Leading With Your Style: a book review

There are two problems with many leadership models. Some are simplistic and formulaic, presenting a one-size-fits-all approach. Other authors on leadership list too many  ‘leadership qualities’ to be of much practical use to someone seeking to sharpen their leadership (Think John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Al Mohler’s twenty-five qualities of a leader in Conviction to Lead or Mark Cuban’s 50 Qualities of a Successful Leader)David Olson’s new book promises an approach to leadership which is simple enough to be useful for leaders, but deep enough to be worthwhile. Simple does not need to mean simplistic!

Discovering Your Leadership Styleapproaches the topic of Christian leadership as a three-legged stool. The legs of the stool are Spirituality ( our relationship with God), Chemistry (our ability to connect with others) and Strategy (fulfilling the mission of God). Leadership is the ‘seat of the stool’–where these three legs are integrated and put to use by each leader.  An free online assessment at sixstyles.org  accompanies the book, allowing readers to identify their strong leg, their intermediate leg and their weakest leg. The unique combination of strengths, has allowed Olson to uncover six leadership styles which he explores in the book.  There are additional reports and team resources available for purchase at sixstyles.org.

The six leadership styles are: (1) the Sacred Leader who is strong in Spirituality with an intermediate leg of Chemistry,  (2) the Relational Leader with a strong leg of Chemistry and an intermediate leg of Spirituality, (3) the Inspirational Leader strong in Chemistry and intermediate in Strategy, (4) the Building Leader strong in Strategy and intermediate in Chemistry, (5) the Mission Leader strongest in Strategy, second in Spirituality, and (6) the Imaginative Leader who is strongest in Spirituality and whose second leg is strategy. Olson’s purpose is not to present a leadership hierarchy, but to honor the unique makeup of different types of leaders. There is a correlation between leadership styles and personality (like Myers-Briggs) or other resources (i.e. Strength Finders, spiritual gift inventories, etc); however leadership style isn’t reduced to a set of gifts or personality. Olson explores the needs, desires, the gifts and the blind spots inherent in each of the leadership styles.

Olson is a religious researcher, church-planting leader and a leadership coach who serves the Evangelical Covenant Church. Part of my own interest in this book, is I have been seeking a pastoral role in that denomination and was eager to see what he had to say. Admittedly the book was a slow-burn for me. I am not sure what I thought of the assessment tool. I took the 48 question test twice and came up with the same results (although as a much stronger leader the second time around). I am a relational leader. As I read that profile I certainly identify with much of it, but I find it odd that an assessment like this would name ‘strategy’ as my weakest leg when Gallup’s Strength Finders names Strategy (and several other elements from the thinking domain) as my greatest strength. I think I agree with Olson’s assessment but because of my unique shape,  I defy his categories a little bit. I also am wary of short online assessments for naming ‘who I am’ as a leader. Reading through the profiles I did see elements of my leadership in other profiles,  but I am not quite a ‘balanced leader’ by Olson’s definition (a leader who scores 60% or above in each category). I can see areas of growth, and the gifts I bring to the leader’s task.

Despite not fitting his profile to a ‘t’ I found Olson’s research interesting and helpful. I think that this would be a great book for Church leadership teams to use because Olson illustrates well how different leadership styles complement each other. He also encourages leaders to develop in all three areas (their strength their weakness and their intermediate strength). Jesus provides the quintessential model of the balanced leader. I give this book four-and-a-half stars


Thank you to IVP for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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I am a pastor, husband, father, instigator, pray-er, hoper, writer, trouble-maker, peacemaker, and friend. Who are you?

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