Leading Happy

Where Leadership and Happiness Collide

Category: Book Reviews (page 3 of 7)

Killing Us Softly: A Review


Growing up, one of my favorite groups was The Fugees. One of their hit songs is Killing Me Softly. In this song, an unsuspecting lady listens to this master musician as he sings a song that somehow unmasks her hard exterior and speaks deep to her at the soul level. How could this man know her so well? Where was this coming from? Was she dying to one thing only to be born into another? The song is deep on so many levels.

Pastor, nonprofit president, author, and innovative, biblical leader, Efrem Smith is one of my favorite Christian leaders to follow, listen to, and read. His other books have been a huge inspiration, and his 2008 Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit talk has been one I’ve yet to forget. In a nutshell, his passion is contagious. Plus, his love for the downtrodden, poor, disenfranchised, imprisoned, and hurting as potential kingdom partners and those who have been radically converted to be the ones who will be those who help bring about radical change in the world is inspiring, to say the least.

In Killing Us Softly, Smith provides a biblical framework for understanding what it means to die to ourselves so that Christ may truly live and move through us to a broken and upside down world. Not only is it full of Scripture, Smith shares stories from his own life and those who have been impacted by the message of bringing hope to an upside down world. The upside down world we live is, according to Efrim, is one full of broken lives, relationships, and systems and institutions. Therefore, self-help, the government, charities, and programming will never bring hope to this world that is turned upside down. The only hope is Jesus and his work to slowly kill that which is not of him and replace it with his mission to turn the world rightside up.

I have read many books in this vein and most tend to be overdone on stories and practically void of Scripture (or Scripture used inappropriately). Smith only uses stories from his life and a few other pointed stories to build on his dialog of being people who bring turn the world right side up through the slow death to self to birth in our new life in Christ. Further, his use of Scripture to allow Scripture to speak for itself is absolutely refreshing. About half way through the book, Smith utilizes the story of John 4 and the women at the well with Jesus (the entire story) interweaving other stories about her journey and the journey we all take to become the right side people who will bring hope to an upside down world.

Overall, the writing was clean and clear. It was an easy read for someone who may be new in Christ to those who are needing to be reminded of why we serve Jesus – for the poor, hurting, imprisoned, and downcast. The pace is rapid and yet at the end of each chapter you can stop to answer the reflection questions. One oddity, the only one really, which popped out at me was the book simply ends. The pace and story was so such a journey that in my opinion could have ended with a more profound criscendo. I would compare it to hearing a wonderful speaker who gets only an hour to share and ends leaving you wanting more, even after an hour! Smith’s ending was one that seems like he simply came to an ending, but not really the ending the book deserves.

I would highly recommend this book to four types of people:

  1. Pastors who desire to see more compassion ministry being done in their church and town.
  2. Nonprofit leaders who need inspiration to keep on doing what they do best.
  3. Youth and/or young adult pastors who speak to the next generation of leaders who need to hear this message.

And the fourth person is the most needed and unique:

4. Those who work with men and women in prisons, homeless shelters, juvenile programs, and inner city ministries because they can benefit in such a special way from the encouraging message of Efrim Smith.

Killing Us Softly is as much a message for Christ followers to die to self as much as it is a call to living a reborn life empowering the least of these. Further, it is a message to help empower the least of these to reach the least of these. Who better to reach those in prisons, shelter, and in poverty than those in the same position. WHo said God can’t empower them to do so? If that thought made you stop and think for a moment, than read this book to take the idea deeper. You won’t regret it!

Smith, Efrem. Killing Us Softly: Reborn in the Upside-Down Image of God. Colorado Springs; Navpress, 2017. 275pp. $14.99.

*I was provided this book at no cost for reviewing purposes. 

Great Gift for that Leader in Your Life



Maxwell, John. Leadership Promises for Every Day: A Daily Devotional. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016. 390pp. $19.99.

So I will confess I am a John Maxwell junkie. I have encountered his teachings at so many conferences, DVDs, podcasts, and round tables, not to mention my entire shelf of Maxwell books. I have even been talking with a rep with his consulting certification as a Maxwell Team Coach. I like to admit my biases up front. It’s a fault, but people love me for it. Yet, I will also admit up front, I am not a fan of devotionals. I am that guy that tends to smile when a devotional if given to me, and then uses it for a paperweight the rest if the year.

(If you have given me a devotional, I am sorry.)

Nevertheless, when I was sent this copy of Leadership Promises for Everyday by Maxwell, I was incredibly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I found myself wanting to read 10 or 12 in one setting. The Scripture references with a pithy leadership or ministry ideas for the leader at any level was addicting. Possibly needless to say, I read most of the devotional in about two weeks time. (Like I said, devotionals and I are either in love or we hate each other.)

Why I believe this devotional is worth it is because of John Maxwell himself. His decades of credibility, his endless writing career, and his passion for Christian leadership grants him a place at the head of the table in a leader’s development. Honestly, even if you have never read a Maxwell book, you still glean from his other writings as the devotional takes advantage of his previous books. In other words, you can read a dozen, 300 page books or you can get daily doses to advantageously apply to your life and leadership.


Why I mention it as a great gift idea for that leader in your life is because of the size, cover, and price. Its cover is made of imitation leather with embossed lettering and a creatively designed, embossed compass. The size is perfect to set on a desk or to carry along in a bag or with one’s Bible as a companion. Many of the pages, even with the smaller size, has room enough to write a leadership idea that comes up and you don’t want to forget. The pages are coated so great for underlining and highlighting without bleed through. Two of my pet peeves with thin pages in books made for note taking and idea generation. Don’t judge, you know it bugs you too!

Plus, the price is a perfect price point for a gift. At under $20, you cannot beat the look and content you get. I worked in retail in my younger years, and we always had people coming in looking for a good gifts for their boss, pastor, or leader in their life. Hey, all you have to do it click on the link above and BOOM Amazon delivers the gift right to you (or even them). I know, but no thanks necessary. I am there for you!

Now if you are really an over-planner (it’s okay, this is a safe place to share), this is a great idea for that graduation you know is coming in May 2017! Mind Blown?!?! I know, but stay calm. *Digital Hi-Five*

So do yourself a favor or get that leader in your life a worthy gift. I have yet to go wrong with a Maxwell book to my leader friendships and now they have one that’s just perfect for gifting.

So lead on and lead happy!

Pithy Sayings, Major Changes


I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t have some desire to do or be better at something. When it comes to betterment, habits come into play. Whether you are shooting basket after basket or chip shot after chipshot or writing, writing, editing, and writing some more, doing something over and over till it becomes habitual is the most effective way to sustainable change. Some scientists say it takes 21 days while others prove it takes over 50 days, but both agree it takes a lengthy time commitment. Here is where M. J. Ryan’s Habit Changers becomes advantageous.

Her book is divided into sections with an alphabetic order from A to W, with topics from Acceptance, Change, Happiness, Perfectionism, Risk Taking, and Worry. (You can tell what captures my attention easily.) Within the A through W divisions, are easy to remember or memorize matras. I will list a few that have already helped me on my quest to grow into the Me I Want to Be!

Acceptance – “This Person is My Teacher”

I needed this in my life because I often come across others who think they can do it better, think charity work is wrong, or cannot believe I would waste my time preaching and teaching the Bible. We will have enemies. We will have others who disagree. We will have confrontations. The key to remember from this idea is that we can learn from anyone. It’s about us and our response, not the other person who we cannot control.

Change – “Build a Bridge to the Future on the Pillars of the Past”

Ryan explains that often when we are ready fro change we feel as if we are standing on one side of the Grand Canyon trying to figure out how to get to the other side. This is when you need to realize that to get to your desired future you build on your learned past strengths one pillar at a time. for me, what I learned working for Staples for years, honing my skills at customer service, actually propelled me ahead of the rest when I went into full time ministry designing welcome points and processes for churches making them more guest friendly. At first, I wondered how my years at Staples would help me be a man of the cloth, so to speak, and yet it was the defining feature that set me above the rest in an area that now is common in churches, although a decade ago, was not.

Happiness – “Change it, Leave it, or Accept it”

When I get fixated on a change I want to make in my life or leadership, I tend to fuss about it till others around me are quietly thinking, “Get on with it then!” Okay, maybe not so quietly. But we all find ourselves there from time to time. To truly be happy, we need to examine our life and decide when we want to change something, when its time to move on, and when we simply need to accept – it is what it is. As she writes in the book, “Acceptance is an act of surrender, the opposite of effort.” When you have truly placed positive effort towards something for a certain length of time with little to no results, acceptance may be the key to your eventual happiness.

Perfectionism – “Feed Forward, Not Back”

Building off the coined term “feed forward” from executive leadership coach and author Marshall Goldsmith, dealing with feedback only is dealing with the past. If it was a past failure, you are reliving it only to fail again, if only in the mind. It’s a no win. But “feed forward” is when you take a failure, realize you are not perfect, and create a path of success built on past failure. We cannot correct the past but we can course correct for the future!

Worry – “Outsource Your Worry”

This has nothing to do with finding someone else to worry for you. That doesn’t help anyone. The concept has to do with taking the things that worry you and finding someone who potentially excels at them or at least can help you move through them and therefore avoid the internal struggle of worry. Ryan explains when we worry we can get stuck in a cycle. When you feel worry, or the spinning coming on, Outsourcing Your Worry, reminds you to reach out and get help. For me, it was about knowing when to take something to the team and not play it so close to the chest. Can it make you look weak? Possibly. Does worry make you look strong? Absolutely not! You never know, you team or friend or whoever you reach out to may have a new found respect for your authenticity.

I give this book 5-stars because I feel like the author, an internationally recognized female leader and executive coach, has zoned in on and simplified a book of resonating truths for anyone to grasp. It’s like having a personal coach to tote around in your backpack or set next to your desk. Further, instead of being a one-time read, it’s a leadership reference to go back to on a weekly basis.

I highly recommend this to those in leadership positions of any kind. If I was to focus on a few types, I would say women in leadership, human resources and development, consultants, and life coaches. I believe the world needs more solid, thriving women leaders and M.J. Ryan will inspire ladies to see if she can do it, so can you! Those in development roles are always looking for books full of pithy teaching principles and this book does not disappoint. Even if you used one phrase at a time for a meeting or staff training, you can literally go for a almost two years! Finally, Consultants and coaches are those who are leading other leaders, and these types need to stay ahead of the leadership curve and be ready with solid advice. Again, Habit Changers doesn’t disappoint, especially as it accesses dozens of other leadership resources and already drills them down into bite-sized principles for the busy leader.

Whether you need a morning jolt of leadership with your morning caffeination or find yourself up against a wall and needing some inspiration, Habit Changers is a book that will keep on giving the gift of leadership for years to come!

Ryan, M. J. Habit Changers: 81 Game-Changing Mantras to Mindfully Realize Your Goals. New York: Crown Business, 2016. 240pp. $22.00.

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