Leadership Notes #18 – Max De Pree and the De Pree Leadership Center

(This series of “notes” first appeared in the YahooGroup “VenturingList” and are written by Michael Brown. I thought that they were worth sharing with the Commissioner Corps.)

Max De Pree is an interesting character in the world of servant leadership and leadership development. He is a son of D. J. De Pree, founder of the Herman Miller office furniture company. Now, you may not have heard of Herman Miller, but it is a very successful company which is also known for their corporate culture which has been very employee focused. They implemented the Scanlon Plan (Scanlon.org), as well as servant leadership. Max and his brother Hugh De Pree assumed leadership of the company in the early 1960s. He succeeded his brother Hugh as CEO in the mid-1980s and served in that capacity to 1990. After this he moved into his ‘second career’ as a writer and speaker on leadership, including servant leadership. He has written several works on the topic.

In 1996, the De Pree Center was founded in connection with the Fuller Theological Seminary. In 1999, Walter Wright came on board as the executive director, and in 2009 the Center’s name was changed to the Max De Pree Center for Leadership. The focus of the center is on the “relational leadership” ideas of Max, which is Max’s take on servant leadership which focuses on the relationship between the leader and the follower, which takes on a mentoring element.

Max himself has written four books, and contributed to several shorter works. His main two works are “Leadership is an Art” (1989) and “Leadership Jazz” (1992/2008). These are the works he is most famous for, and deservedly so. “Leadership Jazz” has recently been revised, but I am not familiar with what has been changed. This two are very readable works on Max De Pree’s view on leadership, and ones I would recommend to anyone. The theme of “Leadership is an Art” is that leadership is about liberating people to what is required in the most effective and humane way possible and “Leadership Jazz” continues that theme.

His next book is a little different, “Leading without Power: Finding Hope in Serving Community” (2001). While the first two focused on business (but the ideas could be used anywhere), here his focus is on the non-profit world, again with the purpose of how to bring out the best in people. “Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board” (2003), is as its title suggested, is focused on those who serve as part of a trustee group for an organization, and would have a limited audience. I actually have not read this one.

In addition to these works, he has also contributed to a few short monographs published by the De Pree Center, such as “Mentoring: Two Voices” (with Walter Wright, Jr) and “Does Leadership Have a Future?”

I should also point out the works done by Walter Wright, Jr, who is the executive director of the Center. First off, there is “Don’t Step on the Rope! Reflections on Leadership, Relationships and Teamwork” (2005). This work focuses on teamwork and how to develop and nurture teams. There is also his work “Mentoring: The Promise of Relational Leadership” (2005), which I don’t yet have, so can’t comment on it. Then there is “Relational Leadership: A Biblical Model for Influence and Service”, revised (2009), which is his take on servant leadership. The term “relational leadership” is used, because the focus is on the relationship between the leader and the follower. It’s not a different form of servant leadership, but one were we focus on that relationship.

In addition to those, he has also contributed to some short monograph as well, such as the previously mentioned “Mentoring: Two Voices”, as well as “The Gift of Mentors”.

The Center has put out several good works, so I recommend you check them out.