers to decide what the best things to do are and then to do them. They involve others and are decentred on themselves. They may be charismatic but equally they may not but earn respect from being shepherds, servants and stewards of the resources under them.
There is more description to how Harris pictures the quiet leader; he describes the quiet leader as a tortoise and as reluctant. When reading, I thought that these were unhelpful descriptions, as they played on cultural images of weakness and negativity but upon thinking about why Harris classifies the quiet leader as a tortoise, it is because quiet leadership is underpinned by the following values; modesty, restraint, tenacity, interdependence and other-centeredness, rather than leading from ego. What he implies by reluctance is that some quiet leaders don’t recognise their leadership potential and won’t always step up, or prevaricate in taking up the baton e.g. Moses arguing with God that he couldn’t lead (Exodus 3). Harris also uses ‘reluctance’ as a description because it is so opposite to sometimes what culture perceives to be the best leader – quiet leaders don’t centre on themselves thinking that they are the answer to solving the world’s problems but step up in humility, leaning on God and working alongside others.
Forbes magazine surveyed 2,400 millennial globally in 2013 about leadership and business. The results revealed that millennia’s look for inclusivity, openness and diversity in their leaders but they also aspire to lead this way. Remarkable really as these are attributes of the quiet leader.
The structure of The Tortoise Usually Wins consists of case studies, theory and practical reflective questions at the end of every chapter, therefore enabling reflection to greater leadership self-awareness. There are chapters to explore the imagery of quiet leadership, as well as chapters on how to practically carry out quiet leadership. Finally at the end of every chapter, Harris interviews a quiet leader based in a variety of contexts – I found this really inspiring, from a biographical standpoint. Although, most of the leaders who were interviewed were men and therefore, it would have brought more wealth to the table if there was an equal representation of men and women leaders.
This is an interesting book which should be read by every leader whether quiet or loud, as it helpfully lays out a theological basis for leadership. It is useful for those who are reluctant to step up and for those exploring and growing in their leadership style. I would suggest that those leading in more professional and organisational settings pick it up and explore whether your organisational cultures enable a variety of leadership styles or only one because it maybe that this book challenges you to embrace the diversity of human resources and to grow in better stewardship of them.
Brian Harris writes from the heart and must be read by the whole church, whether quiet leaders or not!
Lizzie Telfer works as an Assistant Publisher at Scripture Union, and is a youth participation consultant and freelance writer.