Leaders Love Alliteration: a book review

I have a confession to make. When Andy Stanley’s The Next Generation Leader came out ten years ago, I scooped it up from a bargain table and had every intent of reading it then. I knew Stanley to be a good speaker and was curious about what he would say about leadership. Yet I was also pretty suspicious of the Evangelical leadership fetish, so I never read it. The book rode my shelf for a couple years before hitting the donation bin.

< em> Next Generation Leader: Five Essentials For Those Who Will Shape the Future </em> by Andy Stanley

And here I am ten years later reviewing this book. There are no substantive changes to the contents of this book.  As near as I can tell, the biggest change was the publishers decision to trade in the old shiny metallic cover, for a glossy yellow and black.  I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover, but this cover really pops.

But you don’t want to hear my opinion on the cover, let me tell you what’s inside. Stanley explores five essentials for the ‘next generation leader’ which will ‘shape the future.’  This sort of world changing language is what makes me suspicious of leadership books in general, but it also explains their appeal. When you open up a book on leadership  (and despite my criticisms I read my fair share),  you can expect some good advice, some inspiring words, and principles for success. At their worst, leadership books are elitist, at their best they describe the characteristics of good leadership and challenge readers to grow in their own development.

Stanley certainly is inspiring and dispenses advice which will not only make you a good leader, but also a good human being. His five essentials of leadership include:

  • Competence– Leaders do the things they are good at (what only they can do for their organization). They delegate and outsource the rest. This allows leaders to maximize their effectiveness by focusing on their areas of giftedness.
  • Courage– Leaders take risks. Leaders who are afraid to take stands or to act, are not good leaders.
  • Clarity- Leaders are clear about the direction they are leading (even when everything seems uncertain).
  • Coaching- Leaders seek out ‘coaches’ who will evaluate and help them continue to develop as a leader.
  • Character- Good Leaders are good people. If you want to inspire loyalty and commitment in those you lead, be a person who is worth following.

Each of these five points have three short chapters where Stanley presents the principle, illustrates it with a Bible story and presents exercises (or reflection questions) to help you develop in each of these five areas. I think each of these 5 c’s are good and worth putting into practice. But most of what Stanley says here isn’t ‘new.’ It could easily be cribbed from John Maxwell, Steve Covey or Jim Collins. And the way that Stanley uses Bible passages is uneven. Using the story of David and Goliath to illustrate courage makes sense (David the giant killer is archetypal). In other places, I felt like the biblical stories were flattened out in order to illustrate a principle. For example Joshua is used as an example of clarity in uncertain times for leading Israel into the promised land. This is true enough but it fails to grapple with the deep ambiguities in the Joshua narrative (If God tells him to be strong and courageous, why does he send spies and wait?).

I found I liked this book (leadership suspicions aside) but I think it oversimplifies and over-promises. I give this book ★★★ and would recommend it for people who want to grow in their leadership through focusing on areas of personal development. While I agree with most of what is written here, I feel like the Next Generation Leader should also add a sixth “C” to their list– Content- Leaders need something of substance to say.

Thank you to Waterbrook Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

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