Lead like Joshua: a book review

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Of the writing of books on leadership, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes, it seems there is no end. That goes for Christian books as well as anything else.

A recent addition to the genre is Derek Tidball’s Lead like Joshua. In the course of 23 chapters, the book moves systematically through the story of Joshua and does a great job of combining careful attention to the biblical text with the author’s ability to draw on his wide experience of leadership as well as various contemporary authors. It’s not as though the world needs another leadership book, but the author believes that too few of them ‘hit the spot’ from a Christian perspective. Too many of them draw freely on secular ideas but fail to deal seriously with the Bible. Too many of them are too complex for the average church leader to gain from them.

Contra those who might wish to argue against the concept of leadership (at least business-style leadership) in the church, Derek Tidball affirms the significance of leadership in Scripture, though he is keen to point out that Joshua ‘was not written as a textbook on leadership for later generations’!

Be careful not to go away from studying Joshua having learned leadership lessons, but having learned nothing about the sovereign Lord who keeps his word and saves his people.

I’d like to say that that is one of the most important sentences in the book, and one which ought to sound a note of caution for anyone who wants to write a book or teach a seminar on leadership from a particular biblical text. I fear it is too easy to fall into the trap of losing sight of the reason particular texts have been given to us!

Lead like Joshua begins with a reflection on what it means for a leader to ‘assume responsibility’ and thereafter the chapters have similar, pithy titles: ‘build foundations’; ‘make decisions’; ‘recall history’; ‘trust God’; ‘demonstrate perseverance’.

By the end of the book, a careful reader could have assembled a 23-point checklist of good leadership practice: a checklist against which to assess his or her leadership.

But the book is more than a checklist! There is careful engagement with the biblical text, along with reflections of Derek Tidball’s considerable experience as an evangelical leader in the UK, and an ability to draw on various key voices on leadership themes. You’ll find church leader Bill Hybels, author and speaker Gordon MacDonald, leadership writers James Kouzes and Barry Posner: you will even find Sir Alex Ferguson!

Personally I was particularly chuffed to see a chapter devoted to leadership ‘crucibles’ the theme of my recent doctoral research.

Although I was sent a complimentary copy of the book, I am not on commission to suggest that as a new term gets underway, church leadership teams could do worse than set aside time in their regular meetings to work through this book (there are questions at the end of each chapter) in their own context.

Here is the list of chapters:

  1. Assume responsibility
  2. Build foundations
  3. Make decisions
  4. Gather intelligence
  5. Prepare thoroughly
  6. Take risks
  7. Recall history
  8. Gain respect
  9. Surrender status
  10. Trust God
  11. Face failure
  12. Confront sin
  13. Re-energize people
  14. Renew vision
  15. Correct mistakes
  16. Fight battles
  17. Demonstrate perseverance
  18. Manage administration
  19. Honour others
  20. Display compassion
  21. Guard unity
  22. Mentor others
  23. Keep focus

 

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What, exactly, is leadership?

I’m in the process of developing another blog which I will devote specifically to issues of leadership. One of the features over the next few months will be a series of ‘Leadership 101’ posts. One of the new posts there is on attempting to define leadership.


It was none other than Machiavelli who suggested that ‘there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in a new order of things.’

But what, exactly is leadership? One count I saw had the number of definitions running act around 1500. It’s been suggested that, like the ancient proverb of the blind men attempting to describe an element, leadership has many aspects and none of them by itself appears to be an adequate definition. Warren Bennis suggested that it’s like beauty: hard to define, but you know it when you see it!


You should be able to read the rest of the post (and sign up for updates) here.

Five tips for guaranteed leadership success: a morning for leaders at Edenmore

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The title is not what it seems! Anyone expecting to hear five tips for guaranteed leadership success from perfect and saintly leaders was in for a surprise at yesterday morning’s leaders’ event at Edenmore Golf and Country Club.

What they got was searing honesty and pertinent challenge from three seasoned leaders; there was also a bit of humour – hardly surprising to those who know the members of the panel! It was a privilege for all who were there to listen to these leaders (I reckon a good century of experience between them) as they made themselves vulnerable in reflecting on their leadership journeys.

…incredibly moving, humbling and thought-provoking … a significant marker in my own journey.

Trevor Morrow, minister emeritus at Lucan Presbyterian Church, a congregation he served for over 30 years talked about the dangerous idolatries of ministry that can lead to the damaging neglect of family. He talked about the ‘wilderness’ of Lucan – a tiny church of 12 members when he went there, having left a congregation of a thousand in Northern Ireland. He talked about people God put in his path as he began to carve out a unique (and controversial) ministry as a Presbyterian in a Catholic context.

Ken (Fanta) Clarke reflected on some of the powerful experiences that have shaped him along the way. The realisation that he had been living as a bachelor in the early years of his marriage; a deeply powerful, cleansing encounter with God just weeks before his election as a bishop; a memorable, if frightening, time with God on a prayer mountain in Uganda. The latter two of these experiences reinforced Bible verses which he has had inscribed on his bishop’s ring.

Ros Stirling talked honestly about the crucible of singleness, challenging both single people and everyone in the room to be accountable. She talked about the encounter with a school pupil who was disillusioned by the Church – an encounter that would later be significant as she worked for 21 years for the Presbyterian Church, leading their youth department. She spoke passionately about her conviction that ministry needs to flow from a leader’s relationship with God – God aches for us to have such a relationship with him, but our culture tends to be so much more driven. Her conviction around this has been expressed in the establishment of Cleopas – a ministry that aims to provide space for the cultivation of this relationship.

All three spoke of people who had been influential along thew way. Trevor and Roz each spoke of the powerful impact of their father and other people, such as ministers, youth leaders and other mentor figures. Ken spoke about youth leaders and a school teacher, now quite elderly, who has continued to encourage him through the years.

We had a full room, with an audience that spanned generations and church backgrounds. People spoke about how they had been refreshed by the morning. One leader wrote that he had found the morning ‘incredibly moving, humbling and thought-provoking … a significant marker in my own journey.’ Another said that it had been ‘good for my soul’ and valued the insight of the speakers: as a young leader he is eager to glean from the wisdom and guidance of more mature leaders. Others found it timely and helpful.

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If you were at the event, let us know what you thought: what was your takeaway? What do you plan to do about any questions the morning raised for you? How can events like this help you in your own leadership journey?

If you’d like to know more about any similar future events or workshops (there might even be a related podcast in the future), get in touch using the contact form.

Are leaders narcissists? (Arthur Boers, in Servants and Fools: A Biblical Theology of Leadership)

The faddish focus on leadership raises difficulties. For example, a connection between leadership and narcissism is frequently noted. Many celebrated leadership qualities correlate to this disorder: confidence about success, influencing others, assertiveness, savoring authority, optimism about being great, viewing oneself as extraordinarily special, enjoying being the focus of attention, expecting much from others, wanting power, trusting the world is better under one’s leadership.

Crucibles of leadership development

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It’s not the first time I’ve written about this, but, as I have processed the results of y research over the past few months, I thought I’d give it another go.

The term crucible is how Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas described intense transformational experiences that had been encountered by leaders. I set out to explore what significance crucibles might have in the development of Christian leaders.

Fourteen leaders were kind enough to give me a few hours of their time and allowed me to interview them at some length about their leadership journeys. The leaders were drawn from several denominational backgrounds, they have led mostly in the British Isles, they had an average age of 61 and included twelve men and two women. Most of them have led in local churches but the sphere of leadership for others has been wider.

They described various kinds of experiences which I classified under three main headings:

  • New territory: learning to lead was sometimes a step out of the comfort zone – a couple of leaders referred to a ‘baptism of fire’; for some of them, their leadership journey has involved significant paradigm shifts, both for them and for the people they have led.
  • Reversals: leaders are not exempt from challenging personal circumstances such as loss or the reversal of their plans. In addition there are particular challenges that come with being a leader: some of the leaders have had to deal with conflict, rejection, or disappointment.
  • Isolation: leaders undergo seasons when they are unable to lead, perhaps because of illness. They may also encounter ‘wilderness’ times, out of the limelight, or times of spiritual struggle like the famous ‘Dark Night of the Soul.’

Crucibles have a part to play in shaping both who the leader is, in terms of his or her character and relationship with God, and also what the leader does, in terms of his or her calling.

  • Character: at times it take a crucible to reveal character issues that need attention. This can happen in crucibles of failure, but also in crucibles of success. In fact it is possible for a leader apparently to be successful in one area of life, say their public ministry, while failing badly in another.
  • Spirituality (or the leader’s relationship with God). An intense crucible experience can drive a leader into a greater degree of dependence on God: the crucible becomes a means whereby the leader learns to cultivate trust in God. For some leaders, various crucible experiences allowed what they already believed about God to take on an ‘existential intensity’. Leaders also described remarkable, life-changing experiences that had helped them grasp God’s love for them.
  • Calling: some leaders (not all) experience God’s call as a dramatic experience, not unlike the call of some of the great leaders and prophets of the Old Testament, whose lives were redirected as God intervened at a particular point in time.
  • ‘The Stamp’: some leaders find that their leadership takes on a particular mark or stamp – perhaps a particular emphasis comes to define or shape what they do, as their convictions are forged in the crucible.

Crucibles, then, are intense, transformative experiences that contribute to the shaping of a leader, often playing a significant part both in shaping who the leader is and in shaping the leader’s calling. In some senses they function as intensive learning opportunities where leaders learn about themselves, about God and about their leadership.

But they are not everything. Leaders – like everyone else – are often shaped in more gradual, perhaps almost imperceptible ways through the relationships and commonplaces of life.

Failing in the crucible of success

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about crucibles of leadership – those experiences which test and transform a leader. The term normally conjures up some kind of harsh experience in fact not every crucible is painful.

Success can be a crucible – and it’s possible to fail in the crucible of success.

Hezekiah was an essentially good king in Judah. He got to witness the remarkable destruction of Sennacherib and his Assyrian invaders; and he experienced a supernatural healing, going on to live a further fifteen years as God responded to his prayer (see Isaiah 38).

Upon his recovery he received envoys from Babylon who had come to find out what had happened. The biblical text observes that ‘God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart.’ Motivated by pride (see 2 Chronicles 32), he welcomed them and showed them his treasure house with its precious metals, spices and oil.

Sadly, he was judged for his pride, though judgment was deferred as he humbled himself.

A leader’s response to success and prosperity are as significant as his/her response to failure and adversity.

  • Success can distort our hearts, leading us to forget that apart from God we can do nothing of significance. It can lead us to become proud, not only to forget who God is, but to forget who we are. One of the leaders I interviewed for my research told me that he had been reluctant to consider himself as a leader (even though he led) and that part of the reason for that was his observation of people whose success and status changed them for the worse: their ego took over as they were increasingly celebrated as leaders.
  • External success might draw a blind over what may be going on in the hidden parts of our lives. Another leader I spoke to recalled a time when his public ministry was flourishing while his home life was in chaos. The more his ego was stroked as his ministry prospered, the more he worked and the less he invested in his family.
  • External success might even lead us to think that the hidden and inner parts of our lives don’t really matter too much: after all, look at how successful we are.

So, leaders, don’t just reflect on what you can learn from the hardship experiences and how they might be shaping you: pay attention to how you handle prosperity and to what your response to success says about you.

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise (Proverbs 27:21).


PS (20/6/16) – Came across this – from Abraham Lincoln – yesterday:

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

A plea for mentors

A while ago I was reviewing the leadership journey of a godly, retired church leader. He had ‘come of age’ in terms of his church leadership at a time when – in his words – ‘there was no talk about mentors or disciplers’.

He told me that he would have loved an older Christian to have helped walk him through the essentials of the faith; even if this older person had been from a different denominational background, with different views on certain things, he could have suggested some useful reading to help the younger leader come to his own opinion.

And he said this:

That would have been so good, if I had had that. I think it would have prevented me from making mistakes later on: mistakes that I had to learn by, and did learn by. But it might have short circuited some of the problems in the ministry.

If you are a seasoned leader, say in the second half of your life and leadership, how do you read that? Is there a younger leader or two that you know who might benefit from your coming alongside them in their leadership journey?