I recently finished reading Andy Stanley’s book, Next Generation Leader: Five Essentials for those who will Shape the Future. It was a short and easy read with plenty of practical wisdom for those leading churches and other organizations. I want to touch briefly on the five sections of the book. Each section is one of the five essentials for leadership.
1. Stanley’s first essential for next generation leaders is competence.
The subtitle is “Do less, Accomplish More.” The idea is for leaders to be people of focus. He believes that leaders should avoid aspiring to be a “well rounded” leader for he believes that this causes one to minor in everything and master nothing. He says that you should do what only you can do. He believes a leader should find the zone that fits him/her and he/she should stay there and delegate the rest. The key to being able to be a leader of focus is delegation. He believes that leaders need to avoid guilt that can come in delegating responsibilities. Instead, be humble and honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and then delegate areas in which you are weak to others. A principal that I thought was useful is to spend 80% of your time on the few things that only you can do, then delegate the rest. Self-evaluation and evaluation from trusted mentors are important ingredients to finding your zone. He gives some helpful tools to help leaders do self-evaluations.
2. The second essential for leaders of the future is courage.
Leaders need to have courage to actually accomplish the things that need to be accomplished in their organization. This means that the status quo must never be accepted without thought and he/she must be ready to act when they see an opportunity to lead. Leaders are never the first to see an opportunity but they are the first to act. Courage is not the absence of fear but it is the willingness to act in spite of it. Stanley believes that leaders need to be willing to take risks when they believe it is the best thing to be done. Failure is a part of success so it should not be a deterrent to leaders. Leaders must be brave enough to fail and fail often. Leaders of the next generation must lead with a balance of confidence and caution. Stanley uses David as a good example of a courageous leader…who failed a lot. Also, a leader must be courageous enough to say no. Stanley says, “Refusing to say no eventually robs a leader of his ultimate opportunity—the opportunity to play to his strengths” (71). Also, leaders must have the courage to know the current realities of their establishment. Finally, leaders must dream big. What could the organization be? Dreaming requires great courage.
3. The third essential for leaders of the next generation is clarity.
He says that, “the goal of leadership is not to eradicate uncertainty, but rather to navigate it. Uncertainty is a component of every environment that calls for leadership. Where you find one, you will always find the other” (84). In other words, a leader will not always be certain but should always be clear. He makes the point that people will follow you if you are wrong but they will not follow you if you are unclear. We of course want to avoid both to the best of our ability. In our uncertainty we will be tempted to pretend and this is never good. Stanley says, “Uncertainty exposes a lack of knowledge. Pretending exposes a lack of character.” He then goes on to say, “Saying ‘I don’t know’ when you don’t know is a sign of good leadership. Pretending to know when you don’t know is a sign of insecurity. The only person a pretender deceives is himself” (94). It is important to seek and communicate a clear vision in leadership.
4. The fourth essential is coaching.
By coaching, Stanley means that you need to both have a coach in your life and you need to be a coach. First he says, “Self-evaluation is helpful, but evaluation from someone else is essential” (106). There are many different types of coaches you can have as a leader: counselor, consultant, or mentor. Behind all this is the underlying belief that leaders need to remain good learners and coaching provides the atmosphere for continual learning. Good coaches: Observe well, instruct lovingly, and inspire without reservation. It is essential to have a coach in your life and to be a coach yourself.
5. The final essential is character.
This may be the last essential in the book but it is the most important. Stanley makes the point that character is not essential to leadership but it is obviously crucial for true, godly leadership. He says, “Character makes you a leader worth following” (131). Stanley defines character as the “will to do what’s right even when it’s hard” (133). Once again, you can see character in a leader when he is able to say no. Leaders must beware seeking prestige, power, and a higher place. He mentions that all leaders wear two badges: a visible badge of position and an invisible moral badge. The leaders who successfully wear both badges will be able to influence and manage people successfully. He makes the point that talent and giftedness give you the potential but only character can make you a successful leader. Next generation leaders need to have no reservations about protecting their character. Leaders need to make preparations early to stay strong when success comes. Character is key.
I found Stanley’s book insightful and useful for all leaders in church leadership. Knowing is half the battle. The hardest half though is putting knowledge into practice. That is the challenge of this book. The essentials are easy to understand. The application will be very difficult indeed. These five essentials are difficult to commit to one’s vocation but a necessary goal for any aspiring successful leader.