A Book for the beach the snow and 2017

My friend Mike Tenbusch asked me if I’d write about his book in this space.  I honestly can’t remember anyone asking me that before (although in 16 years of writing it, I’m sure someone has).  So, Mike is first. I have often quoted Kouzes & Posner in this space who write, “leaders go first.” On its face, it’s kind of a dumb line, because it sketches a visual tautology.  Of course leaders go first.  You can’t lead a race from anywhere but the front of a pack, right?   But the authors mean by this line: leaders go first in taking risks, in exposing themselves to ridicule or rejection, to failure or isolation.  I couldn’t reject Mike, though. I always want to follow Mike.


When he started Think Detroit with Dan Varner — explaining to us in our kitchen how he and Dan were eschewing their freshly minted law degrees to dedicate themselves to urban education — Jennifer and I wrote the second check to Think Detroit (Mike’s mom had already led with her support).  We have admired his efforts in urban education ever since.

I am pushing his book, The Jonathan Effect, because I want you to consider following Mike.  I am going to.  I am nervous about following him again, but I think it’s going to make my 2017 more satisfying and meaningful.  Maybe yours, too.

Follow where?   Into Detroit or Oakland or Delhi or L.A. or . . .

But first, let Mike bring you into his remarkable life — 30 years of passionate commitment to urban education, where he’s done direct service, volunteered, researched and thought and read and challenged conventions. And where he’s refused to let ideology or political correctness or his own poverty or moments of despair or anything else keep him from staying committed.  His eyes are wide open and he’ll share the statistics that can make you feel hopeless, but he’ll offer you a way out . . . to offer children a way out.

I started the book on the plane from Detroit to Oakland and finished it in an Uber to our home. Jennifer shielded me as I cried  in my window seat (not that I cared about being seen).  I was moved when he wrote about his dad (who had taught me freshman English in high school and whose challenging early life I had not known about).  I eagerly turned my Kindle’s “pages,” as he shared his story of discovery, and especially as he talked about a young man on the west side of Detroit he continues to befriend, on this man’s “hero’s journey.” I felt alternately felt my indignation, hope and determination grow.

It’s a leadership book.  Mike doesn’t toot his own horn, but you can’t help but be inspired. But it’s one in which he is also leading the reader to lead, to take a risk, to move beyond sadness or outrage about the impoverished children in our segregated cities, to see a way out (not just for them but for us).

Do yourself a favor and check out a sample and see what you think.  It might be just what you need in 2017.  I’m buying copies for my church as I plan to share my friend Mike with them, hopefully to spread the message and the resolve to act.

I hope the season of giving lavishes joy upon you.

Talk to you in 2017!!!!


  • Dan thanks for your ongoing updates Appreciated throughout the year. Regards to Jennifer and family. The best for the holiday season and beyond

    Will certainly check out Mike’s book.

    Thanks again

  • I just purchased the book based on your experience alone, I am sure I will have the same reaction. Thank Dan for the review! Keep leading…

  • Happy holidays, Dan. Thank you for continuing to share your wisdom and leadership lessons. We appreciate your gracious support, and we look forward to learning from you in 2017. I can’t wait to read Mike’s book. Thanks for letting us know about it. We wish you, Jennifer, and the kids a joyous, prosperous and healthy New Year.

    Take good care.

    Love ’em and lead ’em,


  • As I read the first page the first question was, is this a black man or a white man writing? Urban, apparently random murders are the subject of so much of that first page. I read the author’s accomplishments, and then the question was, why is he not the new Secretary of Education? Why do I associate a page of urban murders with one race? I live in a nearly all white community, far from urban centers, knowing mainly what I read or see on TV about life in large cities. Betsy Devos, I doubt would read this book, but she ought to, and she ought to put Mike Tenbusch in a significant rile in the Department of Education. Actually, I think she ought to step aside and recommend that Mike Tenbusch be given the job. Someone who has scraped their way to such success knows how hard it is to make the system work for all of us.

  • A little backstory here about Dan… I finished college at Loyola Chicago in 1991 and returned home telling my dad that I didn’t know what I was going to do next, but I just wanted a job “doing something positive in Detroit,” To his credit, he didn’t throttle me. He said instead, “You should talk with Dan Mulhern. He’s one of the smartest students I ever had. He has a Harvard Law Degree, and he’s the Director of Youth Programs for Wayne County.”

    A couple of phone calls and weeks later, Dan and I had lunch at Chung’s restaurant in Detroit’s Cass Corridor–a favorite restaurant of the late Mayor Coleman Young. I tell Dan my story and ambitions to make a difference, and he recommends five organizations that I should talk to. Two of them, he say’s, won’t hire me because of my long hair, which was half way down my back at that time. Two of them will hire me because of it. And the last one he’s not sure on.

    I go home, make calls to all five, and maybe get one or two return phone calls. A week later, Dan sends a glowing personal letter to the CEO’s of all five organizations, telling them both about my dad and about me, and I get all five interviews. Just as Dan said, my long hair iced me with two jobs and sealed the deal with two others. I ended up taking the position with the fifth one–at the Metro Detroit Youth Foundation. My boss, Harry Bryant, who was a Marine in Viet Nam, offered me the job contingent on getting my hair cut. “You want to be different,” he said, “wear a football helmet around town. That’s unique and I’d admire you for that. But any fool can walk around with long hair. That’s not different.”

    Mr. Bryant’s perspective, and the work I did for him teaching low-income Detroiters how to get a job and succeed in it, forged the desire in me to start a new non profit to create better conditions for young people, which is ultimately what Dan Varner and I did with Think Detroit, which is where Mulhern’s post about our friendship picks up.

    But as Paul Harvey would say, “Now you know the rest of the story.” Dan Mulhern saw something in me and went out of his way to help me achieve my destiny. First with the letters he wrote for a 21-year-old kid with hair too long, and in countless ways for 26 years after that, helping me to be a better leader, husband, father, and even now, an author.

    He is one of the reasons I am so passionate about the impact that adults can have in young people’s lives when they make a commitment to help them achieve their destiny–and then to stick with them until they do.

    • Mike,

      Thanks for the great memories. I had forgotten the long hair story. But I’ll never forget your passion, smile, laughter and filthy car :-).

      Your comment also affirms what I wrote last week: Our partnerships may offer us more opportunity to impact the world than anything we can do on our own. When we spot, affirm and help to evoke and channel another’s deep passion there is no end to what they can do.

      And it’s a lovely bonus to be gratified by the amazing things our “partners” accomplish in the world.

      Thanks for the story, laughs, and successes!


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