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November 2013


Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up by Paul Schmitz (Jossey-Bass 2012)


What are the big take-aways?


Paul Schmitz is the CEO of Public Allies, a national nonprofit that identifies and develops young leaders from all walks of life in order to make communities stronger.  In this part-memoir, and part-how-to-manual in community leadership development, Schmitz shares how his own life story has shaped his belief that everyone can be a leader.


In the Afterword (p. 269), he recaps:


This book began with the idea that leadership is an action that many can take, not a position that only few can hold.  Leadership is about stepping up to take personal responsibility for working with others to achieve common goals.  It is also about practicing those values that are most effective today in engaging diverse individuals and groups to work together to strengthen communities.


The heart of the book is structured around the “five core values” of the Public Allies program (i.e. Recognizing and Mobilizing All of a Community’s Assets, Connecting Across Cultures, Facilitating Collaborative Action, Continuously Learning and Improving, and Being Accountable to Ourselves and Others.)


Why do I like it?


Schmitz’s candor in sharing the success and failures of his own leadership journey, coupled with the incredibly rich and diverse profiles the books offers of many of the “Allies” who have gone through the program, is inspiring.  While all of these stories are amazing, they are not unbelievable or even unrelatable – which is Schmitz’s point.  The choice of leadership really is available to almost everyone, and he proves it.


He’s also very clear and comprehensive in describing the technical and aspirational aspects of how the Public Allies program works, which serves as a nice summary of many of the proven best practices available in leadership development programs today.  The one major piece of the Public Allies community leadership program that it is either an area for growth – or simply wasn’t revealed in the book – is the explicit incorporation of an adult developmental approach, the purpose of which would be to nurture the Allies’ leadership in the most developmentally-appropriate and transformational way possible.


In what situations would this be useful?


If you believe in Schmitz’s fundamental idea that “everyone leads,” then this book will validate your perspective, strengthen your position when you are seeking information to persuade others to adopt it, and offer you lots of stories and strategies (including training and facilitation tips) that will support you directly in your efforts.


Everyone Leads would also be useful to young leaders who question Schmitz’s premise but are open to hearing the story of how he used and sold drugs as a teenager, struggled with treatment, suffered many years of depression, sought enough help to get through it, and eventually came to understand himself enough to open up to new experiences that then led to all kinds of opportunities.


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


Schmitz cites many of my favorite resources throughout the book, including some “guiding lights” whose works I’ve previously reviewed in the Leadership Library, such as Bill George (Finding Your True North) and Robert Greenleaf (“Servant Leadership”), among others.


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