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Book Review: The Heart of Leadership

Book Review: The Heart of Leadership

The more I work with nonprofits and the more I engage in some of the decision-making processes at my insurance agency, the more I realize this:

Leadership is displayed in a wide variety of contexts, but good leaders share similar traits. The visions and missions might be different, but the stuff of a good leader remains constant.

Whether working in a nonprofit or for profit corporate world, leaders exhibit ‘Leadership Character’ according to Mark Miller in his book The Heart of Leadership: Becoming a Leader People Want to Follow.

The Heart of Leadership

The Heart of Leadership

Leadership Skills vs. Leadership Character

Throughout this business parable book, Miller uses the metaphor of an iceberg to illustrate that  leadership skills (what we see of the iceberg) only matter if there is plenty of leadership character below the waterline.

Developing leadership character is more than what we typically trot out as traits of a leader: honesty, loyalty, dependability, etc. According to Debbie, the book’s ‘guide’ character,  “You can have impeccable character–be honest, loyal, dependable, and so on–and still not demonstrate leadership character.

The Five Core Leadership Traits (I’ll Tease You with Two)

The balance of the book follows the main character, Blake Brown, as Debbie introduces him to five different leaders. Each leader sheds some new light on what makes up ‘leadership character.’

I don’t often pick up business parable books, but they seem to always convey truth in a powerful and relatable way. While all five of Miller’s leadership character traits resonated, two in particular stood out:

    1. Respond with Courage: This character trait implies that leaders do not wait to act. They make the tough decisions – some that might not be popular: “When leaders lead well, not everyone is going to be happy.” What a powerful and sobering statement. A leader has to  make the tough call, the call best for an organization or mission.
    2. Accept Responsibility: This trait calls on the leader to own the bad outcomes and distribute the praise for the good outcomes. This is vital not only in that a leader needs to be willing to take the hit for his or her team, but also so that the right lessons will be learned. As Coach Bradley explains to Blake in the book, “The best leaders don’t blame others. they own their actions and their outcomes.

Heard of Leadership Wisdom

I recommend the book. It’s a short read (clocking in at 120 pages), yet it’s packed full of memorable shots of wisdom.

The book confronted me with what is at the core of the difference between leaders and those who just have some skill. It pulls back the corner and provides not just a look into what the differences are, but a clear path to develop these traits.

I also highly encourage you to check out Mark Miller’s blog. It has some of the best and most accessible and actionable leadership content: Check out Great Leaders Serve.

Please  Comment:

What do you think are key qualities of a leader? Think of someone you’ve respected. Why did she or he stand out?

Mark Miller, well known business leader, best-selling author, and communicator, is excited about sharing The Heart of Leadership: Becoming a Leader People Want to Follow with those who are ready to take the next step. You can find it on Amazon and in bookstores everywhere.


  1. brentmkelly says:

    Brett, that is such a great question. As an employee, one thing that is very important to me is vision. Leaders can’t predict the future, but they can envision it and share that with their team.

    I will definitely add the book to my “growing” wish list.

    • Brent – that is so true. It was kind of addressed in the book in a couple ways, but not as one of the main five. But I totally agree. Clarity of purpose and vision.

  2. jackwbruce says:

    Brett, I will put The Heart of Leadership on my “wish list.” Thanks for sharing. One of the key qualities of leadership is Attentive Listening.

    • Good one. I can always tell when I’m in the presence of a leader when I realized I spent more time talking–and realize how far I have to go.

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