4-MAT Book Review “McNeal’sPracticing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary SpiritualLeaders”
In“Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary SpiritualLeaders” written by Reggie McNeal, the book focuses on encouragingpeople and leaders to pursue greatness, which can be achieved bypracticing seven disciplines. McNeal introduces the book byexplaining why great spiritual leaders are important and identifiesthe outstanding traits of great leadership. These traits are in formof seven disciplines that are used as a basis for differentiatinggreat from good leaders.
Self-awarenessis the discipline that molds people in regard to how they seethemselves physically, spiritually, emotionally as well as socially.It is the most important of the seven disciplines, as it mandatesthat an individual is able to fully understand who they are in orderto be in a position to interact with other people. According toMcNeal “the single most important piece of information a leaderpossesses is self-awareness, the discipline of self-awareness is theleader’s intentional quest for self-understanding.”1As a result, the discipline implies that great leaders are able toacclimatize to conflicting environments.
Thediscipline of self-management deals with the ability to managefeelings. McNeal explains that it is very important for people tomanage feelings to avoid acting in ways that result in despair. Thisis because the inability to manage feelings could result in anger,bitterness, apprehension and violence. It is impossible for someoneto become a great leader if they cannot manage their feelings. Theauthor suggests that realistic expectations can be used in enhancingself-management. They include resting, physical activity, healthyeating and proper money management. The discipline supports theassertion that, great leaders are not only great managers of others,but primary managers of themselves.
By referringto self-development as a discipline, McNeal implies that all greatleaders never stop learning. Self-development is a period ofprogressive knowledge, learning new lessons and general advancement.When working towards self-development, “behaviors anddecision-making processes that contributed to the failure need to bechanged quickly. Appropriate accountabilities need to beinstituted.”2The discipline results in positive changes that create the way fordeveloping new behaviors.
Thediscipline of mission means that great leaders are aware of what theydesire to accomplish. The book insists that every great leader mustbe aware of what they are called to do in life, which is a crucialelement for successful leadership. It is difficult to outwardlydetermine one’s mission. However, for a great leader to realizethat they have a calling, the leader must be confident, passionate aswell as talented in the mission. In addition, a great leader shouldbe able to sacrifice their time and energy to achieve their missionin life.
Decision-makingrefers to a leader’s ability to make the right decisions. Itdifferentiates great leaders, from those who are good or average, dueto the ability of a great leader to make decisions that aremeaningful and influential. Belonging is a discipline that issymbolic of great leaders’ capability to not only maintain, butnurture important relationships that improve their lives. The lastdiscipline of aloneness implies that great leaders should be able towithstand the loneliness associated with leadership. Generally,McNeal’s book explores in depth how leaders are able to pursuegreatness. The greatness he refers to does not imply a position ofpower, rather a leadership quality that blesses other individuals.
McNeal’s book made me recall a time when I was depressed. In myfirst year of university, I remember how I lost myself in badcompany. I had always been an obedient child, but when I joineduniversity, I felt that I had the freedom to do what I wanted. I canrecall saying to myself, “I have all the freedom I need now, awayfrom home and away from the constant nagging by my parents wanting toknow what I am doing.” Unfortunately, the change in my charactercaused me a lot of losses.
I lost friends, my academic performance declined and I lost theloving relationship I had with my family. When I realized the harm Ihad caused to myself and the people that loved me, I becamedepressed. Every moment of my life was filled with thoughts of “howI wish I had never joined this bad company. I have hurt myself andthe people that loved me.” By reflecting on the bad choices I hadmade, I suffered from depression that McNeal refers to as endogenous.This was the worst moment of my life. The more I thought about my badchoices, the more I felt miserable.
I was afraid of facing everyday knowing that I had no longer hadgenuine friends, the fact that my family had given up on me, and theconstant worry of how my poor academic performance would affect mygrades. I realized that I had failed in becoming a great leader of mylife. The inability to manage my behavior and work towards achievingmy mission, made it impossible for me to remain healthy, bothphysically and mentally. It was a time when I struggled againsthealthy eating, exercising regularly and sleeping properly, which asMcNeal explains are the consequences of poor self-management.
Upon reading McNeal’s book, I cannot help but question whethergreatness can only be achieved by following the seven disciplines? Isit possible that there are other disciplines that result in greatleadership? What criteria does McNeal use to choose the sevendisciplines? Is there a leader that desists from the desire to becomegreat?
The book makes it clear that there are seven disciplines that allleaders should follow to become great leaders. However, the authordoes not explain his rationale for choosing only seven disciplines,which results in the questioning of the possibility that there may bemore disciplines applicable to great leadership. Although McNeal doesa good job in describing each discipline, he should have consideredthe need to explain his reasoning in choosing them. This isespecially the case because I think the book does not havesubstantial research to support the claims McNeal makes.
All leaders desire to become great. This is apparent from biblicalteachings where Jesus’ disciples desired to be great. Even Godpromises greatness to those that follow his commands. For instance,Abraham was promised that he would become a great nation and his namewould also become great. Thus, if every leader has a desire forgreatness, I cannot help but question why greatness is achievedthrough set ideals. By reading the book, I reflect on the possibilitythat some people begin by becoming great leaders due to theirdesires, and thereafter reflect on the qualities that resulted intheir greatness.
McNeal calls for leaders to take a step towards becoming effectiveleaders. He notes that “deliberate mediocrity is a sin.”3Hence, he introduces and expounds on his theological outlook ofleadership. The author explains that leaders have to abandonmediocrity in order to attain greatness. His seven disciplines arenot simply principles that should be followed rather they are alsoBiblical teachings. Thus, McNeal also aims at directing his readerstowards achieving leadership in the way that God desires. Thepractical illustrations used in the book make it an importantresource for all aspiring leaders.
By reading “McNeal’s PracticingGreatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders” Iintend to make changes in my life. The first action I will take is toensure that I have a sense of mission in my life. McNeal makes itclear that great leaders are possible to identify based on theirmission in life. This refers to what they intend to accomplish. Assuch, I realize that it is important for me to have aspirations. Imust clearly identify what I would like to do with my life, or whatthings I would want to have in future. For instance, in my academiclife, I plan to have a mission to perform well academically. I willset aside enough time on a daily basis to study, with the objectiveof improving my current performance. Eventually, I aspire to become agreat leader in performance in my school. This is a great visionbecause by succeeding academically, it will become possible for me toprogress in my pursuit for a better life in future. I realize that inorder for me to live a comfortable life, I must begin by working hardtowards accomplishing my mission now. Just like McNeal suggests, Imust maintain a sense of purpose for my life.
The next action I intend to take isto improve my decision-making. By reading the book, I realize that itis very important to make the right decisions in life. This isbecause when I make the wrong decisions, I may end up regretting infuture. However, it is not possible to live life without makingmistakes. At times, I might fail in doing what is right. But asMcNeal explains, great leaders are those that learn from theirmistakes. Hence, when I make a mistake, I will not waste timereflecting on the wrong decision I made. Instead, I will analyze themistake to learn what I should have done differently. Decision-makingis especially applicable in my life as a student. There are manypressures that I face on a daily life. For example, the pressures tojoin bad company in school, to stop studying or take drugs like otherstudents. However, after reading McNeal’s book, I am now able tomake better decisions, know when to make them and differentiate rightfrom wrong. An illustration is when friends invite me to a partywhere I am sure they will be drinking, I will use my decision-makingability to refuse the invite, because I know it is a bad decision todrink aimlessly.
McNeal, Reggie. “PracticingGreatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders.” San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006.
1 Reggie McNeal, “Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders” (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006), 10-11
2 Reggie McNeal, 80.
3 Reggie McNeal, 1.