September 9, 2002
Whitworth President Authors Book on 'Leading from the Middle'When Whitworth President Bill Robinson sat down to write a book about leadership, he had to ignore his inner voice that told him, "That's the last thing the world needs." But in listening to lessons from American history, from trends in organizational change, and from his own experience over 16 years as a college president, Robinson discovered insights for helping leaders blend the theoretical and the practical to navigate their organizations through the turbulence of the 21st century.
Leading People from the Middle -- The Universal Mission of Heart and Mind, published by Executive Excellence Publishing, is available at Whitworth's bookstore (509-777-4524) and from major bookstores in Spokane and online. (See schedule of readings below.) Robinson's colleagues hail the book as an engaging read with helpful observations about Robinson's own experience leading from the middle of the Whitworth community. Any leader seeking to negotiate the complex, and often competing, demands of 21st-century organizations will find this book invaluable.
"Bill Robinson alerts us to the serious changes taking place in the leader's job and raises the crucial question of the relationship of organizations and society," says Max O. DePree, best-selling author of Leadership is an Art, and Leadership Jazz.
Robert C. Andringa, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, adds, "Bill Robinson forces us to evaluate our own leadership styles in light of well-defined changes in 21st-century organizational life. His informality and subtle humor make this an easy book to read, but you won't be able to stop thinking about how you will solve the paradoxical demands on your role."
The book addresses 20th century leadership assumptions, the new dynamics of 21st-century leadership, and how leaders can change to meet the demands of today's organizations. "Over the course of this book, it will become clear that my understanding of leading from the middle refers to influencing from among, rather than from above, below, or in front of one's group," Robinson writes in the book's introduction. "Leading from the middle refers to positioning ourselves alongside of those whom we've empowered. It refers to living in the center of a mission, rather than simply lifting it up."
He is quick to say, however, that leaders still set the standard, "Leading is hard work -- a lot harder than just being in charge. Good leaders love the hunt. The more pressure the better. They'll stand on their heads to help people achieve the group's goal. They're calm in the whirlpools and they're whirlpools in the calm, but they're seldom resting. They feed on getting the job done."
Truth be told, Robinson didn't really set out to write a book at all. During a 10-week sabbatical in 2001, he sought to review the literature on organizational communication and leadership from his studies in graduate school and to examine what had happened in the field since that time. He conceived the book project primarily as a means of discipline for his research, but it grew into a publishable record of theoretical insights illustrated by lessons and anecdotes from Robinson's uniquely paradoxical approach to leadership.
"I think it's audacious for anyone to write a book on leadership, but this is what interests me and what I wanted to think and write about," Robinson says. "It's really a 250-page explanation of why I do what I do."
Robinson assumed his duties as the 17th president of Whitworth College in July 1993, after previously serving for seven years as president of Manchester College in Indiana. He received his bachelor's degree from the University of Northern Iowa, his master's degree from Wheaton College, and his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh. He also did postgraduate studies at Princeton Theological Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute. His scholarly work focused on organizational, small-group, cross-cultural and interpersonal communication.
Since arriving at Whitworth, Robinson has focused on expanding the college's financial resource base, improving communication and organizational structure on campus, and opening up lines of communication with college constituents. For the past five years, undergraduate enrollment has been at capacity, the academic profile and student retention numbers are at all-time highs, and several major capital projects have been completed.
In addition to his college responsibilities, Robinson is immediate past chair of the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce and serves on the boards of Princeton Theological Seminary, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities and the Spokane Symphony.
Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private, liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The college enrolls 2,100 students in more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs.
Sylvia Hedrick, assistant to the president, (509) 777-4650 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greg Orwig, director of communications, (509) 777-4580 or email@example.com.
Mark Jessen, Executive Excellence Publishing, (801) 375-4060 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scheduled Book Readings and Signings:
Sept. 24, 2002, 7:30 p.m. Auntie's Bookstore, 402 W. Main, Spokane.
Oct. 3, 2002, 7:00 p.m., Kaufer's Bookstore, 907 W. Boone, Spokane.
Oct. 14, 2002, 7 p.m., Barnes & Noble Bookstore, 15310 E. Indiana, Spokane.
Related LinksWhitworth Press Release Index