Author shares concept of 'selfless leadership' through book

Cary Ashby • Oct 25, 2018 at 4:00 PM

What became the fiction book “Lead … for God’s Sake!” was conceived as a step-by-step approach to leadership.

“But nothing came out,” said author Todd Gongwer, who changed the concept to a story. “I struggled for about two weeks trying to write it another way, so this is fiction.

“When I did that, every time I sat down everything just poured out, so it was about a seven- or eight-week process. I didn’t push it,” added the northern Indiana resident. “So far that’s my only official book. Now I’ve written a lot of leadership training stuff prior to that.”

The book, published in 2010, is slightly more than 240 pages long. St. Paul High and Norwalk Catholic junior high school students, leadership, faculty and staff members have received a copy as a gift from a generous donor.

Gongwer has spent the past week speaking to students, staff, teachers and the public about the concept of leadership. In addition, the author led an all-day workshop for the area Teen Leadership Corps classes Wednesday at Norwalk High School.

“Eighty to 90 percent of what I do is in public shools, public businesses and things like that, so there’s a faith message, but people continually say it meets you where you are,” Gongwer said. “Even though I’m from Indiana, probably about 90 percent of what I do is outside the state of Indiana.”

The author incorporated his experiences as an assistant college basketball and working in the business world into his book. 

“I grew up being in and around business my while life — so family business, owning my own companies and working at a manufacturing firm as a senior officer for about five years. Then we were bought by our largest competitor, which was a public company,” said Gongwer, who coached for slightly more than 10 years.

In early September, St. Paul and NCS junior-high school students gathered in St. Paul Catholic Church to begin their book study. The group read the first two chapters together.

Principal Jim Tokarsky, who led the session, discussed “Lead … for God’s Sake!” in the “School Matters” column published by the Norwalk Reflector.

“This book by Todd Gongwer is a modern parable about a successful, yet restless Kentucky basketball coach,” Tokarsrky said. “Ultimately the book is about relationships and our need to foster and care for them. We will never reach true happiness or our full potential without tending to our relationships. (One of the characters) Joe reveals lessons of servant leadership and (the) coach tries to put these lessons into action.”

Whether it was in the sports or business worlds, Gongwer “was seeing the need” for leadership. In both instances, he said there’s a need for having a selfless mentality.

“When it all comes down it, the most fulfilling (is) that selfless kind of leadership. We talk about servant leadership a lot, but I would even call it selfless leadership, which goes back to why do we do what we do. Are we leading for the purpose of our advancement or … the betterment of those people around you?,” he added. “I don’t care what background you’re in; that’s the secret to leadership.”

Through October, the St. Paul and NCS students have met as a large group to read Gongwer’s book. They divided into smaller groups that have read and discussed it each week. The groups will be a mix of students from each grade level that also serves as their group for the annual Make a Difference Day.

NCS President Dennis Doughty said the book essentially is the “our theme right now” in the school.

“We want all of our students to be leaders,” he added.

The subtitle of “Lead … for God’s Sake!” is “A Parable for Finding the Heart of Leadership.”

“There is a strong faith message, but it’s a very broad-based, far-reaching parable. It kind of meets people where they are,” Gongwer said.

When “Lead … for God’s Sake!” got into the hands of Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer, other coaches and “high-profile names,” Gongwer said that’s when “the word spread” about his novel.

“The book has been making a lot of progress in this area — a lot of people in Ohio. Urban Meyer wrote the foreward; it changed his life when he was between Florida and Ohio State, in terms of his career. A big part of the story is how much it has impacted him,” Gongwer said. “So naturally it’s been pretty big in Ohio.

“It’s a pretty emotional read,” Gongwer added. “If you talk to people, it resonates deep and that’s what happened with Urban.”

“Lead … for God’s Sake!” has an intentional double-meaning in its title.

Gongwer said there are different ways to read or interpret the title and as one reads the story, it speaks to both putting the emphasis on the word “lead” or the phrase “for God’s sake.” 

“So there’s a lot to that title,” he added. 

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