A Leader’s Mind

Book Review

A Brief Guide to Ideas

William Raeper and Linda Edwards (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1997).

I never imagined that when I agreed to undertake post-graduate studies in global perspectives on leadership that I would be asked to critique such a comprehensive range of texts.  While I had always made the effort to read broadly on topics of interest to me, my various leadership roles over the years prevented me from going deeper.

I guess this would be true for many in leadership. Often they are working at a hectic pace that it is hard for them take the time to slow down and reflect on the key lessons they have learned, how they have arrived at the place they are now, and what influences them the most in making decisions.

What I have discovered however, is that failure does not result from mere incompetence, but a lack of awareness about our personal makeup; how we relate to others; why others respond to us the way they do; what has shaped our beliefs, assumptions and behavior; understanding what is really important to us; and what motivates us.  We’ve also seen gifted and competent leaders through a lack of awareness, destroy their reputations and the organizations they led.

Many of our great philosophers and theologians over the years have attempted to address similar questions and wrestled with the notion that at our core, it is our beliefs, assumptions and behaviours that influence our decisions.  In other words, what we believe about the world, others, and ourselves is reflected in every decision we make.

William Raeper and Linda Edwards take a historical look at how people have sought to find meaning in a world that is constantly changing.

First, they explore various frameworks used by philosophers, theologians, evolutionists, secularists, industrialists, and others that were used to interpret the world they were in.  They describe these frameworks as “structures of thought”.[i]

What is challenging about this, is that many leaders have not given a lot of consideration to their own structures of thought; how it influences the way they think and act in their leadership functions, how they respond to challenges, and how they interpret their leadership context. Without realizing it, this oversight limits their understanding of how others operate and what motivates them.  This has obvious implications for those they lead.

Second, the authors acknowledge the classic intellectual and philosophical battles forced about by the shifting movements within our culture through science, industrialism, wars, government, politics, and religion.  Many of us find it easier to interpret our leadership experience through a very narrow framework, rather than contemplate the validity of someone else’s framework and experience.  This can result in leaders developing various insecurities as they become defensive about their own leadership philosophy and worldview, making them closed to new ideas.

This brings me to a relatively simple point to make at what may seem to be a rather complex intersection, and that is to present the need for leaders to be ‘reflective practitioners‘.

What’s the bottom-line?

There are three things I would encourage you to do. Reflect on:

  • The importance of your values and how they act as a lens for how you interpret what is happening in your leadership context.
  • How your culture, upbringing, and worldview or “structures of thought” influence the decisions you make.
  • Whether or not you are open to learning from others who have a different experience of leadership and the values that underpin it.

I close with a quote from Raeper and Edwards –

Some of this thinking you may find difficult. It is. But we think it is worth the effort. Ideas are very important. Behind conversations, media, television, political opinions and educational policy there are often whole philosophies which go unnoticed because people have never learned to think about things in this way. If your mind can learn to travel over different territories of thought, it will be a source of interest and challenge to you all your life.[ii]


[i] William Raeper and Linda Edwards, A Brief Guide to Ideas (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1997).

[ii] William Raeper and Linda Edwards, 11.

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