What leader refrains from the desire to be great? Even two of Jesus’ disciples expressed the desire to be great (Mark 10:35-37). Responding to his disciples’ request, Jesus gently redirects their request, rather than rebuking them. In addition, the intention of greatness, albeit a misguided intention, emerges in the city Babel (Genesis 11), where the city came together to build a great city and tower that reached towards the heavens. Yet, following God’s judgment on the city, he calls out Abraham and promises to make him a great nation and a great name (Gen 12:1-3). If God warrants the pursuit of greatness, what is the secret to achieving such greatness? Reggie McNeal in his work, Practicing Greatness, aims to encourage people and leaders to pursue greatness by attempting to practice seven disciplines.
The discipline of self-awareness, self-management, self-development, mission, decision-making, belonging, and aloneness are the seven practices that cultivate great leaders. McNeal purposely orchestrated the book and these practices (which comprise as the chapter headings) to build upon one another. The foundational practice of great leaders, according to McNeal, is the discipline of self-awareness (11). However, as a whole, the book lacked fluidity and flow. This is seen in both the introduction and closing. There is no coherent argument, nor outline for the book, other than the seven disciplines. Subsequently, McNeal is self-proclaiming the entirety of these seven disciplines, for there is no substantial evidence and research to back up his claims, and much of what is stated is trivial. These are the apparent weaknesses of his book.
However, his intent is to “encourage people and leaders to pursue greatness” (7) by practicing these seven disciplines. Furthermore, in this ‘leadership exercise,’ McNeal, through personal stories, biblical illustrations, and pithy leadership statements, creates diving boards for leaders to jump off and explore the true depths of what makes leaders great. In essence, McNeal provides generalizations, which allow leaders to have more exploration on their own. What is clear throughout McNeal’s work is his passion to see “spiritual” leaders pursue greatness, which expresses itself through McNeal’s personal stories and leadership wisdom. These comprise his strengths.
In conclusion, in a day where mediocre leaders inhibit various fields—whether church, business, or government, etc. — McNeal’s work seeks to combat such lethargy by encouraging and challenging leaders to pursue greatness. Therefore, the reader can anticipate a challenge to be great, as well as encouragement for where they are. While this book contains no epiphanies on leadership, it does serve a purpose. While individuals will find helpful insights from McNeal’s work, a better use of this book could be utilized in a peer group, staff reading list, or coaching network to spawn more conversations regarding the making of great leaders and what constitutes great leadership.