In the minds of many people, Christianity is associated with the word “mediocrity,” which is often confused with humbleness. Such notions as, for example, do not stand out, do not seek the spotlight, do not aspire to greatness, be like everyone else are mistakenly associated with humility. While the book Aspiring for Greatness by Reggie McNeal provides a structural framework of qualities and disciplines required for an effective leader, its main purpose is to dispel the notion of self-imposed mediocrity, which holds many Christians back. This is highlighted in the very first line in the introduction segment of the book: “Deliberate Mediocrity is a Sin”1. The author is using the examples and teachings from the Bible as a basis for his work.
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The book is written during a time of both social and economic strife. Great leaders are often needed to pull humanity through such hard times, and this is illustrated in the title of the introduction page: “Needed: Great Spiritual Leaders” 2. The rationale behind this is given further in the chapter. The book states that in lieu of the economic crisis, the crisis of the materialistic view of the world, constant conflicts, and wars, the world is in need of great leaders.
The author states that great leadership is not all about the character but also about effectiveness. The purpose of leadership is to bring positive results and to better everyone involved in the collective effort. The core drive behind Christian leadership is supposed to be the desire to serve, rather than ambition, or desire for power, wealth, and control. The concept of leadership based on humility and service goes back to Jesus, who was a great leader yet did not aspire to the worldly.
- Reggie McNeal, Practicing Greatness (San Francisco: Josey Bass, 2006): 1.
Things, which corrupt many people’s intentions.
After presenting the purpose of the book in the introduction chapter, the author divides the text into 7 parts that address a particular ‘discipline’ required for a good leader to become a great one. These disciplines are self-awareness, self-management, self-development, the mission, decision-making, belonging, and aloneness 3. Each part begins with a short story. Each story is about a leader with great potential who falls short of realizing it due to a lack of certain qualities.
It serves to demonstrate the importance of possessing such qualities, as it is shown in positive examples of biblical characters. The theoretical material given at the end of each paragraph revolves around popular leadership theories, as well as the psychological aspects of each quality. The reader is warned of the shortcomings and dark sides of the leadership role along the way.
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Despite the fact the book is aimed mostly at the Christian audience, Reggie McNeal successfully creates a mix of information that is easy to read and understand. It is presented in a way that the heavy religious motives of the book are not viewed as overbearing. Reasonable thoughts backed up by the up-to-date scientific advances in psychology make it an enlightening reading even for someone who does not care much for the religious aspects of the work. The idea of leaders who are driven by a desire to better the world and the people around them appeals to many, as the opposite is a kind of corrupt leadership-driven only by a desire for personal gain.
When I started reading through the seven disciplines that are required for the effective leadership, I unintentionally started to compare myself with the many
- Reggie McNeal, Practicing Greatness (San Francisco: Josey Bass, 2006): 6-7.
criteria the book suggested. Almost in every single one of them, I realized that I want to acquire all of them. I was immediately reminded of my insecurities whenever I was forced into a leadership role. So many unnecessary thoughts were filling my mind whether I was tasked to captain a sports team or act as a group leader for a study project. I wanted to be respected and to look respectable, I was afraid to look ridiculous, I craved for recognition, even at the expense of effectiveness, and I put up a facade of hard work even when I was hardly working. In short, my performance in the role of a leader was rather lack-luster because of all these factors and internal struggles involved.
My understanding of what proper leadership is was very vague and often wrong. Naturally, I did not think much about the Christian motivation behind leadership, as I was only after my personal success. Due to how poorly I have performed, I subconsciously deceived myself into thinking that I did not want to get involved in leadership not because I lacked the necessary mindset and qualities, but because I was “humble” enough to decline the position. I remember saying that I would rather leave the position of a leader to those who truly desire it while secretly desiring it myself. Reading Reggie McNeal’s book gave me an insight into what qualities a leader should possess and made me reconsider my attitude towards leadership activities.
The book made me question whether most of the people put into leadership roles are actually qualified to hold the position. Many of them possess the same flaws as I do, if not more, and very few of them are leading people for the sake of communal growth and prosperity. The personal gain seems to be the primary motivation, and several key qualities are lacking, such as self-awareness, self-management, and proper decision-making.
However, there is a reason why the leaders with such non-Christian drives and values are so widespread. The reason for that is the competitive environment. Essentially, the success of one leader or one group means a failure of another leader and another group. Leaders are expected to be able to trump the interests of other people to benefit themselves and the group they are leading. This creates controversy between the effectiveness of leadership, which the book is preaching, and the Christian values it is based upon.
I think that in order to improve this book, the author could have dwelled on this controversy to eliminate it and show the reader how his model of leadership and the qualities would fare in a competitive world such as ours. The majority of the examples given in the book are either taken from the Bible or are revolving around missionaries, priests, and subjects connected to the Church. The book presents itself not as a leadership guide for top management but rather as teaching that could be applied universally. Therefore, it should be able to prove itself as such.
This book has provided me with a solid and healthy framework of qualities, which a leader must possess in order to be both effective and humble. The idea that success and celebrity are not against God’s will is thought-provoking and even has inspired me. Now I am determined to practice the qualities and virtues listed in McNeal’s writings to better myself and the people around me.
This reading helped me realize the web of lies I have surrounded myself with, pretending to be a humble being, while in reality, I was trapped in a net of personal insecurities and lies. My goal is to shed these lies and work towards self-improvement and enlightenment. There are several practical ideas I will be implementing to reach my goal.
First, I am going to assess a more proactive position within the society, and I would not shy away from leadership roles and duties as I did before. I am not going to impose mediocrity upon myself, and I would not fear failure. However, I must remember that there is still a lot to learn for me. I shall be open to constructive criticism and ask for advice whenever I encounter difficulties. There is little shame in admitting ignorance, but there is a lot of shame in living with it.
I will need to overcome my personal isolation and reach out to the communities around me, be that my family, my class, or my circle of friends. If I am to aspire to greatness and distinguish myself as a leader to help and benefit those around me, I would need to understand them, their wants, hopes, and needs. I would need to learn how to work with every one of them and direct them towards the light if such guidance is necessary. Without such a connection, it will be hard to organize the community should the need for such an organizational effort arise.
Still, I must always keep a vigilant mind not to become blinded by my own revelations. There is a lot of reflection that still needs to be done. My goals and my mission in life need a clear definition, which is rather vague right now. My decision-making also requires improvement, which I consider a quality developed mostly through personal experience. I shall resort to a wise council until I am confident enough to make decisions on my own,. At the same time, however, I am not going to delegate my duties. The council will be used to gain an understanding of the situation. I will not delegate the burden of taking responsibility for my own decisions to anyone else.
Lastly, I must never forget that I aspire to be a servant-leader. My cause will not be that of personal gain but that of communal prosperity with me as part of it. Nevertheless, despite the book not addressing the issue of confrontation between groups of people with opposing goals and views, I will never allow my group to rise up by trampling others. Any profit and any success gained from the suffering or misfortune of others will not be considered Christian. If it is possible, I shall be looking for ways to let everyone profit and prosper from my actions. This may affect the effectiveness of my leadership, but it would be a moral and a just thing to do. We are all brothers and sisters on this Earth, after all.
Reggie McNeal, Practicing Greatness (San Francisco: Josey Bass, 2006).
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