Leith Anderson begins his book, Leadership That Works by posing several scenarios of leaders, some effective and other not so effective who face common leadership challenges. These examples illustrate that leadership is changing because times change and with the times people’s outlooks and expectations also change. It is important for leaders to understand what is important to keep from the old ways and how to embrace the new ways when they may be anointed by God.
Before getting to the eleven chapters that deal with the areas leaders must focus on, Anderson seeks to answer the question why leadership is so difficult. Chapter 2, “Why is Leadership So Hard?” presents common scenarios faced by church leaders from the culture, their congregations, and their own characters. These include personal problems, cultural changes, and the failure to account for situational specificity or organizational culture and outlook.
Anderson follows this up with a chapter addressing four leadership myths all of which revolve around the theme: “Leadership is all about the leader and the leader must have all the right qualifications” (39). While the proper qualifications for spiritual leadership are important, leadership is about what we do and one can be trained to “do” the things that are good leadership. “Leadership is figuring out what needs to be done and then doing it” (51). The following eleven chapters, which make up the rest of the book, focus on how to do the right things with regard to different challenges facing the leader and the organization.
The first hurdle faced is “Complexity.” Anderson’s point is that life isn’t simple and so one must recognize and embrace complexity and avoid thinking that there is a simple solution to every problem.
The following chapters make observations about similar challenges: life is busy so we must do more with less time and fewer people (because they are busy, too) and while we must be careful to express gratitude, we also must set an example of valuing what is most important despite our business.
The following three chapters, on Options, Competition, and Expectations, are closely related (though Anderson does not address their interrelatedness). We live in what Anderson calls a “catalog culture” where people are constantly faced with multiple options which in turn shape their expectations which in turns results in new rules (part of the scenarios posed in the first two chapters). Leaders, Anderson writes, must “help others make the right choices in the face of competition” (109).
In the following chapters, Anderson points out that the successful leader will understand the importance of relationships and leverage those relationships for the better and will handle stress by managing and prioritizing his or her schedule, and handling conflict properly.
The final chapters deal with optimism and outlook (“Hope”), personal development (“Actions”), Vision-casting (“Vision”), and long-term building and perspective (“The End – Finishing Well”).
This book provided several contributions to my understanding of biblical ministry leadership. First of all, Anderson encourages leaders to recognize the way things are. Each chapter has concrete examples that sound eerily similar to what a seasoned pastor or leader would encounter (so much so that one suspects they are from real life with names and other identifying factors changed). This is important because too many leaders are idealistic in the wrong sense. They focus on the way things should be and so fail to recognize the way things really are. The Bible is idealistic in that it encourages us to strive to meet the standard the Scriptures give (by the Spirit’s power, of course) but it is not so idealistic as to think that there are no problems in the church. In this regard, this reviewer was reminded of the Corinthian epistles while reading. Paul is not afraid to address the difficult issues but he doesn’t want to leave the people there, he wants to see them go on to maturity. As noted above, much of what Anderson writes is directed toward leading people to do the right thing because it is for their good and the good of the organization.
Anderson also encourages personal growth and development. His chapters “Stress” and “Actions” are among the best in the book. Anderson counsels one to act purposefully and with consideration and awareness of the cost. His counsel in these chapters rivals any advice given by the top personal development or self-help books currently in print.
Finally, note that much of what Anderson says can apply to non-profits or business organizations, not just church leaders. This in itself is a two-edged sword because it leads to what this reviewer believes is Anderson’s greatest weakness.
Anderson seems to be less concerned about faithfulness to a particular scriptural model and more concerned about effectiveness. For many church leaders, especially those in confessional traditions, it would have been more helpful for Anderson to explain how these lessons could be applied within these stricter confines. For example, in the chapter in expectations, Anderson is quick to embrace anything that may seem to attract people with little questioning of whether such ideas are scriptural or appropriate. Anderson’s focus on effectiveness is certainly necessary in business contexts or even in the context of other non-profit organizations, but there should be more talk “Why?” and “Should we?” rather than simply “Is this effective?”