Thursday, October 15, 2009

“The Catholic Vision For Leading Like Jesus” – A Book Review


“Each of us is not only called to be a leader, but we are all leaders by default – whether we like it or not.”

Thus opens one of the best books I have ever read on servant leadership and the most powerful book I have ever read on stewardship – the notion of contributing our time, talent and treasure to those who need it.

The author, Dr. Owen Phelps, is the Director of Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute.  He is a writer, college professor, master catechist and trainer – to say the least.  To see his impressive background, please go here.

First of all, I have to admit that despite my openness and acceptance of many things, I have become somewhat skeptical of a lot of books in the motivational / inspirational / personal growth genre.

Why is this?  It’s because many of them either say the same thing that others in the genre have already said or they promise much and deliver little.  For many authors, they are merely piggybacking on the great results produced by others.

Such is not the case with this book.

This book was inspired by the book “Lead Like Jesus”, co-authored by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges.

First of all, Dr. Phelps explains that leadership is not about power or authority.  In fact, he explains this way:

Effective leadership is not about formal power or money.  It is about integrity.  Leadership begins in the heart.

The book goes on to address four powerful questions that many people find themselves pondering over.

The first three transcend people of all creeds, faiths and beliefs:

  1. Whom do I influence in big or small ways?
  2. How will I be remembered?  What is my legacy?
  3. What is the source of influence with others and how can I exert this influence?

The fourth question is one that many Christians who are passionate about service within their faith ask:

  1. How do I fit into Christ’s mission and message for the world?

Dr. Phelps answers these questions by introducing us to the concept of S3 leadership – the concept that we all act as Servant, Steward and Shepherd as we serve our fellow human beings.

Within the notion of servant leadership, Dr. Phelps explores the art of being the servant to others.  What he means by this is that as a servant, we seek to influence others and help others to grow and shine.  Our purpose is in the form of selfless giving to others instead of working towards our own gains and rewards as our first priority.

As a servant leader, the author suggests that when we act with our own priorities first and foremost, our ego places us in jeopardy as our sense of self-worth is based on pride-based or fear-based models.

When we move towards a servant-based leadership model , our modus operandi is transformed from being pride and fear-based to one that is based on humility and confidence in our purpose to serve and help others.

Such a model is transformational in concept and implementation and changes the very fundamental of human interaction.

The notion of steward as the second part of S3 is equally powerful.  If we accept that as a steward, we assume responsibility for taking care of things that do not belong to us, then we begin to feel compelled to make a difference in as many aspects of life as we can.  This responsibility covers a broad spectrum of things, ranging from the welfare of all living things on the planet to taking care of the planet itself.

The final element of S3, being the shepherd, is based on two very important concepts – the power of trust and and the power of unconditional love.  If we are unable to trust and love ourselves, our ability to work with others will be severely limited.  In turn, having accomplished this level of self-acceptance, it is critical to be able to establish trust and unconditional love with others in order to be able to offer help and to accept help if offered.

Just as the shepherd loves his sheep unconditionally and the sheep trust the shepherd through the shepherd’s actions, our ability to truly serve the needs of others will only manifest when we have the ability to love and serve others unconditionally and in a trustful way.

Dr. Phelps uses a quote from Scripture that summarizes the notion of S3 perfectly:

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

- 1 Peter 3:8 (NAB)

The workbook that is available for this book is equally powerful.  For stewardship groups that struggle with how to get their group or parish stewardship activities engaged on a higher level, the workbook is a powerful guide.

In fact, the workbook is the best guide to stewardship that I have seen in my many years of stewardship activities.  It’s flexible, insightful structure is an asset to beginning groups who need help with structure and execution and for advanced groups looking for fresh, new ideas to take their efforts to a higher level.

If you are an individual seeking to expand your stewardship activities or you represent a group looking to implement larger stewardship initiatives, this book and the accompanying workbook are a must-read.

If you are not faith-based or are Christian but not necessarily Roman Catholic but you seek to expand your leadership abilities and your ability to influence others, this book is also a must read for you.

Dr. Phelps closes his book with a quote from Scripture that I found to be powerful and made me stop and think before I closed the book:

Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell.  Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

- 2 Corinthians 13:11 (NAB)

The book is available from your traditional book retailers and from the publishing company directly.  The publisher can also be found at

I wish you well on your exploration of servant leadership and your quest to help others.

In service and servanthood.


For my Musings-in-a-Minute review of “The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus" – A Book Review”, please click here.


  1. Harry, thank you so much for this wonderful review -- and for adding your own personal insights that arose as you read the book. I learned some valuable things from reading your review, and for that I am as grateful as for your kind words.

    One quick note about your comment: "If we are unable to trust and love ourselves, our ability to work with others will be severely limited." You are absolutely right! However, most of us fall into the trap of building our self-esteem on the results we achieve and the praise of others. In this way, we are like the foolish man who build his house on sand (Mt 7:26-27). When crisis comes -- when we are needed most -- our confidence collapses and things are completely ruined. We need to build our sense of self-esteem on rock -- and that rock is the assurance of God's unconditional love for us. It's helpful to remember two things as we work to become more aware, more connected to and more reliant on that.

    1. God not only gives us life at conception, He provides us with life in each moment. Each breath we breathe is God breathing through us, willing our existence. We exist in each moment because -- and only because -- He wants us to be, He loves us to be. Obviously, He has some purpose in this, and so we always have some intrinsic purpose for being here, even if we have no idea at the moment what it is.

    2. God loves us even when we do not or cannot love ourselves (an especially helpful realization when we are disgusted, embarrassed or disappointed in ourselves). Even then God still loves us as much as ever, and that should give us some confidence that we are not worthless or useless. God does not make junk. As Genesis tells us: "God looked at everything He had made, and He found it very good."
    God finds us "very good" even on our worst days, even in our sin, and when we roam or stumble or fall, He always, always calls us back to His loving embrace. It is there we find the basis for trusting and loving ourselves -- as God's cherished children and His intended expression of love to the world. From the perspective of being held in His embrace, we resolve to develop all the gifts He has given us and to share them with our brothers and sisters wherever we encounter them. We resolve to bloom where we are planted.

    Blessings always,

  2. Dear Dr. Phelps,

    I am always honored and privileged when an author responds directly to a book review that I have written.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to respond and for responding with such kind, insightful words.

    What you wrote here really resonates with me. The notion of accepting the beautiful miracle that each one of us is is a powerful concept that we all need to hold close to our hearts.

    You close with "bloom where we are planted". Your book provides another means of helping us move a little closer to doing just that.

    Thank you for your heart and your insight, Dr. Phelps! I have learned much from your book and from your comment here and I am grateful to you for that.

    You are what I refer to as an example of authenticity in servant leadership!

    Blessings to you!