Book Review – Leadership: From the Inside Out

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By Grant Steves

Cover of Leadership, featuring radiating rays of light.

Leadership: From the Inside Out, Kevin Cashman.
© 2008,  215 pages.  

Perhaps the pastoral setting of Minnesota inspired Kevin Cashman to reflect on what makes a leader. His own experience has grounded him in the practical aspects of leadership. What he discovered in his reflection on leadership was that it comes from the inside. As Socrates said, “know yourself.” His conclusion is that you must first know who you are before you can lead. 

This knowing is mastery in seven areas: Personal, Purpose, Interpersonal, Change, Being, Balance, and Action. Each of these topics is developed in a separate chapter. His method is to present examples to explain the concept; a space for the reader to write down their insights, reflections, and commitment; and assignment sheets to help the reader understand how the concepts are applied.

Personal mastery is the beginning of leadership. An individual who leads presents a highly functional character:

  • They are perceptive of what is not easily perceived;
  • They think outside their limits;
  • They are empathetic and not just sympathetic;
  • They set goals to achieve and to work toward; and
  • They imagine the possibilities.

This mastery is possible because the leader does not set self-limiting patterns and knows their self. As Peter M. Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, said, “People with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence, their growth areas, and they are deeply self-confident. Paradoxical?  Only for those who do not see the journey is the reward.”

As readers complete this first pivotal chapter, they hopefully begin to understand why a leader must be acutely aware of the self. When a leader becomes obsessed with their own ego satisfaction, they reveal their character flaws. To overcome this ego problem, a leader needs to become an authentic person who realizes the value of others and knows how to be and not just how to act. Self-insight is needed to lead, and it is not something others can give a person. An organization deserves leaders who rise above themselves and who make decisions that are inclusive and not exclusive.

Kevin Cashman identifies interpersonal communication as the next mastery skill that takes the leader from their ego to building bridges to others. The ego wants to say, “We are the ones that make things happen.” The result may be that the ego-centered leader “leaves a wake of bodies in the process.” This ego-centered thinking result fails to examine the means by which the ends were achieved. We must “let go of the belief that, ‘if I am to care for something, I must control it.’” This ego attitude is contrary to the necessary character trait of openness to new ideas, but an openness that credits others for ideas that influence. In composition we use footnotes to credit the influence of others. In leadership we use recognition of others to credit their influence. It is because of that recognition that we come to admire the leadership.

The interpersonal mastery in leadership must cultivate two areas: trust and constructive conflict. An organization that does not build these qualities into their leadership will end with failure, discontent, alienation of members, a limited pool of leaders, and a limited vision. Cashman would argue that when the leadership only gives the appearance of accepting the opinion of others, it has destroyed an authentic leadership.

For his chapter on interpersonal mastery, he surveyed 6,403 leaders and found that they received the highest evaluations for their intellectual competency, but they received their lowest marks for their interpersonal competencies. A generalization has been made about atheists – they are more intellectual than the average group of people, but they are also more apt to have interpersonal communication problems. If this is true, we would be wise to seek a greater understanding of interpersonal communication.

This is Cashman’s fifth work on leadership. He has also taught leadership skills in a number of seminars. Over 100 universities have used his book in their curricula. His advice has appealed to a broad readership that has made it a business and leadership best-seller. Those successes are enough to recommend a book for examination. My motivation for reading and then using the book in a class I taught on leadership was because of its clear and engaging style of presentation. This book is interactive and encourages the reader to participate in developing the mastery of leadership skills. The methods that he espouses encourage a leadership of inclusiveness and recognition. It is an approach that emphasizes humanistic values and the appreciation for what humans can attain when they work together.

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