I have to be honest here. I’m not a huge fan of George Barna’s books. I own several of them, but just haven’t found them that interesting, insightful, or helpful. It’s not that I dislike the guy, I just haven’t really been profoundly impacted by them. Yet many others have, and some of the authors who have impacted me were impacted by him, so I’m sure in some way he actually has impacted my life! How’s that for confusing?
At any rate, I am interested in the subject of leadership, so his latest book, Master Leaders, was intriguing. I found it to be intriguing, insightful, diverse, and sometimes a little annoying, all at the same time! Let’s start with the positive…
Incredible Assembly of Leaders
The book is about leadership; rather, it’s about master leaders. Imagine a conversation that included 30 “great” leaders! That’s essentially what Barna has done here. Barna pulls out leadership insights from a variety of leaders, such as Newt Gingrich, Ken Blanchard, Henry Cloud, Lou Holtz, Laurie Beth Jones, Mike Huckabee, John Townsend, Erwin McManus, and many more. These insights are presented in the form of multiple conversations and interviews that Barna has with them, both individually and in larger groups.
The assembly of leaders is incredible because the assembly is so diverse! There are authors, coaches, psychologists, and politicians! I can’t imagine such a diverse group having such a unique conversation centering around being successful leaders.
Great Subject Coverage
Within approximately 200 pages, the leaders discuss what leadership is, how vision and values fit into the activity of leadership, the importance of hiring the right people, earning and maintaining trust, and much more. I found the chapter on character very interesting. In fact, John Townsend is quoted as saying, “character is important to focus on in the sense that who you are will determine how successful you are over time.” Having an interest in character and having seen how often it is found lacking in church leadership, I found this chapter essential to the books subject and probably the most insightful for me.
So if you’re going to discuss leadership, you really have to discuss these topics that are presented. I think Barna did a good job of picking the subjects to discuss. He doesn’t just keep it positive either; there’s an entire chapter on criticism and pressure, which was very interesting to read, especially in light of how some of the contributors dealt with both!
Incredibly Diverse, yet Incredibly Frustrating
Here’s why I disliked the book. The idea of having a huge assembly of leaders jumping into a conversation on a specific subject has great strengths but the weakness is that you have a huge assembly of leaders jumping into a conversation on a specific subject! While the strength can certainly be found in the numbers, it got a bit frustrating to read some very insightful comments by a contributor and then to have the thoughts interrupted by another!
Now, the truth of the matter is that Barna did not have all of these leaders assembled in a room for a group discussion. He more or less picked these ideas and opinions from the contributors in personal interviews and clearly from the ideas of their writings. So, the “master” mind behind the whole book is Barna, who must have spent an enormous amount of time not only conducting these conversational interviews, but putting the pieces together.
I just found the book to be frustrating because there were times where a contributor was making a great point and I’d like to have seen those points teased out a bit before another contributor “interrupted” them and shared their thoughts. And since this imaginary conversation never really occurred, I can only blame Barna for my frustration! I know, this doesn’t seem fair. But, it’s really the only frustrating problem with the book. The insights are interesting, the authors are diverse and wise, but the book’s presentation was very, very similar to having a lot of smart people in one room who have a lot of experience in one area talk about that subject! Sure, you get a lot of good information, but it can turn into a free for all quickly!
And if I’m being honest, I might have to say this is actually a compliment for Barna, because he creates the atmosphere of a “real” conversation with his pen quite well, but it’s an annoying conversation because there’s often more surface than depth and more of the characteristics of a “free-for-all” discussion. There were times that you forgot that this “conversation” was composed and put together because it had the feeling of being “real” and “authentic,” but not always the type of “real” and “authentic” discussion you’d want to be a part of.
So the book is pretty interesting if you’d like to know what 30 “great” leaders have to say about leadership. I can’t say I agree with all of their conclusions, but can anyone say they agree with everything 30 people think? The strength of the book is in the diversity of minds presented. However, I think the book seems to be geared towards “Christian” leaders, so I hope they take these insights with a grain of salt. The chapter on “hiring the right people” could be disastrous if applied to the church without biblical qualifications and insights taken as the primary insight! Yet the book provides some great food for thought.