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.

You Must Choose Wisely: a book review

We  all face difficult decisions. We  also carry regrets from bad choices (i.e. buyer’s regret, relationships gone sour, a poor business decision or watching the Spice Girls movie). Most of these poor choices could have been avoided if we asked ourselves the right question.

The Best Question Ever: A Revolutionary Approach to Decision Making by Andy Stanley

When facing important decisions, Andy Stanley, author and pastor of the second biggest church in America (when you’re second you try harder), contends that he has the best question ever for you to ask yourself. Taking Paul’s warning in Ephesians 5:15-17 to not be foolish, Stanley posits that when we are faced with difficult circumstances, we should ask ourselves, “What is the wise thing to do?” This is the Best. Question. Ever.

Sounds simple right? And yet, how many times have you failed to choose wisely?  Often we orient our decision-making around whether or not a particular action would be right or wrong. The problem, something doesn’t have to be ‘wrong’ to be unwise. Choosing a wise path will lead us away from the boundary edge of right and wrong and give us a sure footing.

Stanley unpacks this ‘best question ever.’  We need to ask if a particular choice is wise for us personally, in light of our  past history, current circumstances and our future hopes and dreams. He also  looks at the areas of time, money and sex (three things we all want more of). He advises us to invest our time in things that matter (and not foolishly waste it), to set proper priorities with our money and to guard our moral conduct (especially in the realm of sex/relationships). In the last section, he talks about the necessity of seeking wise counsel (letting others speak into your life).

This is the third book by Stanley I’ve read, and I  think The Best Question Ever is good.  His books have lots of practical advice–sort of biblical self help and personal development. This book is about making wise decisions and would be good for youth, and young adults. Others could also read it profitably. It is less helpful for picking up the pieces after having made poor decisions than it is for getting people to orient themselves wisely from the start (not really a criticism, just delimiting what the book is about). There is sage advice for everyone. But before you go out and buy it, ask yourself, “Is it the wise thing to do?”

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

Question: Where have you chosen wisely?

Keep family and work in balance but don’t drink the Kool-Aid (a book review)

When work and families collideThis is just what I need! A self-help book written by a mega-church pastor! Originally this book was titled Choosing to Cheat because Stanley suggests you have to ‘cheat’ either work or family so you might as well go ahead and decide where your priorities are and ‘cheat’ at your job for the sake of your family. Waterbrook Multnomah wisely retitled this book for this edition to something less provocative. They did the same thing last year with their release of Joshua Harris’s Why Church Matters(previously titled Stop Dating the Church. Sometimes a less ‘sexy’ title goes along way towards countering misunderstandings.

I am deeply suspicious of self-help books and mega-church pastors, and doubly suspicious of mega-church pastors who write self-help books. Add to that, I am out of work. Why would I read a book about family and work? I could just read a book called When Family Collides. This would likely encapsulate my life.

Why did I read this book? While my suspicions aside sometimes mega-church pastors and self-help gurus have some good things to say and you’d be wise to listen. Andy Stanley wrote this book to address the common dynamic experienced in the modern family where commitment to work competes with our being able to give proper attention to our spouse or children. He’s absolutely right. I’ve seen this dynamic in myself. I went through seminary with a full load of classes, two and sometimes three jobs at a time and sometimes, my family got the short end of the stick. A book that addresses this problem is important and has value.

Stanley writes accessibly about the need for us to ‘cheat’ by allocating our limited resource of time, towards what really matters in life (our families). In order to help ease the fears of those of us stuck in the vicious rat race of career pursuits, he describes what Daniel did in Babylon (as in the book of Daniel) when he felt his vocation (enslaved wise-man) but up against his priorities. Instead of eating at the king’s table Daniel confronted the situation with his supervisor, listened to his supervisors concerns and set up a test (10 days no meat) to show that productivity would not be adversely affected. Stanley suggests you should use the same in your workplace (address the issue with supervisor, listen to their concerns and set up a liminal test) where you can limit your hours on the job and spend more time with family. There is wisdom in this approach, but I don’t think that this adequately does justice to Daniel’s situation.

Ultimately I maintain my self-help suspicions of this book. Self help books have some value in helping you overcome problems in your self, enact better self management and grow personally; yet when self-help gets a theological overlay problems emerge. The gospel gets short-shrifted. God’s goal for your life is not that you become more balanced in your vocational and family life so that you have a more satisfying marriage and better kids. God’s purpose is to reconcile you to himself through the work of Jesus Christ. See the problem with a blending of Biblical texts (misused) to illustrate a self-help principle, even one that is sound, we turn God into a means to a better life on our terms. Sure we should be healthier and more balanced in our lives (and there is some wisdom here) but freedom doesn’t come from establishing your priorities and following through, freedom comes when we experience our life (and families) as gift from God, and are set free from the tyranny of the urgent. That is Good news!

This isn’t a total write-off of Andy Stanley. He certainly is a good communicator and an effective minister of the gospel elsewhere, but I don’t think he delivers the goods here. It is an easy read and may be helpful for some people, but it didn’t do it for me. Thank you to Waterbrook Multnomah for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.