Leadership Essentials by Nolan McCants

leadership_essentials_book_cover Those who have spent time getting to know me probably recognize I am not a religious person despite my Baptist upbringing. Surely my maternal grandmother would have expected me to be actively involved in a Christian church throughout my life if the numerous childhood Sundays I had to accompany her to seemingly all-day services at Freewill Primitive Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio are any indication. Alas, as soon as my mom gave me a choice, I decided to forsake religious affiliation while doing my best to maintain my belief in humanity. I do not pass judgment or cast barbs at others for their religious beliefs. I am just doing what works and feels right to me using the freewill and freedom of thought every human is endowed whether one subscribes to creation, evolution or something in-between. Everyday I endeavor to live a life that would make my grandmother and other caring, wise and giving people of principle like her proud.

TB comes from a religious family. Her maternal grandparents and several aunts, uncles and cousins across multiple generations on both sides of her family have been pastors and founders of their own ministries. Thankfully, they have not openly condemned me to an eternity in Hades and they respect my choice even while patiently encouraging me to revisit the path my grandmother led me toward during my youth. I love my spiritual in-laws for that encouragement and understanding and count the wisdom their faith allows them to impart on me as a real blessing.

Pastor Nolan W. McCants (blog) of Harvest Church Plainfield is the nearest person-of-the-cloth in the family tree and my marriage. He is TB’s uncle (mom’s sister’s husband) and forever linked to TB and I as the man who united us in marriage. In addition to founding and running a successful ministry, Pastor McCants is the author of a couple books in an on-going series covering the mobilization of and leadership within the church. His latest book, Leadership Essentials, is described as “the ideal book for those who are already leading a vibrant ministry or looking to build one from the ground up.” Having read the ~110 page book from cover-to-cover I first want to point out Leadership Essentials contains invaluable advice and gems of wisdom for any leader or aspiring leader, not just those interested in ministry.

Practicing Rest

One of the first things to grab my attention is the unexpectedness of the subject and focus of the very first chapter: “Practicing Rest.” How many leadership books have you read cover such an important element of long-term leadership? How many do it right out the gate? At first I thought, “Yeah, ok, so the first essential thing I need to know as a leader is to take time to stop leading and rest?” But the more I thought about it and further I read, I realized I and many of the upwardly mobile people I work with are guilty of the transgressions Pastor McCants lists as failures of an exhausted mind, body and spirit.

Sure, we all have heard warnings from our human resources department and primary care physicians and have incorporated hollow terminology like “Work-Life Balance” into our vernacular but we have not listened. Why? Sleep is the cousin of death. We work hard then play hard. We leave it all on the field anticipating the glory awaiting us atop the winner’s podium. We forget to rest or we put it off.

Putting “Practicing Rest” up front not only serves to validate its priority but also its importance. I am guilty of prioritizing many unimportant things in my life both personally and professionally. Our bodies and minds are the most important possessions we have. They are the only true possessions we have. The chapter on prioritizing rest rings true in so many ways and alone justifies the price of the book. (Full Disclosure: I got my copy via the family hookup. Membership has its privileges.)

My favorite quote from the “Developing a Plan” section of “Practicing Rest”:

No matter the frequency, whether alone or with family, or friends, there has to be a plan. It won’t just happen — that’s why it’s called taking a vacation.

TB and I usually go on vacation. We rarely take a vacation. There is a big difference and it eventually shows in the quality of rest we get while on what we might call vacation.

Grace to Serve

The second chapter is “Grace to Serve” and it shares advice on having the courage and confidence to be the leader you are meant to be and not the leader you think you are meant to be or others think you should be. This chapter is written with much more of a religious slant yet, again, several underlying messages are universal. My favorite gem:

[M]ost people compare their weak side to another’s strong side. This viewpoint always leads to our minimizing ourselves, or worse, ignoring out own strengths.

The Need-to-be-Needed

The next chapter, “The Need-to-be-Needed,” is about empowering others through their independence rather than hobbling them through co-dependence. Many people are guilty of tying their ego and satisfaction to how much others need them or depend on them. I am not one of those people. I am a tough love kinda guy to a fault, ready to issue a swift kick in the derriere at the drop of a hat. If there is one excerpt from this book I would want my eldest aunt to read it is:

[C]aregivers must know when enough is enough. Just like the continued use of a legal drug can lead to addiction, there is an unhealthy attachment that can develop between caregivers and those seeking their care.

I find the list of telltale signs of the need-to-be-needed syndrome —- which appears near the end of the chapter —- very interesting in that many symptoms on the list likely factor into why many leaders fail to rest. While I am not religious, I will add to my arsenal one of Pastor McCants’ suggestions for protecting myself from needy people by pointing them to God. How does this sound?: “I can’t help you. You need Jesus.”

The Pride Factor

This chapter, in a nutshell, is about humbling oneself and burying one’s pride in order to receive what one truly needs for one’s spiritual and professional development. Pride blinds. Pride prevents us from receiving what it is we truly need.

Redefining Success

This chapter seems specifically targeted at people building or running a ministry. While the lesson to avoid equating success with materialism is universal, its justification is conveyed in terms directly tied to the church and the Kingdom of Heaven. I have witnessed many people live horrible physical lives by being obedient, faithful and waiting for God to provide. I have also witnessed people ascend to an amazing quality of life by maintaining a competitive spirit, manipulating the system and having an insatiable thirst for more. Based on the hypothesis presented in this chapter, the traits of the first group would be representative of those on the path to kingdom success, while the traits of the second would put them on the path to eternal damnation. Whether you agree with this assessment is correlated to whether you believe.

Creating Culture

This chapter could have easily been called “Building a Ministry 101” as it provides the “why” and “how” basics to establishing a multi-cultural, inclusive religious organization by tapping into the collective spirit and ideas of the leaders and members. The chapter ends by explaining the purpose and value of a mission statement, a vision statement, a set of core values and a creed. My favorite quote from this chapter:

Vision is not what you see others do.

Excellence

In this, the final chapter of the book, Pastor McCants introduces the infectious and intoxicating effect of being in the presence of excellence. Whether through service at a restaurant or car dealership, or through musical performance, when excellence is witnessed it is both unmistakable and unforgettable. Leaders who dedicate themselves to excellence will attract excellence and bring excellence out of others. This is true of believers and non-believers alike. The observations presented in this chapter are truly poignant.

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I hope to have written enough to give you a flavor of the ground this book covers. Should you find any of the subject matter summarized above interesting, I recommend checking it out. There are many universal lessons regardless of your religious beliefs. If you are an aspiring religious leader, include this book on your summer reading list. You can download chapter one of Leadership Essentials, “Practicing Rest,” for free today and join the discussion on Pastor McCants’ blog.