Book Review: Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge

Christian-Reflections-on-the-Leadership-Challenge-9780787983376James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, editors, Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 152 pages.

In Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge, leadership experts, James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, have assembled and edited five Christian reflection essays by exemplary leaders from various backgrounds based upon Kouzes and Posner’s highly successful original academic work, The Leadership Challenge (San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass, 1987), which is now in its fifth edition (2012). The reflections are based upon Kouzes and Posner’s “The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership” and their application within Christian organization contexts.

The reflections are written by John C. Maxwell (“Model the Way”), David McAllister-Wilson (“Inspire a Shared Vision”), Patrick Lencioni (“Challenge the Process”), Nancy Ortberg (“Enable Others to Be”), and Ken Blanchard (“Encourage the Heart”). Moreover, Kouzes and Posner have two introductory chapters explaining and summarizing the impact and importance of their research for leadership, and offer a concluding chapter in which the reflections validate their research and uphold the importance of servant leadership.

The key and central strength of Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge is found in its consummate anchoring to its guiding principle; namely, leadership is not about one’s position in an organization, but “about having the courage and spirit to make a significant difference” using the “The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership.”[1] In fact, these “Practices” underscore the development of the “Servant Leader.” In the words of Ken Blanchard, “servant leadership isn’t just an option; it’s a mandate.”[2]

The volume follows the logic of the “Five Practices” which provides the reader an opportunity to appropriate and apply each practice step by step. Examples and case studies are enlisted in the essays to vividly describe the practice discussed, and the autobiographical content from each leader-author reinforces the principle of real life leadership decisions. This fact points also to one of the indispensable features of the book. The author of each chapter has the “flesh and blood” credibility to address the practice at hand and the wisdom gained from their leadership challenges. The insight they offer is a reservoir from which the reader gains much.

Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge has a unique strength that, if not mentioned, could be overlooked. The editors and authors are not simply writing an essay to be catalogued in an anthology. It is quite apparent that great pains of exemplary leadership were taken in order to produce the present volume. The editors, who are experts in the field, have pulled from their extensive research on leadership those that “Model the Way.” Sharing a “Vision” inspired by Maxwell, Kouzes and Posner have entered into a venture in which they have not only “Challenge the Process” to show a path to excellent leadership, but they also intended to “Enable Others” to use their model of the “Five Practices” and apply it to Christian leadership contexts.

The end user (i.e. the reader) is then to be “Encouraged” to endure the challenges and even suffer for a worthy cause. Kouzes and Posner close their volume with a chapter of gratitude to all those “hidden” names and faces involved in the production of this book. Class is not a sufficient word to describe the high level of exemplary servant leadership employed to bring this volume to fruition. This is evident on every page.

The only drawback from Kouzes and Posner is in the area of what one would expect from a multi-authored volume focused on one topic – overlap. Although the content in each chapter is solid and can stand alone as a précis on each of the “Five Practices,” at times the authors approach the “Five Practices” from a previously discussed point of view. This is to be expected. Leadership skills do not arrive in linear terms or in a vacuum. Many times leadership skills arrive from a confluence of challenges, principles, and motivations. They have a natural overlap. The challenge is to arrive at those moments and realize what is demanded from the servant leader in order to place their organization, or church, in the best possible position to accomplish its main goals. Leadership is fluid. This is not a weakness per se, yet this issue was observed at various times in the reading.

In the final assessment, Kouzes and Posner have edited an extremely useful and hopeful resource for individuals in a field that can be extremely discouraging. Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge is practical and exemplary in its distillation of “The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership” in Christian contexts. As for myself, I have found myself somewhere between groping around wondering what to do and just making a “gut” decision, from being clueless to applying conventional wisdom.

This volume helps its readers know “oneself” and understand the importance of personal integrity, developing vision, finding ways to improve, empowering others, and acknowledging the importance of others with whom we work. This book provides strategies on where to begin and to execute our service at a high level. There is a “Selected Readings on Leadership” for each chapter, and an “Index” to key terms and principles found throughout the book which contributes to further study and servant leadership development. I highly recommend this book to students, preachers, elders, deacons, Christian employers and employees. The world needs more servant leaders, whether in action or in development.

References

  1. James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, eds., Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge (San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 5.
  2. Ken Blanchard, “Reflections on Encourage the Heart,” in Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge (ed. James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner; San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 102.
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