Book Nuggets: Leaders Who Last

“We can in fact manage ourselves, if we choose to. We cannot control others. But we can offer our point of view, challenge them, and give them room to respond.”leaders.jpb.jpg

Not long ago, I read Leaders Who Last by Margaret J. Marcuson. The book is helpful, not only for those in a formal leadership role, but for anyone who is in a church environment and trying to navigate the various relationships. The book is a fine discussion of Systems Theory as applied to a church context. However, the principles in the book are applicable to many other contexts as well.

The following are some quotes which I think are particularly meaningful:

Here is the heart of what it takes to sustain leadership. We move from the impossible — controlling others — to the merely difficult — managing ourselves. When I hear leaders begin with a question like, “How can I get them to . . . ? then I know that different questions need to be asked: “What is my part in the problem? How can I clarify what I think on this issue? How can I clearly communicate my own point of view?” We can in fact manage ourselves, if we choose to. We cannot control others. But we can offer our point of view, challenge them, and give them room to respond.” (p. 3-4)

We need a sense of self apart from the response we receive. When we are less dependent on the approval of others, we can be more effective in our ministry. (p. 6)

Learning how balance is maintained in systems, how people create triangles, and how ways of relating are passed down through the generations will help us sustain our leadership with less frustration and more clarity. (p. 6)

When leaders take a stand, people react automatically. But over time chances are most will come along if the leader calmly stays on course while nurturing relationships with the congregation. (p. 13)

An overfunctioner takes too much responsibility, while an underfunctioner does not take enough responsibility. (p. 13)

Overfunctioners are common among clergy and lay leaders. They look at underfunctioners and think, “If they would just shape up, everything would be fine around here.” (p. 14)

Leaders make a difference by the nature of their presence in the system, not by anxiously trying to fix everything and everyone. (p. 16)

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  • Wade Tannehill


    Thanks so much for bringing our attention to his book. Sounds like something I need to read.

    • Jim Martin

      Wade, please let me know what you think after you read the book. I found it to be very helpful.

  • Grady D. King


    Our ministry staff met all day off campus to plan and it migrated to the discussion of this book. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jim Martin

      Thanks Grady. I find this book to be helpful and very readable. For someone who has read systems literature the material will not be “new” but the applications to ministry are very good.

  • Margaret Marcuson

    Thanks for these comments, Jim. I will say that leading in this way is an ongoing process of growth, and I still have to work very hard to practice what I preach!

    • Jim Martin

      Margaret, thanks for this note. Started a new mentoring group on Tuesday and your book is one of our resources. You have written a very helpful book.