Learning Into Action: Quotes and Takeaways from “Leadership Beyond Reason”

I set a goal to read 40 books this year. As part of that venture, I want to make sure I’m learning into action — not just reading to mark a book as read.

One of the best ways I can internalize what I’m reading and learning is to reflect back on the key takeaways and to share with others, inviting them to learn and step into action, too.

I just finished reading Leadership Beyond Reason by Dr. John Townsend (my eighth book so far this year). You may know him as one of the co-authors of Boundaries, a highly recommended read.

Let me give you a quick overview of the whole book.

Our inner world shapes our external world.

“Great leaders succeed by harnessing the power of both the external world and the internal world.”

In this book, Townsend outlines how our inner world is made up of four key parts: values, thoughts, emotions, and relationships.

Here are just a few great quotes from each major section:

On Values

  • “Organizational values help guide the mission, but personal values are ultimately where organizational values are derived from…Personal values will always override organizational values.”

On Thoughts

  • “Be aware that your mind can make mistakes. The more you know about your thinking patterns, the better equipped you are for leadership.”
  • “A well-trained intuition is a good servant and a poor master.”
  • “Look at not only what you are think but how you are thinking.”

On Emotions

  • “Though it is natural to think your feelings are telling you about someone or something, this is not what mature leaders assume. It is what children think. Not only that, but you are also to determine if the feeling actually has something to do with you. This is always the best first step.”

On Relationships

  • “Personal transformation is not something you can do alone.”
  • “You need to take undue pressure off your spouse and get a few good friends who are safe and understand you.”
  • “Empathy is the ability to put your own experience on the back burner and enter the experience of another person.”

“Emotions don’t exist of and for themselves. Your emotions have a function, a purpose, a role.”

Embed within the section on emotions, which Townsend defines as “subjective reactions,” four negative and four positive emotions are highlighted. Anxiety, anger, and sadness are the negative; warmth, satisfaction, happiness, and passion, the positive.

I really appreciate the way Townsend lays out understanding the role each emotion plays, adding depth and context to these emotions we all experience from time to time. It’s clear, each emotion plays a good and appropriate role in our lives, but they are also prone to distortion and misuse. As a baseline, he provides concise definitions of each:

  • Anxiety: “a season of unease, fear, or dread that signals you to move away from something or someone”
  • Anger: “a call to address conflict”
  • Sadness: a signal that “something or someone we value and care about has left us.”
  • Guilt/Shame: “an attack by yourself on our self “
  • Warmth: “draws you to move toward people you care about and engage with them.”
  • Satisfaction: “a feeling of contentment that we have completed a task we are proud of.”
  • Happiness: “a sense of well-being and contentment in general”
  • Passion: “focused desire”

The sections on happiness and sadness, stand out to me as particularly important.

Here are a few quotes to highlight the role these two core emotions play.

On Sadness

  • “Sadness tells you to let go and move on. It points you to the reality that you can’t have something you desire, at least today, and you need to go another route.”
  • “Your sadness points you to a consigned and limited helplessness that will help you face your loss and move to those matters in which you can be helpful and effective.”
  • “Stay up-to-date on your grief and losses. Don’t let them go unattended for a long time….The sooner you grieve something, the less time it will take to let it go.”

On Happiness

  • “It doesn’t take a lot of character or maturity to feel happy when happy things happen….Of all the emotions you have, happiness is the one that is most dependent on your circumstances and least dependent on you as a person.”
  • “Happiness is a valuable experience, but it is a miserable goal.”
  • “Look at what made you happy for those few minutes and be grateful for that event.”
  • “No one who builds a great organization, leads people to a worthy goal, crafts a successful marriage, or launches competent kids does so without some significant measure of unhappiness along the way. But for people who undertake a life of meaning and purpose, losing some happiness along the way is a small price to pay. The eventual achievement and results bring all the happiness they need in the end.”
  • “There are two major demographics of people who are focused on happiness as their goal. They are children and addicts.”

Having finished the book this morning, my next steps are to internalize key points and take action:

  • Identify Your Values. There are three kinds: Blue Sky Values (what you think is important to you), Dark Values (negative ones that are your reality and need to be resolved), and External Values (ones you appreciate and want to adopt)
  • Become Self-Observant. See how you affect others, be willing and able to the see the negative in yourself, and experience the present during the present (closing the gap on self reflection).
  • Get Connected to Others Who Value the Inside World. We become like those we spend time with. The more high-quality people you are learning from, the more high-quality people you will attract to your circles, teams, and organizations.
  • Tie the Work to the Outcomes. The effort and work we put in must create a benefit, otherwise we stop doing that work and move on to something else that creates a clearer value (whether it’s good or not).
“When you can see your role as a leader in a larger picture, as someone who is being led and resource day God, it can go a long way toward helping you reduce the fear and doubts many leaders experience. We feel less anxiety when we know it’s not completely and totally up to us alone. We are being helped.”

It’s a great book, definitely worth revisiting to help me integrate values, thoughts, emotions, and relationships into the transformation — “a thorough change” — that Townsend describes as the book wraps up.

“The leader who pays attention to personal transformation will continue to be on the path of change and improvement.”

You can get the book on Amazon here.

Related or similar books to Leadership Beyond Reason I have read:


Here are even more great quotes from Leadership Beyond Reason, if you’re still interested and avoiding doing something else right now:

  • “Your leadership, as well as your life, will reflect your values, for good or for bad.”
  • “In your own leadership, face reality first. Good leaders think about reality first and then find solutions and opportunities second.”
  • “A well-trained intuition is a good servant and a poor master.”
  • “Whether you originate your ideas lone or in a meeting, make sure that on a regular basis someone, somewhere knows what you are thinking.”
  • “When leaders don’t experience satisfaction, they often become driven and frenetic. They are productive, to some extent, but it’s ultimately a recipe for misery.”
  • “Just remember the problem-solving nature of anger. Don’t avoid it. Don’t let it control you. Be sure to find its source, and take action.”
  • “Your sadness points you to a consigned and limited helplessness that will help you face your loss and move to those matters in which you can be helpful and effective.”
  • “Happiness is a valuable experience, but it is a miserable goal.”
  • “The basic formula to discovering and harnessing your passion: look inside, and then go out and try things.”
  • “Successful leaders learn to provide relationship and reality at the same time.”
  • (People) “need you to provide a structure for them to push themselves toward the goal”
  • “Create a culture that sees challenge as good or everyone, and you need to make sure that challenge is seen as normal reality.”
  • “When approaching the arena of the personal — our character, growth issues, and our ability to relate — we do not have the option to manage weaknesses; we need resolve them.”
  • “Successful leaders confront well; that has long been established….It is more a matter of transformational matter than a skills matter.”
  • “Character weaknesses, as opposed to competency weaknesses or styles, are meant to be transformed.”