Lead Like It Matters to God, Richard Sterns. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021.
Summary: In contrast to many leadership books that outline steps to success, describes what it is like to give value-shaped leadership in both for profit and non-profit settings.
No question. Good leadership is a gift to any organization or political entity. Richard Sterns, out of his Christian faith, takes a different approach from many other leadership books. His focus is not on skills or “steps to success.” Sterns should know from work at Gillette and CEO experiences at Parker Brothers, Lenox, and World Vision. He contends that what matters most are the values that shape one’s leadership. After introducing this approach, Sterns devotes a chapter each to seventeen different values.
Beside values you might expect like excellence, vision, courage, self-awareness, and perseverance, Sterns includes values you might not associate with executive leadership. These include sacrifice, love, humility, integrity, generosity, forgiveness, balance, humor, encouragement and listening. He begins with surrender, describing his own painful experience of getting fired twice in a two year period and spending fourteen months unemployed. He describes this period of being “benched” by God as one that convinced him that God wanted his Mondays through Saturdays and not just his Sunday, a life of daily surrender. Likewise, he describes the value of trust, particularly trust in God, as one that enables leading in the face of adversity with calm.
Even typical corporate values like excellence are re-shaped by Sterns’ Christian commitments. He states that “excellence means that we will always strive to use the gifts and abilities that God has given us to the fullest extent possible.” He believes “good outcomes do not lead to excellence; excellence leads to good outcome” (italics in original). He argues for love for the workers in an organization, no matter the title.
One of the endearing things about this book is that Sterns not only values humor but he is practices it, usually laughing at himself. He illustrates humility with his experience of plugging up and surreptitiously plungering his private executive toilet on his first day as CEO at Lenox and describes the “shroud of Turin” he left on a glass window he mistook for a door as he rushed to a meeting with the governor of Tennessee, arriving bloody nosed, quipping, “You should see the other guy.”
He speaks compellingly of the power of encouragement by contrasting two bosses, the one who told him he had no marketing talent, while the second kept encouraging him and giving him stretch assignments that affirmed his confidence. He credits the second boss with grooming him for his first CEO position. He argues for corporate and personal matters, describing the time he was his angriest at World Vision, and it all had to do with pumpkin seeds. And in his description of the balanced leader, he notes the role of reading in the lives of great leaders. I might quibble with some of his examples though–while Harry Truman and Warren Buffett strike me as balanced and sensible, I’m not sure about Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or Elon Musk–all of whom are great readers.
The book concludes with a challenge for Christians to take God to work and offers several closing stories of the unseen acts of faithfulness through which God works, including the child sponsored by a couple through World Vision who became the sixth archbishop of the Anglican church in Kenya. I would commend this book to every aspiring leader. For all the reasons above, it is both substantive and engaging. Note the values that you want to cultivate more deeply in your leadership and get to work. If Sterns is right, it all matters to God.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.